Voice Up Japan already touched on the issues that the Body Positive movement has to face. But other beauty standards affect women’s appearance or behaviour. The most obvious is the obsession for kawaii. A trend born in the 70s among Japanese students who preferred a more naive calligraphy has shifted into an aesthetic of girls wearing pastel-colored shirts decorated by ribbons and acting cute, innocent, obedient. The tendency of adopting a kawaii behaviour has its roots in the social relations between men and women in Japanese society. “Since men’s position in society is getting weaker, guys might want to feel stronger by going for women who just accept their opinions” states a young men interviewed by Kei of Asian Boss. Strong women have to act submissive in order to please fragile men. But is it always like this?
While for a J-pop global ambassador like Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, the world of kawaii and Harajuku is an escape from the strict rules of society, other idol groups seem to adopt that aesthetic just to reinforce the stereotype. However, the music industry is more diverse now and we find interesting artists who feel free to express their pride and empowerment. This happen especially in the genre of rap or r&b, which has given us a good representation of those strong women who are frightening privileged men.
These are the most interesting personalities in the scenario of female J-rap this year. Better keep an eye on them.
Born in 1997 in Shizuoka Prefecture and raised by a family of dancers, Elle Teresa was the most eccentric teenager in her town. She found relief in clubbing, where she had the chance to meet local DJs, producers and rappers. Her main influences are anime characters, especially Sailor Moon’s warriors, who are “pretty cute but strong”. This is exactly how she is: a woman who doesn’t deny totally the kawaii, but turns it into a weapon rather than a shield. Elle refuses to act masculine, like many female rappers tend to do, but uses her femininity wisely and confidently. What is also impressing of Elle is her sense of humor. In her song “Bulma” she requests a neglectful boy to give her more attention: “I play Bulma and you Vegeta. Let’s go and find the Dragon Balls!” In the music video, she is dressed as a Playboy cover girl, but her moves are not too provocative. She doesn’t care. Elle is a girl who just wants to have fun.
Iri is a singer/songwriter, who includes different genres and rap influence in her distinctive melody. She comes from Zushi, a pleasant town along the Shonan Coast, and was a self-taught guitarist in college. In 2014 she won an audition organized by Nylon Japan and Sony Music and soon started her career. Her songs were used for commercials or as soundtrack of popular shows such as Terrace House and this summer she opened for Western musicians like Corinne Bailey Rae. The most peculiar feature of her music is her voice. It’s deep, far away from the high pitched voices we’re used to listen in mainstream J-pop. Someone commented her video “Wonderland” like this: “I honestly thought the singer was a guy (because of the voice).” Iri is redefining standards in J-pop not only by mixing genres, but also proving that a deep-toned voice can also represent a woman’s voice.
The duo was formed in 2015 by Mamiko Suzuki, born in 1996 and raised in Tokyo, and Rachel Watashiga, born in 1993 and raised between Yokohama and Missouri. In 2016, they released their first album, followed by an EP and their sophomore album titled “Fishing” just came out last August. They write and compose rap songs, but are open to other sounds. In their song “Player” from their first album “Power”, they alternate fast rapped verses with more melodic refrain supported by guitars, drums, trumpets, which are rare to find in today’s trap hits. Their visuals are also interesting. The video for Player they play both the gamers and game characters. In “Balloon”, released in July, they explore the space in the role of two astronauts. Both the gamer and astronaut are roles underrepresented by women and the fact that Chelmico enjoy playing with those scenarios adds more value to their work.
Akko Gorilla – together with Yayoi Daimon, which is next guest in this article – is one of the most explicit rappers in the Japanese scene. She considers herself a Feminist (her Instagram bio states: “RAPPER/DRUMMER/FEMINIST” rigorously in capslock) and published her first major-label album, called “GRRRLISM” in 2018. Recently, Akko Gorilla was chosen from the #NoBagForMe Project for their first campaign and helped promoting a new packaging design for tampons.
The song which gives the title to her album, starts with lines sung in English: “My body / my choice / my face / my choice / my hair / my choice / my color / my choice / my happy / my choice / my voice / my choice / my life / my choice” which is a universal feminist slogan. This song is denouncing gender inequalities and the stigmas regarding a woman’s body and appearance. It’s an empowering hymn to the freedom of choice every woman must have.
Yayoi Daimon will make history for being the first woman to legitimize twerking in Japan. As her fellow rapper Akko Gorilla, Yayoi Daimon declares herself a “JAPANESE FEMINIST” (in capslock in her Instagram bio). The two also released a song and music video together, called “No Bra”.
Yayoi Daimon started in 2010 as a dancer and then became member of the band “rhythmic”. In 2012 she left the group to start her solo career which soon lead her to perform nationwide. In August this year, she released a groundbreaking song called “#KETSUFURE”, Japanese term for “twerk” (literally “shake your ass”), accompanied by this music video. She also started a #ketsufure challenge which saw many fans engaging in it.. Although twerking is now popular and understood in Western countries, this topic is completely new for Japan. It might take a while for it to be totally digested by Japanese audience, but a feminist artist’s goal is to provoke and Daimon is doing it right.