Kiwi band's Japanese video causes a stir

SIOBHAN DOWNES
Last updated 16:12 14/07/2014

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A Kiwi band has created a stir with its colourful new music video inspired by Japanese pop culture.

Christchurch duo Doprah, comprised of Steven Marr and Indira Force, premiered their video for Stranger People in the United States on SPIN Magazine's website on June 25.

The video has since received more than 41,000 hits on YouTube and been shared on music blogs all over the world.

It is inspired by Japanese pop music, known as "J-Pop", and "kawaii" (cute) culture.

In the video, Force is dressed as a doll-like character and Marr appears in a Japanese girl's sailor uniform.

Marr said they wanted to use the medium to comment on the control of female pop stars in the music industry, with the pressure on artists to look a certain way.

"The J-Pop industry seemed to be a pretty good example of it," Marr said.

"There's a lot of stuff that goes in J-Pop with artists wanting to look more western - some get surgery that opens their eyelids. A lot of the girls get their skin tinted as well."

He was surprised at the reaction the video had received.

"When we saw it we knew it was pretty outrageous - but we didn't know what kind of response it would get."

The video has sparked a conversation about cultural appropriation, with some online commenters criticising the band for taking on a different culture.

Its co-directors, Auckland-based Jordan Dodson and Sean Wallace, who work under the title Thunderlips, said Kiwi singer Lorde was among those who had questioned them about it.

"One of the people who works here sent the video to Lorde because we had talked with her about making a music video some time ago," Dodson said.

"She [emailed] back asking where we stand on cultural appropriation."

The pair said they replied saying their view was that the Japanese had borrowed from the West, and now they were borrowing back.

"The whole medium of J-Pop is itself deeply un-Japanese in its origin," Dodson said.

"It's a Japanese interpretation of Western pop music."

Wallace, who has lived in Japan and speaks Japanese, said he had enjoyed seeing people's comments about the video on YouTube, whether they loved it or hated it.

Dodson said: "We're flattered by all the attention it's gotten."

Dr Rumi Sakamoto, a senior lecturer at the University of Auckland's school of Asian Studies, said "kawaii" was becoming a global subculture. It had been reproduced and recreated, including by international artists such as Gwen Stefani and Avril Lavigne.

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Cultural appropriation could be considered problematic when there was a power relationship between two groups, with the dominant culture adopting elements of a minority of powerless culture - such as white Americans using native American headdress, she said.

But she challenged applying this kind of reading to Doprah's music video, as no such power relations existed between Japan and New Zealand.

"If anything, I find some aspects of John Key's daughter's contemporary art more problematic in terms of cultural insensitivity and ignorance," Sakamoto said.

Stephanie Key last year created controversy with a series of self-portraits featured at Paris Design Week.

In one of the risque portraits 21-year-old Key, who studies at the Paris College of Art, is pictured wearing a kamikaze headband around her breasts.

The headbands were famously worn by Japanese suicide pilots during World War II.

- Stuff

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