I don’t if it’s cool or pathetic that Avril Lavign isn’t ashamed of her recent work these last few years. In her “Hello Kitty” video, a song that sounds far worse than you can imagine, she uses Japanese women as ornaments. This isn’t any different than what Gwen Stefani did with her “Harajuku Girls”. Harajuku is a subculture in Japan embraced by young Japanese women. I think a lot of Americans from the outside looking in see Japanese culture and all they see are a bunch of young women wearing bright colors squeeing and . . . well, that’s it. It’s like some people see a shiny new toy , but those toys are actually people with rich inner lives.
Gwen’s lyrics even illustrated that she thought of these human women as pets, “I’d get me four Harajuku girls to inspire me and they’d come to my rescue. I’d dress them wicked, I’d give them names: Love, Angel, Music, Baby.” The idea that you can get “Harajuku girls” and name them presents the idea that they are property you can own. Gwen also forbade the women from speaking in public. It was weird.
In Avril’s video the Japanese women are all wearing the same clothing, they’re submissive props with stoic faces cast to the background. As I’ve said many times before you can’t reduce people to “cute” or “exotic” accessories to make your boring identity seem more interesting. Other cultures and lifestyles aren’t things you can borrow and wear for funsies. There’s a difference between paying homage, which would be a thoughtful cultural immersion (Like you know collaborating with a Japanese singer instead of Chad Kroeger and Skrillex.), and placing other races and cultures in the background as set decorations.
The video is riddled with stereotypes. I mean, if you’re wondering if a video like this is problematic just ask yourself did you learn anything about Japanese women and their culture? Oh, they like Hello Kitty there? Oh, they hangout in candy stores? Oh, Japanese people eat Sushi? Oh, they like bright colors? Imagine if Americans were reduced to color schemes and Coca Cola? Would that make any kind of sense? Would that be anything less than insulting?
Yes, we can see you included Japanese people but it more matters how you included them.
With that said, nothing about Avril Lavigne has changed in the decade she’s been around, not even her face. She is ageless and is proud of the fact that she doesn’t act her age. Her previous album is literally about never growing up. She dresses like a sixteen-year-old girl rebelling against her parents who have grounded her. Her music hasn’t evolved so much as her original sound has borrowed sonic elements from EDM or dance. She doesn’t appear to be any less awkward on camera than before. Yet, when Avril first came on the scene as a teenager wearing her dad’s ties, crying that she was punk rock, her authenticity was questioned. There was nothing essentially punk rock—rebelling against conformity—about a girl who had a team of writers pen her songs and whose sound resembled punk rock as much as Britney Spears did. But her consistency makes me rethink my dismissiveness of her punk identity. This woman does not give a fuck. An adult cannot continue to make such juvenile music with a straight face as she flounders from cultural relevance unless this is mostly what she wanted to do.
Avril hasn’t changed in over a decade, so I think we can presume that this is who she really is and there is nothing more punk than being who you really are, even if it is embarrassing and you look like someone posing as a juvenile delinquent as you live in your mansion made of 100 dollar bills. Fine. Do you, Avril. It’s been working and while everything she does makes me cringe, I can sort of respect that in a weird way. She married the guy from Nickelback, she is perfectly aware of how people perceive her and him and neither of them seem to care. That’s actually kind of cool. Nevertheless, this video was cringeworthy for all the actually wrong reasons. It wasn’t an exploration of her identity or the Japanese’s. It reduced her to a basic bitch and them to bright accessories used to conceal her utter beige-ness. It was just whack.