These Ladies Know the Sweet Smell of Success

Illustration for article titled These Ladies Know the Sweet Smell of Success

Every story's gotta start somewhere. This one starts in Hiroshima, with three girls who had the same kanji character in their names, 香. The character means "fragrance", and the group was Perfume.

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Formed in 2000, Perfume was Ayaka Nishiwaki, Yuka Kashino, and Yuka Kawashima, who soon left the group and was replaced by Ayano Omoto. The trio would go on to tap Tokyo's gaming and otaku culture as they became one of the country's biggest groups.

The group's early singles, like "Sweet Donuts" and "Vitamin Drop" were influenced by Shibuya-kei. Shibuya-kei was a style of music and fashion popular during the 1990s. Wearing French pop on its sleeve, groups like Pizzicato Five epitomized Shibuya-kei. The group's Shibuya-kei influences were no accident. Perfume was being produced by Yasutaka Nakata, who also wrote their lyrics. Nakata was behind late 90s neo Shibuya-kei group Capsule.

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An early, 2004 single, "Monochrome Effect"—famously featured on American Dad—wasn't a hit in Japan and didn't even break the top 100 on the sales chart, but it would provide a blueprint of sorts for Perfume's geeky, techno-infused pop. The song came out just as chiptune music was being commercialised.

Later that year, the group retrenched and relocated to Akihabara. Perfume began performing on the Akiba sidewalks as street idols and hanging out with voice actress and singer Haruko Momoi. It was during this time that Perfume began accumulating the nerd cred it needed.

Singles like "Computer City" and "Electro World" showed Akihabara's influence. Perfume was no longer a post-Shibuya-kei group, but a technopop group.

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Nerd cred builds a loyal base, but the group still need something to push it over the edge to nationwide success.

Nerd cred builds a loyal base, but the group still need something to push it over the edge to nationwide success. Their breakthrough came in 2007 when they began appearing in TV commercials and at the Summer Sonic music festival. Their single "Polyrhythm", which is being featured in Cars 2, broke the top ten in 2007 and Japanese music games like DDR and Taiko no Tatsujin. Their next single, a double A-side called "Baby Cruising Love/Macaroni", broke the top five. Their music was catchy and poppy. The trio wasn't gooey idols, they weren't overly sexualized. They were cool girls singing about computers and electronics.

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Perfume had arrived. They were the Candies of their generation. Their debut album, 2008's Game, hit number one on the Japanese music charts. Since then, Perfume has followed up with a second album, Triangle, which also debuted at number one. They now appear in commercial ad campaigns for ice cream and cola—one of the true measures for success in the Japanese entertainment business. They've reached the top. That's not only a long way from growing up in Hiroshima, it's a long way from Akihabara, too.

Click through the gallery to have a listen to Perfume through the years.

Culture Smash is a daily dose of things topical, interesting and sometimes even awesome—game related and beyond.

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(Top photo: Tokuma Shoten)

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DISCUSSION

farmboyinjapan-old
FarmboyinJapan

This might be the first article I've ever read on Perfume that does not mention their legs. For those who don't follow them, Perfume's talent agency has this weird thing with flaunting the girls' legs...and constantly have them in heels and either skirts or very short shorts. They are even known in Japan as the "美脚" (beautiful leg) group.

And to the phrase: "Nerd cred builds a loyal base, but the group still need something to push it over the edge to nationwide success", I respond with: Really?

Last time I checked, Shokotan was playing sold out concerts, releasing music, and appearing in various movies and TV shows....pretty much solely on the fact that she goes on TV and says "I like Pokemon" and "Sephiroth was my first boyfriend." Hell, if I was aiming at one demographic, it would definitley be the nerd one...because they have shown time and time again that they are willing to spend a lot more money then just the average/casual fan. I mean, some crappy AKB 48 single came out a couple weeks ago, and it set a record for most singles moved in a week, and that is a group, (or as I refer to them: "business model") that is aimed almost entirely at the nerd demographic.

There was a recent, really good article that basically condemned the Japanese music scene as being stale, bought and sold by corporations, and needing a good swift kick in the pants, and it pointed to Pefume as one of the emerging shining stars. But Pefume might just be the ULTIMATE corporate band in Japan right now. They don't just appear in commericials for brands, the songs themselves are victimized by corporate branding. For example, they released a single a while back called "Natural ni koi shite", which tied into a Japanese female clothing brand label called "Natural Beauty Basic (which I can not believe I just typed into a comment on a video game blog)...