Avril Lavigne’s “Hello Kitty”: Racist, or just crap?
You remember Avril Lavigne? Personally, I remember her as the girl who did that “Sk8er Boi” song back in 2002 that a lot of kids slightly younger than me found intoxicating and which I hated. I hated it for a lot of reasons, one of which was that it’s crap. But I also take issue with the narrative of the song.
Avril Lavigne made a name for herself with teens as the girl who was just one of the boys. She wasn’t the prissy girl who wore skirts and took ballet. No, she was cooler than that, she understood you like none of those girly-girls did. She was basically a boy in a hot girl body. It’s the kind of self-loathing and ingrained misogyny a lot of feminists describe as being akin to Stockholm syndrome.
So… what’s Avril Lavigne doing now?
…well, at least she pronounced “kawaii” right.
I don’t know if you noticed, but the internet has this problem with overreacting. People immediately denounced the above video, for Avril’s new song “Hello Kitty”, as being astoundingly racist, including myself. But upon further inspection, it’s less problematic than I originally thought. The problems only seem magnified by the fact that the song, again, is crap.
The worst, most glaring problem with the video is the props… oh wait, sorry, “backup dancers”. These women escort Avril all throughout Tokyo while looking miserable and dancing like robots. Despite the song’s “Harajuku” theme, these girls don’t embody a Harajuku style.
If Miley Cyrus’s performance at the VMAs taught the world anything, it’s that white people shouldn’t accessorize themselves with minorities to gain street cred. It reduces people of color to the level of set decorations, only there to bolster the image of the white person. That’s really the main problem.
There have also been allegations of “cultural appropriation” in regards to the video which, I swear to God, like trigger warnings, no one knows what that phrase means anymore. So let’s set the record straight.
This is cultural appropriation.
This is pandering to a new fan base.
…Because no one in the US is really listening to Avril Lavigne anymore. Sure, she still has a sizable, dedicated American fan base who hang on her every tweet, but that’s pretty standard for anyone who was ever famous ever. But even as her fame in the west has dwindled, Lavigne is actually still pretty popular in Japan, and that’s ultimately what “Hello Kitty” is about: shifting her image from the tomboy skater girl who understood your specialness to a Harajuku punk rock princess.
Did it work? Ehh.. well, her Japanese fans certainly seem to like the video. Reactions in the rest of the world range from confusion to accusations of “selling out”. Which is just precious. Apparently, there are still a few remaining music fans who believe pop icons actually sit in their pajamas all night agonizing over lyrics and riffs. When in reality, four separate writers are credited for “Sk8tr Boi”, including Lavigne. I’m not sure if I’m more shocked that she was actually one of the writers, or that it took four people to come up with the lyrics for “Sk8r Boi”.
Getting back on topic: Is “Hello Kitty” racist? Sort of. Again, the backup dancers are the biggest problem. It’s no “Asian Girlz”, but what’s confusing people and setting off the racism alarm is how totally forced the video comes off. No one looks happy. Despite the bubblegum pop theme, Lavigne looks like she’s forcing herself. It’s easy to chalk this up to her failure as a performer, but in reality it could be a variety of factors. She could have been feeling the pressure of launching a new image. She could have felt awkward on set if the crew didn’t speak very much English. She could have been heinously jet-lagged. It’s always best to give people the benefit of the doubt.
Of course, Avril’s response to accusations of racism was less than classy…
RACIST??? LOLOLOL!!! I love Japanese culture and I spend half of my time in Japan. I flew to Tokyo to shoot this video…
— Avril Lavigne (@AvrilLavigne) April 24, 2014
Regardless, the resulting video is sort of cringe-worthy for anyone with a passing knowledge of Japanese culture. Ultimately, Avril comes off like a hyperactive tourist, hitting all the stereotypical “Japanesey” things: colorful clothes, the childlike girly-girl image, shopping, sushi, taking pictures, etc. But the video lacks anything deeper to indicate that Avril knows anything about Japan.
“Hello Kitty” could have really benefited from a J-pop cameo. There are like forty members of AKB48—I’m sure one of them could have taken the afternoon off. Less infantile lyrics would have also helped.
So we can roll around, have a pillow fight
Like a major rager, OMFG
Let’s all slumber party
Like a fat kid on a pack of smarties
Someone chuck a cupcake at me
It’s time for spin the bottle
Not gonna talk about it tomorrow
Keep it just between you and me
Let’s play truth or dare now
We can roll around in our underwear how
Every silly kitty should be
Okay… I’m no stranger to Hello Kitty. I love Hello Kitty, bright colors, sushi, and in fact I love most of the things presented in this video. On the surface, I should love Avril Lavigne’s “Hello Kitty”. But I’m almost thirty. And so is Avril Lavigne. The baby-faced lyrics clash not only with her age, but also her previous skater girl character. So overall, the video comes off as disingenuous, and that’s really what’s getting under people’s skin. The term “poseur” is long since dead, as fear of hipsterdom makes people avoid it, but the fact is people hate this video so much because Avril… looks like a poseur.
So what can we learn from this? Probably not much. We won’t know the exact circumstances of what brought about this image relaunch, unless Lavigne decides to speak out. It’s possible that the original video was much better and got butchered in editing. But it’s more likely that Lavigne, like Gwen Stefani before her, was just not thinking about it too hard. No shock there.