artist spotlight: Perfume

It’s time for something new!

I know it has been a minute since I’ve been around, and I come back in spurts every now and then. I have a crazy schedule – I’m back in school, I’m working a lot, and frankly, I’m also playing a lot of video games on my brand spanking new PC, but aside from all that, I still want to continue writing and sharing my views on Asian music with others, in the hopes that I can spread some good word about songs I like (and even ones I dislike). Who knows… you might fall in love, naturally, with some of the songs I recommend!

I’ve opted to start a new series that I more-or-less have started a while back – an artist spotlight. Usually, it would involve me reviewing a lot of their works in a short span of time, like Koda Kumi or Brave Girls prior, but this time, I thought I’d fill you in on the artist themselves – have you get to know them and recommend some of their works.

The very first in the series is none other than Japan’s top girl-group Perfume. I’ll expand more on this later in the spotlight, but a recent poll suggested they are currently at the top for girl group rankings in 2021… that’s not hard to believe, but man, they’ve been in the game for more than 20 years, and they continue to be a huge influence over Japan. I love it. So let’s take a look at Perfume in more detail, and perhaps, if you haven’t already, you’ll find a song in their discography that you may find yourself gravitating towards!


An Introduction to Perfume

So, small history lesson for those new to the group, but Perfume is a popular Japanese ‘electro-pop’ trio, having formed in 2001 with three members of the well-known Hiroshima Actors’ School: Kashino Yuka (Kashiyuka), Nishiwaki Ayaka (A~chan), and Kawashima Yuuka (Kawayuka). Eventually, Yuuka would leave before the girls would release any material, and the group would add in Oomoto Ayano (Nocchi) as a replacement. The trio would then go on to release indies idol-pop music locally before branching off, with the production of Yasutaka Nakata of CAPSULE fame, into indies electro-pop nationally. Eventually, in 2005, the girls would make their major label debut with Tokuma Japan Communications with “Linear Motor Girl”.

Here’s the really wild part of their career – things would falter up until 2007, leaving their career up in the air. It would take popular pop-rock singer Kimura Kaela to propel them – having heard “Chocolate Disco”, Kaela placed the song on her radio for heavy rotation. One of the listeners of the program happened to be a commercial director who felt the girls would help with an ad campaign – an NHK recycling campaign, of all things. This would result in the creation of “Polyrhythm”, which tied in to the campaign, and the song and commercial would air for rotation on NHK. “Polyrhythm” would then propel them to levels of fame they never thought would happen – it’s almost like a story belonging to a movie. From there, it was a steady rise, and now, who knows when the end will be?

Some small details about Perfume include the fact that all of their music is produced by Yasutaka Nakata, who some might be familiar with due to his work with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. Perfume also has amazing art direction in regards to their music videos and release artwork. Not to mention, Perfume has incredible live performances, with some of their best incorporating cutting-edge technology that you would never see in other areas of the world.


My Story on Perfume

Perfume happens to be one of my favorite groups out of Japan – they were one of the very first groups I was exposed to back in 2005, having heard “Computer City” right when 2006 was kicking off, and from then on, I have never strayed. My love for them continues to exist, and it’s that love that got me to go see them live in Toronto for the very first time. The emotions felt… words can’t describe it.

As part of the artist spotlight, I’ll be recommending some songs for newbie Perfume starters, as well as describing some songs that many people from Japan and outside Japan might be aware of, for a total of 15. So without further ado, let’s spotlight some tracks!


Notable Works

Most Well-known Songs

ポリリズム

Polyrhythm
from the single “Polyrhythm”
Released: 2007/09/12

Of course, we cannot forget the contributions of “Polyrhythm” towards Perfume’s career – it is what brought them to public attention. It is the first song in their career to cause A~chan to burst in tears in concerts. It is the song they will forever, and to this day, perform in concerts. It is the song that somehow got in Cars 2, of all places. If you ask anyone about the words Perfume and polyrhythm, they’ll know exactly what you mean. It is that song. Speaking of the song itself, it’s actually quite remarkable: it’s a polyrhythmic song itself, containing numerous stretches of different time signature rhythms layered on top of one another… it’s kind of genius, actually. The song itself is very easy to chew on – it’s not heavy on the bass or synth, nor are the lyrics too repetitive or insightful. Having revisited this following a decade of new Perfume tracks, it doesn’t quite have the oomph, but it does have its charm – one that doesn’t escape after several listens. ⬛


love the world

love the world
from the single “love the world”
Released: 2008/07/09

One cannot also forget the big accolade that Perfume achieved following the release of their debut album (which itself achieved the first #1 for an electro-pop album since Yellow Magic Orchestra in the 80s). When “love the world” came out, it was hotly anticipated – so much so that the interest in it propelled the single to #1, making it the very first electro-pop single to reach the top of the weekly charts. Rightfully so, since the song itself is a set of joyful melodies jampacked into one; a joyful response to a song like this is well-deserved. Another note of interest is the song’s 80s tone, opting for a high-on-synth overall melody, which any capsule fan can attribute to Yasutaka Nakata’s fixation for the 80s around this time period. “love the world” changed the GAME (pun intended), and now, the world loves Perfume. ⬛


Spending all my time

Spending all my time
from the single “Spending all my time”
Released: 2012/08/15

Hopefully this is not a stretch, but I find that “Spending all my time” is an incredibly well-known Perfume song, and solely for this reason: it is their only (almost) full English track, written as a love letter to their, at the time, increasingly growing international fanbase. Hell, even Pentatonix covered this in a Perfume medley. This song would go on to be performed at every concert, including their world tours, following its release, in many variations, with a hologram presentation almost every time. Perhaps what makes this song so accessible (and frankly, so good) is its easiness on the ears – it sounds like it belongs on a Top 40 radio station; it sounds like it could very well chart with the big leagues. Taking a chord progression from the pages of a pre-18 Months Calvin Harris, “Spending all my time” might have you spending all your time listening to it. ⬛


FLASH

FLASH
from the single “FLASH”
Released: 2016/03/16

Now, if we are talking recently, and by recently being the last 5 years, then we have to talk about “FLASH“. This is, without a doubt, one of the current most well-known Perfume songs, and it might actually be, at least now, their biggest hit to date (either this or “TOKYO GIRL”). We can attribute its success to its tie-in with the popular live-action adaptation of the manga series Chihayafuru, which is fabulous (and more people should check it out), but I don’t even think that alone is what propelled this song to the success it has now – it’s also just a fantastic Perfume song. “FLASH” contains a fresher sound than a lot of their older works, and there is a matureness to it that feels so brand new. It contains elements of the loud future bass that Yasutaka Nakata was experimenting on with CAPSULE, but it feels in its element on a track such as this one. “FLASH” is powerful and immense. There isn’t a better song than “FLASH” for Perfume to be well-known of. ⬛


TOKYO GIRL

TOKYO GIRL
from the single “TOKYO GIRL”
Released: 2017/02/15

Now, if you’re like me and don’t have quite the inkling for “TOKYO GIRL”, understandable, but we shouldn’t forget how notable this particular song is either. One of the more recent Perfume songs of note, being part of their most recent album Future Pop, “TOKYO GIRL” is another tie-in track for the J-drama Tokyo Tarareba Musume. Despite that, I don’t think it was the tie-in itself that contributed to the song’s overall public interest – “TOKYO GIRL” is a letter written to the girls of Tokyo, Japan. Designed to be a mid-tempo electronic ballad, the song doesn’t quite have the remarkable or innovative qualities of some of their other songs, but it is an easy-to-digest, still-catchy pop song that has a resonance to the women of Japan. It’s only fair it’s coming from the three top female artists of Japan. ⬛


チョコレイト・ディスコ

Chocolate Disco
from the single “Fan service [sweet]”
Released: 2007/02/14

Of course, the above songs are notable, but they certainly hold no candle in public knowledge than that of “Chocolate Disco“. Perhaps it’s because it’s one of the first things you would hear upon entering Japan (according to a source of mine… my boyfriend). Perhaps it’s because it’s a song that is favored in karaoke (though, you can prove me wrong on this – I’m just basing it on my own experience of Japanese karaoke when I visited Japan). Perhaps it’s because some stand in JoJo’s is likely named after this. Perhaps because it is now known as a traditional Valentine’s Day song in Japan. Whatever the case may be, “Chocolate Disco” and its infectious rhythm and repetitive lyrics are unmatched – when you hear it for the first time, you might think “this is far too much”, but then the deeper you go, the more you disuko, disuko, disuko-ko-ko. It also has an easy-to-learn dance. Sometimes, these are really all you need for a song to go places. ⬛


My First Song

コンピューターシティ

Computer City
from the single “Computer City”
Released: 2006/01/11

So, there’s quite a long story to me discovering this song (and Perfume) that I might as well write an essay, but to tl;dr, I discovered Perfume through a French website (of all places), and thanks to my unwavering idol appreciation, three girls and a pop song? What could be wrong? Oh, little Touki, what you didn’t know at the time… Maybe it was my love for insanely high-pitched vocals (vocoded or otherwise), my love for electronic music that I can only really attribute to my parents’ musical tastes in the early 90s, or my love for anything futuristic… but “Computer City“, while no longer my absolutely favorite, holds a special place in my Japanese-pop-loving heart as the highly-synthesized nearly-melodramatic and definitely Sugarless GiRL-styled stepping stone to Japanese electro and my deep love for the three girls from Hiroshima. ⬛


My Favorite Songs

ワンルーム・ディスコ

One Room Disco
from the single “One Room Disco”
Released: 2009/03/25

There is absolutely no denying my unwavering love for “One Room Disco“. It’s actually quite funny because I used to hate this song – there was nothing about it that screamed innovative or held any real candle to the works of “love the world” and “Dream Fighter”, the two singles preceding “One Room Disco”; all three singles would be found on the 80s-themed album Triangle. It would take a lot of listens and a lot of patience for me to eventually get to where it is now: my all-time favorite Perfume song. It is fun, full of joy, and an emotion that people won’t get right off the bat: uncertainty. Its lyrics are that of moving out – and moving in to a one-room apartment. It is wholesome and humble in its uncertainty – one that I, myself, can relate to growing up. That’s the charm of this song – it is a grower of a song, but one that must be with you as you grow to fully grasp. That’s special. That’s a great song. ⬛


スパイス

Spice
from the single “Spice”
Released: 2011/11/02

What’s remarkable about my love for “Spice” is that there isn’t the hard, electro edge that Perfume possessed in songs prior to it, nor was there any element of catchy dance to get me in a good mood. No, what makes “Spice” so special is that it is unlike anything we’ve heard from the girls before. Its frantic almost-ethnic-like instrumental is so vastly different from anything prior to this; it feels fresh, it feels like things took a turn for the better, it feels like Perfume were going in a direction we never thought otherwise. This was the moment I knew that I had signed up my love for the girls for life – they could do anything. “Spice” was the special cherry-on-top, the seasoning to give direction some oomph; “Spice” is, well, the spice. ⬛


B-Sides & Album Tracks

だいじょばない

Daijo Banai
from the single “Mirai no Museum”
Released: 2013/02/27

Alright, onto some B-sides, because everything you just saw prior are title tracks… and Perfume is not short of, let’s be honest, ANY quality tracks in their discography. First up, of course, is the one they performed at Coachella, titled “Daijo Banai“, which literally is “I’m Not Okay”, and to make this short and sweet, when you hear this frantic electronica track, you are guaranteed to not be okay… because it’s that good. Insanely catchy from start to finish, it is no wonder it was chosen to be on the Coachella set list – even my brother’s ex-girlfriend held an appreciation for this song’s catchy stylings. No, it’s not okay. It’s great. ⬛


NIGHT FLIGHT

NIGHT FLIGHT
from the album “Triangle”
Released: 2009/07/08

Ah yes, another one of my favorite songs from the group; “NIGHT FLIGHT” is perhaps the true love letter to the 80s from the group, with its loud, heavy synth melody fighting for your attention from every corner. It is a super speedy track, designed to almost give off the feeling of being in the air; whether that’s an actual night flight or perhaps a zooming jet is up to your imagination. “NIGHT FLIGHT” compliments so well with the other tracks on the album Triangle, as well, even as it sounds like it could be something that stands alone as a single. There’s a sense of every 80s track on here, with influences such as “Video Killed the Radio Star” or “Take On Me” taking form. It is a fun, hard-to-escape little ditty that will have you wishing you were traveling in 2021. Here’s hoping it’s soon… ⬛


DISPLAY

DISPLAY
from the single “Cling Cling”
Released: 2014/07/16

DISPLAY” might just be one of my favorite B-sides, since it’s extremely catchy and nothing more; yet, upon further listens, there’s just something remarkable about the song. It opens to what almost feels like the beginning of an epic before we are thrust into the pops of synth to what can only be described as the speedy transport to a different world. It gets frantic, and suddenly… fuuuuuuu~ Now, if you can sort of ignore the Engrish that is heavy on this track, then you are in for adventure with “DISPLAY” feeling like fight music from left to right in its chorus. It’s filled with power in every part of its being, from build-up to chorus. Tied-in with Panasonic’s introduction of 4K televisions, “DISPLAY” is the 4K track of your ears and is worth every cent of purchase. ⬛


パーフェクトスター・パーフェクトスタイル

Perfect Star Perfect Style
from the album “Perfume ~Complete Best~”
Released: 2006/08/02

Let’s go back to one of their earliest album tracks, with “Perfect Star Perfect Style” being the only new track on their ‘first’ album (though, now considered best album). While it’s not remarkable by any means, being the synthy, more feel-good vibe sister to “Electro World”, it is still worth every listen – it is insanely catchy, with every pulsing beat hitting you at the right spots in your ears. It’s a head-bopper. It’s worth a smile. And I still love it to this day. If you’re looking for something less frantic, or something more to put you in a sing-along state, then look no further than the perfect song “Perfect Star Perfect Style”. ⬛


FAKE IT

FAKE IT
from the single “Nee”
Released: 2010/11/10

Now, if you’re looking for something with a little bit more gusto and little bit more edge to its electro sound, look no further than “FAKE IT”. Released prior on the single Nee before becoming the actual promotional track for their global compilation album LOVE THE WORLD, “FAKE IT” was, for lack of a better term, a refreshing change from their prior single tracks, all on the JPN album. The song might have its generic electro-pop moments, but “FAKE IT” starts off frantic, and it maintains a sense of that frantic noise for various parts of the song. It might not be for everyone, but when that distortion hits, you know there’s no faking it… it’s time to get down and start dancing. ⬛


シークレットシークレット

Secret Secret
from the album “GAME”
Released: 2008/04/16

Lastly on the B-side/album recommends is “Secret Secret“, one of the new tracks released on the girls’ first original album, GAME. It was also released prior to it as a promotional single, as it was tied to an ad campaign by the incredibly delicious ice-cream chocolates Pino (promoting the girls as part of a “PTV” concept, because P… for Perfume and Pino…). A fantastic bass-heavy song, “Secret Secret” doesn’t hide its quality despite its name. It is a hypnotic, dark electronica track, with its sound complementing the album’s innovation towards merging Shibuya-kei with electro house. At the time of its release, it was a sound very unfamiliar in Perfume’s discography, the closest to it being Electro World; yet, it worked so well with Perfume’s unique vocals, that it almost became no secret at this point that Perfume was a force to be reckoned with in 2008 (and from then on). ⬛


And that is the end of the first artist spotlight for the site!

It was great revisiting a lot of Perfume’s work, especially those that I enjoyed listening to when I was younger (and by younger, I mean, high-school younger). I cannot recommend Perfume enough. From their creatively-crafted songs, to their intricate live performances, there’s always something fresh and new when it comes to anything they release. I would be surprised if at least one of the above fifteen songs, including live performances of some, weren’t amazing to you, the reader.

That said, it is okay for Perfume to not be your cup of tea – vocoded vocals are not always quite appreciated, nor is electro-pop something for everyone. However, I will end off by saying your opinion is wrong (lol).

Jokes aside, if you have other artists you’d love for me to look into, comment below! If you like Perfume, what are your favorites from the group? I hope you enjoyed reading, and I hope I’ve turned someone out there into a P.T.A. member!

Some links to check out:
generasia | wikipedia | official site | youtube | spotify

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