Japanese pop trio Perfume has been making music together since they were young teenagers in the early 2000s — now, nearly two decades into their landmark career, the group is performing at Coachella 2019 as the first-ever female J-Pop group at the festival. And even as more and younger J-Pop groups emerge thanks in part to the road Perfume has helped pave, the group has no intention of slowing down.
It’s a particularly interesting time for Perfume to have a milestone career moment — Perfume member A-chan, whose real name is Ayaka Nishiwaki, likens their next era to the current transition in Japan’s leadership. Come May 2019, the emperor is retiring and passing rule down to his son, resulting in a newly named era for the country: Reiwa. “It’s going to be a new time of a new generation coming in Japan,” A-chan says. “We don’t want to be left behind. It’s actually a challenging time for us, we’re going to keep trying… not to inspire a new generation, but to push ourselves [to keep innovating].”
Perfume is comprised of A-chan, Nocchi (Ayana Ōmoto), and Kashiyuka (Yuka Kashino). The three joined together in 2000 while in school at the Actors School Hiroshima — six albums and a major label contract with Universal Music Group later, Perfume is both a household name in Japan and a burgeoning presence in the U.S., where hundreds of fans packed Coachella’s Gobi stage during weekend one of the festival.
The group’s most recent album is 2018’s Future Pop, an aptly-named progression of their electronic, technology-inspired bops and on-stage visuals. Each member has their own distinctive personality and aesthetic — A-chan’s iconic ponytail, Kashiyuka’s impossibly straight long hair, and Nocchi’s flawless bob are just the beginning. Through intensely intricate choreography, the three are a unified troupe, but as A-chan tells Teen Vogue, “Our individuality comes out during our synchronized dancing.”
It also comes out in the group’s onstage presence. At a recent show in New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom, the three paused their set to take the crowd through a series of charming back-and-forth chants, where they split the crowd in two to scream “crispy pizza” in honor of New York City’s gigantic slices. They’re charming and clearly delighted to be on stage, even taking the time to joke with one another: at one point Kashiyuka was late to return to the stage for a song — the reason? “She’s brushing her hair!” A-chan and Nocchi yelled out, laughing. (Hey, it takes work to maintain a hairstyle like that during a surely exhausting dance routine. Kashiyuka says she “takes care of my hair like I would take care of a child.”)
Nocchi credits the group’s success internationally to the great team they’ve built, which includes their longtime producer Yasutaka Nakata and choreographer Mikiko Mizuno. “It’s about just meeting great people,” Nocchi says. “Because we met a great producer who is ahead of Japanese J-Pop trends, our music has been always ahead. And Mikiko gives us choreography that best matches our age. It’s matured along with us.”
The women have obviously known each other and worked together for a long time at this point, but they still remember their first impressions. Kashiyuka says of A-chan, “She was so outgoing, so out there, so happy. On the other hand, I was so shy and wanted to stay in the back, with dark-colored clothes.” Nocchi recalls seeing Kashiyuka and A-chan in an early iteration of Perfume and admiring their dancing and the practice that went into it. Both Kashiyuka and A-chan say that even early in school, Nocchi was a singing “star.” Now, they’ve matured beyond schoolyard friendships into a career that has bonded them and grown a worldwide fanbase, not to mention a line of products that include Perfume-inspired outfits, fabric sprays, and lotions.
Their fanbase is about to grow even bigger after they play Coachella’s second weekend. For Nocchi, being on the Coachella stage is “pure happiness.” But Perfume’s main goal for the performance is to show people how amazing Japanese music can be, especially as the first female J-Pop group at the event. “As a Japanese artist this is a dream festival. I’m honored to play there,” A-chan says. “But I want people to find out the uniqueness of J-Pop and the Japanese language, because we sing in Japanese. We want people to know that there’s J-Pop out there.”
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