Culture Music

A Note on Cultural Appropriation: Hello Kitty by Avril Lavigne

Generasian is an engaging, dynamic community that seeks to have a relationship with its readers. Part of that relationship constitutes (unfortunately) having to respond to comments like the below.

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We received this message shortly after the publication of our piece by Jo regarding Avril Lavigne (or her managers’) choice to follow the hot trend of cultural appropriation in her newest music video, ‘Hello Kitty’. Below is a sampling of her lyrics:

[Pre-chorus:]
Come come Kitty Kitty
You’re so pretty pretty
Don’t go Kitty Kitty
Stay with me
Come come Kitty Kitty
You’re so silly silly
Don’t go Kitty Kitty
Play with me

[Chorus:]
K-k-k-kawaii
Hello Kitty, hello Kitty
Hello Kitty, you’re so pretty
Hello Kitty, hello Kitty
Hello Kitty, you’re so silly

(from azlyrics.com)

While we think that the notion of cultural appropriation is all-too-applicable in this case, comments like the one we received have been spotted all over the net, including from Avril’s own mouth:

“RACIST??? LOLOLOL!!! I love Japanese culture and I spend half of my time in Japan. I flew to Tokyo to shoot this video specifically for my Japanese fans, WITH my Japanese label, Japanese choreographers AND a Japanese director IN Japan.”

We would like to clarify that although her song and video are not overtly racist in the strictest sense, the prevalence of cultural appropriation in it, as well as her all-too-familiar claims of ‘I can’t be racist!’, force us to address the issue.

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(popwatch.ew.com)

First, I can’t think of a single Japanese citizen who would see ‘Hello Kitty’ as an adequate representation of his or her entire culture. While lolita and other fringe pop cultures do embrace the morbidly cute and adorably strange, to see a Canadian pop-punk artist prance around singing about slumber parties and kitties in a way that smacks of a host of poorly-veiled innuendos that are decidedly less endearing. Who wants to think of Japan (and America’s) favorite white kitten as…well…never mind. The fact of the matter is, Avril’s video does not embrace Japanese culture in a way that is appropriate and respectful, which, as an outsider (despite having spent ‘half [her] time in Japan’), is the only right way to do things.

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(dkpopnews.net)

‘Insomnia’, one of David Craig’s hit singles, is a good example of ‘the right way to do things’. David Craig reached out to Korean superstar Wheesung to sing a Korean version of ‘Insomnia’. While Wheesung certainly did his own take on the lyrics (much as Avril and/or her managers had creative license with the concept of ‘a song for her Japanese fans’), he did little to alter the original meaning, or try to relate it back to David Craig himself. You will not find any attempts of his to relate it to the African American experience, or bring up any stereotypes in his version of Craig’s lost-love ballad.

While this example may seem tangential, it illustrates perfectly the choices that musicians have when given an opportunity to present their respective arts. To relate this to Avril’s situation, she could have written a song about anything–love, heartbreak, the high school years. These experiences are applicable to anyone and everyone. There is no need to try to find common ground with a Japanese audience via the perversion of a beloved cartoon character. The Japanese and, conversely, the Canadians, are not so exotic and wildly different from each other that one is not relatable to the other. Her choice of subject for a song does much to illuminate which portions of Japanese culture she has chosen to fit her perception of ‘Japan’. Cultural appropriation is, by definition, the pick-and-choose mindset of one culture when it comes to the perception of another, different culture. Thus Avril Lavigne’s ‘Hello Kitty’ is, by definition, cultural appropriation.

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(nydailynews.com)

In an ending note, Mr/Ms. ‘Hey there babe’, you are at least partially incorrect though wholly misguided. While cultural appropriation is not directly tied to overt racism, it is still unacceptable. While it may be true that her Japanese fans wanted her to write a song dedicated to them, they were most likely not expecting a smorgasbord of samples from Japanese fringe pop culture. While she wrote this song to target the Japanese market, she certainly did not write or perform it for her fans. She wrote it for herself–to boost her image and perform it for a culture she clearly neither respects nor understands. And while she certainly filmed it in that place called Japan, that does not make her cultural appropriation any less real. What if she filmed a video in China in which she called her Chinese fans ‘my best chinks’, or in Korea and called them ‘my favorite gooks’? Would we excuse her for her racism? No. So why should we excuse her for blatant cultural appropriation, which is no better than overt racism?

In conclusion, we cannot let Gwen Stefani, with her Harajuku girls, and now Avril Lavigne, with her Hello Kitty girls, set the precedence for the increasingly-multicultural music and entertainment scene.

0 comments on “A Note on Cultural Appropriation: Hello Kitty by Avril Lavigne

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