Chatter on the web tapped out in six letters plus asterisk, a phrase tapped out over social networks like a song hook or a sequence of Morse code, repeated repeating, the message saying….
In a time of strife when Chinese patrol ships are entering Japanese waters, and (more importantly) Aya Ueto went and married some gorilla from EXILE, “Yun*chi” has become a top search on yahoo.jp. It’s on the radar now, a developing cloud of stardust on the edge of the galaxy that begs a question here in Earth Defense Headquarters, “Just who or what is Yun*chi?”
The short version: Yun*chi is a model turned singer, signed to ASOBISYSTEM, the same agency that Kyary Pamyu Pamyu calls home. Still in her teens, Yun*chi’s first mini-album is due to arrive this November 14th, and the hype machine is now spinning in earnest well before any of the music itself has seen official release. So file under "almost famous".
In the last few days alone, Yun*chi has been profiled by numerous outlets in Japan, including the Hochi Shimbun and musicman-net, the latter piece including a ringing endorsement from agency mate Kyary who took the time out of her busy schedule furthering the illuminati agenda to say, “Yun*chi has a wonderfully odd view of the world, and I'm rooting for her with all my might."
Who else is rooting for Yun*chi? Well, here’s
where it gets interesting… A preliminary analysis of her DNA shows a genealogy
that is all over the place – from otaku cheesecake, to “Shibuhara” club kid, to
potential idol of millions – and the machinations of plans within plans.
I first became aware of Yun*chi about a year ago when she appeared as a model in a series of photographs by Julie Watai, who once did time in Akihabara as a gravure idol named “Amano Ai”. After hanging up her pink bikini top, Julie became instrumental in helping to forge a new kind of post-Akiba nerd culture based not only in referencing 8-bit videogames like holy texts, but also participating in events that played up the “cute + tech” angle (I will now shamelessly name drop and tell you that I hung out with Julie long enough to insist that she buy a copy of Gibson’s “Neruomancer” right after lunch).
Posed or not, Julie’s fetishistic vision of female otakudom was an act that could work in both AKB and in more rarified parts of town and the gang became the Hardware Girls: a loose knit group of artists, DJs, VJs, and singers – Yun*chi among them – that Julie could brand for “Hardware Girls Night” at talk shows and club gigs. Yun*chi’s roots in otaku culture are forever preserved in Julie’s pictures, baring skin and steaming up the showcases at Nakano Broadway....
The next thing you know, Yun*chi is backed by up-and-coming jimsho ASOBISYSTEM, who are mostly a model agency with a lot of Zipper and KERA magazine faces on their roster. They also have increasing pull in the Shibuya club scene for putting on regular nosebleed electro events like Yasutaka Nakata’s FLASH!!! and TAKENOKO!!! parties (he of Perfume infamy). ASOBISYSTEM’s collusion of magazine-ready fashion plus club music reaches its apex when Kyary Pamyu Pamyu strikes global YouTube gold with PONPONPON and her subsequent Nakata-penned songs and videos. Finally, here was a single act that could put a human face on the all “TOKYO KAWAII HARAJUKU GIRLS POP” marketing buzzwords being tossed around. Others had certainly tried before. Consider how long a heavy hitter like model-turned-singer Tsubasa tried to make good with her Milky Bunny persona and yet has failed to get much traction…
More shameless name dropping: I worked with ASOBISYSTEM briefly in getting Kyary to appear on my Otaku-Verse Zero web show in that split second just before she went supernova. Whereas most show biz agencies you’re likely to encounter tend to be old, demanding, and inhibiting, ASOBISYSTEM came off as young, accommodating, and permissive, although who knows how much has changed in the wake of Kyary’s subsequent ubiquity…It should now be noted that Yun*chi is only the second female act on the ASOBISYSTEM roster of musical acts, so there’s got to be some kind of play book now. And even though I don’t really want to see Yun*chi holding a giant KFC cup anytime soon, the joy of tie-up has already begun…
Whereas Kyary’s initial style and image came from colorful, eyepopping Harajuku shops like 6%DOKIDOKI and SPINNS, Yun*chi’s first fashion collaboration is with the monochromatic bad boys of VANQUISH: a brand that started off as a hilariously oversexed oniikei and host clothier from the MEN’S EGG school before settling down in recent years into something far more ordinary and kinda yankii. While Kyary music now functions as jingles for g.u. TV commercials (which is where people shop when UNIQLO is too expensive) Yun*chi’s mini-lp debut will be rolled out in tandem with a new line of VANQUISH VENUS items for the ladies and, lookie, there’s already a promo video for the line starring the new IT girl herself...
While it would be too early to say that Yun*chi will be angled like a sword point at Shibuya the same way that Kyary was to Harajuku, I’m willing to bet that she’s is likely to be plastered all over the 109-2 building as soon as her mini-lp drops. There's something about the amount of skin Yun*chi tends to show that fits the profile.
But oh yeah, music…I almost forgot about that. Up until about a week ago, Yun*chi was hosting what sounded like demos on her blog, which were taken down as the PR storm broke. It sounded like serviceable J-pop, and she has a nice voice for this sort of thing (she picked up singing from her mom), but yeah… I hope her upcoming disc remembers to contain some of the electro madness as found here in Yun*chi's old 2011 cover of a song from the Kare Kano anime...
Oh, and a great music video -- you know, something more than just a cover photo of Hardware Girl Ushijima Iiniku rotating in the background -- would be essential too to make this thing click with a few people beyond those prone to loitering around on Basketball Street. Or maybe, that's not even the point anymore.
In tossing around notes for this piece with W. David Marx, he said of spokesmodels and singers in a tone I would associate with the architect of the Matrix, “The way I see it, there is no actual audience for it, but there are advertisers/brands (that) need it.” Indeed, it’s practically a matter of principal and honor that any jimsho will pursue business opportunities over furthering a musical phenomenon, but so far practically everything ASOBISYSTEM has carried (Kyary'd?) a strong dose of the authentic about it.
At the edge of the center now stands Yun*chi herself, a cool beauty, unsmiling and still something of a cipher. It's like she's keeping a secret; about how her her bid for stardom is now a map of a fragmented, yet connected, youth culture in Japan…and also how easy it is for partners to make alliances now in points along the Akihabara-Harajuku-Shibuya axis.
Let's hope Yun*chi can hold the line.
UPDATE 10/23, in lieu of today's Tokyo Fashion linkage
Yun*chi wound up taking over the VANQUISH store at the Ikebukuro PARCO, a bit further up the Yamanote line than I initially predicted...
Also, I did not / do not want people to compare Yun*chi to Kyary. It's more like a new superhero has arrived in town from the pages of the same comics company. So if Kyary is a bright red and blue Superman, then Yun*chi can be...Batman?
Also, the promo video for "Reverb", the first of the new mini-lp songs, was released last week. You can read my impressions on it here and watch it below...