story / Erica Russell
photos / Daniela Trujillo evb
styling / Toshio Takeda
makeup / Masako Osuga
hair / Yuki Shimajiri
retouching / Lauren Nakao Winn
shot @ SHOTO Studio, Tokyo
production / Koko Ntuen
In person and up close, Perfume is exactly how I imagined them to be. Ethereally beautiful, effortlessly stylish and naturally playful, Nocchi (Ayano Omoto), A-chan (Ayaka Nishiwaki) and Kashiyuka (Yuka Kashino) are a delight when I sit to speak with them ahead of their sold-out New York City show at Hammerstein Ballroom, our conversation, language barrier be damned, touching upon everything from fashion to international fans.
Like BABYMETAL, Utada Hikaru and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, Hiroshima-born, Tokyo-based Perfume is one of the few J-pop acts who have achieved an elite level of global success in Western music markets, their continually growing fanbase in the United States—who are just as frenzied and passionate as their native fans back home in Japan—a testament to this triumph. Unsurprisingly, it’s when the trio is performing onstage in front of said fans, during their famously energetic and dance-oriented shows, that they feel most empowered.
“When I’m dancing, I have so much on my mind,” Nocchi says through her translator, telling me that it’s the audience’s interaction that truly energizes her and her groupmates. “When I’m not sure about myself, I’ll turn around and look at the smiling faces in the crowd, and around me, and in front of me and how excited they’re getting.”
When I ask about the difference between their American fans and their Japanese fans, the electro-pop group tells me that not only do the two fanbases seem to gravitate towards different songs, but their behaviors as audience members tend to reflect certain cultural hallmarks.
“Our American fans are very honest about their expressions and feelings. But Japanese people tend to be reserved and don’t get excited as much, unless other people are getting excited around them, too,” Kashiyuka explains. “So when we perform in front of a Japanese audience, it’s the three of us versus everybody. But in America, it’s the three of us versus individuals.”
With their reach in the U.S. expanding exponentially with each glistening release, it’s no wonder that the three performers are learning English: One of the most difficult things about breaking the international market outside of Japan has been, understandably, the language barrier. They share that they seem to understand more now than what they understood during their last U.S. tour, thanks to taking lessons. But they can’t fully express their feelings and everything they want to say in English yet, something that has been frustrating. Despite everything, when they do feel connected with the fans, it makes them even more happy and encouraged.
While their devoted listeners may be what drive Nocchi, Kashiyuka and A-chan, it’s their yuujou, their friendship, which is the glue that holds them together.
“We’re friends, but what we have is a lot more than just that. It’s more like family,” A-chan says. “But also, at the same time, it’s a working relationship as well. There are a lot of different things between us, but when we go out for dinners or when we’re on flights together, it’s more like friendship.”
“It’s so much fun,” Nocchi adds. “What we’ve seen as we get older, we’ve all seen together. There’s no need for words. We can look at each other and just start laughing about the same thing.”
“I’ve never been on tour with anyone else. What if it’s more fun to tour with someone else?” Kashiyuka quips, as the three friends begin to laugh.
When I ask what has changed for them the most through the years, the group, which recently celebrated its 15th anniversary, laugh again and tell me their age, of course. “We never thought we would stay together this long! But we still laugh at the same stupid things every day.”
In April 2016, the trio released Cosmic Explorer, their futuristic fifth studio album. A collection of twinkling, bright, synthed-out dance pop gems, the band shares that they decided not to name the album until all the songs were recorded. As fate would have it, the last track they laid down was called “Cosmic Explorer,” and it instantly became the perfect capstone for a record brimming with expansive intergalactic beats and new sonic territories for the pop pioneers.
In my practiced Japanese, I tell them that my favorite song off the record is “Star Train,” a joyful, throbbing slice of melodic electro-pop that I imagine could easily shoot to the Top 40 here in the U.S., if only mainstream American radio could loosen up on the language barrier.
As for Kashiyuka, her favorite track is “Baby Face”: “All of our love songs used to be for someone who is older, or at least the same age, admiring someone. But this one is for a younger boy and the lyrics are really cute. It’s fun to sing!”
“I like ‘Flash,’” Nocchi says. “If I perform it during a show, it uses up about 60 percent of my energy for the whole show—for just that one song.”
A-chan admits she likes the title track, “Cosmic Explorer,” because “it’s such a big song.” She explains, “It talks about generations and generations of watching the sea. It’s such a universal song. It’s an unknown adventure—like our dream and motivation syncing together with the lyrics.”
It’s a universal narrative, indeed, much like the rest of the themes on the new album, something which listeners, regardless of nationality or language or age, can submit themselves to wholly. And so, it makes sense when I ask Perfume how they would like people to feel when they listen to the record, the J-pop group smiles and tells me, simply, “happy.”
“We want people to dance to it,” Nocchi says. “We want them to listen to it in the morning and be motivated for the rest of their day.”
Ground control to cosmic explorers: Mission accomplished.
a-chan (right) shirt, skirt, belt, arm cover, boot TOGA.NOCCHi (center) tops, jumpsuit, short boots: TOGA. KASHIYUKA (left)coat, shirt, camisole, skirt, short boots: TOGA.
a-chan (left)shirt: DSQUARED2skirt: MSGMshoes: stylist own. NOCCHi (center) jacket, shirt and pants: DSQUARED2. shoes: stylist own. KASHIYUKA (right). coat, shirt and skirt: DSQUARED2. shoes: stylist own.