Remember that time a white lady brought Japanese Harajuku Girls onto the music scene, using a coterie of exoticized Asian backup dancers as detachable ornaments to wield when said lady needed a dash of quirk? That was 10 years ago, right? Yes, but it was also yesterday.
Avril Lavigne's new music video "Hello Kitty" is so derivative of Gwen Stefani's "Harajuku Girls" catastrophe that she is essentially appropriating cultural appropriation. But Lavigne's latest also comes with a few rounds of sexism -- lest secondhand racism didn't suffice.
In "Hello Kitty," a group of (relentlessly caricatured) Japanese women stand behind Lavigne, responding to her cues of glee or boredom, while she prances around in candy stores, sushi restaurants that serve cupcakes and the middle of the street. Dual language subtitles appear throughout the video as Lavigne chants "Arigatou" "hello kitty" and "kawaii" in a vaguely "Asian" accent.
The women included in the "Hello Kitty" video are not part of the story. They do not seem to have any agency, emotions or purpose beyond playing Lavigne's backdrop and representing a watered-down version of Japanese culture, palatable for a white American audience.
Hapless white girls co-opting culture earn a collective eye roll, but we should demand a little more from women who make four-minute videos viewed by millions. "Hello Kitty" is not cute. It's not novelty. It dismisses Asian culture and the women who choose to enjoy it as mindless pawns at white America's disposal. We've been over this.
While self-awareness is usually a virtue, it plays to Lavigne's detriment in "Hello Kitty." She appears privy to the ridiculous excesses of her setting, which are inconsistent with and unappreciative of how Japanese culture is truly experienced. Lavigne is by no means "embracing" Japanese culture. She is using it as her jester.
As Australian blog "The Two Chairs" put it: "Asian women are not your props. Asian women are not your backdrops; neither are they ‘oriental’ displays. Asian women are not your accessories."
Did Avril Lavigne really think, 10 years after Stefani's near-universal impeachment for using Asian women as ornaments, we'd suddenly find it excusable, or even cute?
Sorry, Avril. Asian women don't actually giggle in lieu if speaking. They have voices and they're using them on Twitter -- joined by no shortage of women of all colors who find "Hello Kitty" wholly detestable:
NEWSFLASH: ASIAN WOMEN ARE NOT A CUTE TREND.
— valar morghulis (@humancity) April 23, 2014
Avril, you watched us call out Gwen, Miley, Lily, Katy and Selena for this sort of bullsh*t. Entertainers can't just get away with cultural appropriation, and the sooner we recognize that, we will all be better for it. Indeed, "Hello Kitty" has already been removed from Avril Lavigne's official YouTube channel. See ya l8r.