Sunday, August 28, 2011

Perfume: Voice

Here is the incredibly cute and leggy J-Pop girl group Perfume with their 2010 song "Voice". I do not know who directed this music video (which is in Japanese without subtitles), but it presents a self-reflexive view of celebrity and stardom. Despite the main lyric, " need to use your voice," the life of a pop icon is more than just singing: the icon lives in an unreal (and as depicted in the video, surreal) world of cartoon props where timing, dance, and image are just as important as the voice.

The girls are dominated by cookie cutter patterns (actually patterns of all kinds, background patterns, patterns on their clothing, etc.) but struggle to fit themselves into these molds. In one key shot (2:56-3:10), the girls cannot discover themselves in a forest of figures and end standing apart from them. The women are nominally icons who don't completely become symbols and so retain some of their own individuality and human identity. On the other hand, in another shot (3:24-3:39), the girls walk aloofly through a row of similarly-shaped silhouettes of people indicating that they are apart from the crowd and exist beyond the ordinary public.

The icon is both human and celebrity, someone who exists between the real and myth, between person and projection. In one moment, she's human, but in the next second, she can become a photograph with fake tears coming from her eyes. Or, as is indicated when the girls complete billboard images of themselves (2:10-2:24), the star is a half human/half-icon sort of hybrid.

The girls obtain their false diamond treasure. It's the "heart" from inside the chest of one of those public figures implying that fame, money, or the love of fans still originates with the public. It's also "the real thing" (as fake as it looks) as opposed to the version they reject from a different origin in a store window (you can't purchase the love of fans). The trio hold their diamonds aloft in the same position that their hands were held in in the video's opening shot. Does this gesture mean they were special to begin with and destined to find the treasure all along? At the start they hold aloft "thin air". Does this means the diamonds they obtain at the end are also no different from thin air? But just then, at their moment of triumph, their false patterned world collapses around them. Fame is fickle. Stardom insecure. The wall that forces itself on them at the very end is not unlike the other walls (either solid or with some part cut out) that they’ve had to file past or conform through to get to their destination. Indeed, it's simply a larger version of the wall of black dots that one of the trio walks past near the start of the video. But this time the holes in the patterned wall are ironic. By falling around the girls, the holes reveal just how fake the fake world they’ve been inhabiting really is while revealing the lights and set of the video they've been making. Oh well. Confronted with nothingness, the girls simply laugh and remain "just girls". Or do they? Throughout the video, surface appearance is contrasted with reality. We see the trio laughing like normal girls but, because we don't also hear them laugh as we should, in this last moment, the girls miss out on becoming completely real people to us. Finally, voiceless, the girls, surrounded by the darkness of the set in the real world, can't break free from their ghostly limbo somewhere between life and artifice.