Now an iconic J-pop act with fans all over the world, the electro-pop trio Perfume first caught the attention of listeners outside of their home country when one of their songs was featured in the Disney/Pixar-produced animated film Cars 2 released in 2011. Already a popular girl group in Japan, the “Polyrhythm” trio expanded its musical activities abroad and toured other countries in Asia for the first time the following year.
In June 2013, the group became the first Japanese act to be invited to perform at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in France. The threesome wowed the crowd with its highly synchronized choreography, transforming costumes, and stage production by the edgy media art collective Rhizomatiks using state-of-the-art technology. Perfume won the Silver Lion in the Cyber category at the event, and went on to launch its second international tour, making stops in three cities in Germany, England, and France.
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The J-pop stars collaborated with the alternative rock band OK Go in 2014 and embarked on their third world tour including shows in Los Angeles and New York, then headlined a show at SXSW in 2015. Their sixth studio album, COSMIC EXPLORER, arrived in April 2016 and debuted at No. 1 on the iTunes Electronic Albums chart in the U.S. and No. 16 on Billboard‘s Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart. The band toured North America for five shows in four cities that year.
Their seventh studio album, Future Pop, released May 2018, debuted at No. 4 on Billboard‘s World Albums chart. The following year, the three women successfully toured North America again and became the first J-pop artists to perform at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Their performance received high acclaim, including being named one of the 16 best acts of Coachella 2019 by Rolling Stone magazine.
Then, 16 years after their debut, 21 years after their formation, and just when the group was expected to make another leap forward in their career, the world came to a halt through the COVID-19 lockdown. Perfume were in the midst of their domestic dome tour in Japan and were forced to cancel, but member KASHIYUKA shares that the period allowed them “to take some time to think about what we want to do and give our full attention to what we consider most important.”
NOCCHi adds, “We’ve always offered content that can be enjoyed online since before virtual shows became the norm. Live performances collaborating with technology, things that are more interesting to watch on a screen than just in person. So we were often asked to do virtual shows during the pandemic, but we felt that when it comes down to it, the fun of Perfume’s live shows is in creating a space directly with everyone. We realized that we love performing live and that everything we do, we do for our shows.”
In March 2021, the film version of Perfume’s concert Reframe 2019 that reconstructed the trio’s 20-year history, titled Reframe THEATER EXPERIENCE with you, was released exclusively on Netflix. In August, the group held its first in-person headlining live performance in a year and a half in Japan, titled Perfume LIVE 2021 [polygon wave]. Perfume performed a new song called “Mawarukagami” (“Rotating Mirror”) for the first time at the concert, a track that reflects how the women feel about performing live. The track is included in their eighth album PLASMA that dropped July 27, their first original album in four years since Future Pop.
“At that show, it felt like something that was dormant inside us was awakened by the sound of each clap,” a-chan recalls. “The sound of the applause echoing through the venue brimmed with soul, and that soul rebuilt us. It was like, ‘Oh, we’ve been regenerated.’ Our purpose in life is to perform live and we realized anew that the space we create together with everyone is at the center of what we do.”
NOCCHi adds, “I was surprised that our producer Yasutaka Nakata understood how we felt about performing live. Especially the last part of the song that goes, ‘We’ll stand on the stage.’ It felt like he was encouraging us to sing this song when we returned to the stage, and it was exciting to see that it was about performing live.”
“We want to perform onstage, but it’s not something we can accomplish just by ourselves. The sense that ‘I’m just a rotating mirror and can only shine with everyone’s support,’ and that because of the times we live in, the words ‘things will be OK’ really hit home,” KASHIYUKA says. “It felt like we were being encouraged by those voices and we understand the lyrics with a painful clarity. There were things that I’d felt through performing live, personal feelings that were my own, but (Nakata) managed to put them into a song that I could share with the audience. That’s why I was so happy when I was able to perform it live.”
Perfume’s sound can generally be categorized as club/dance music such as techno-pop, synth-pop, French electro and EDM, but their new album PLASMA adds more color to the group’s style, as can be seen from such track as the boogie-funk lead single “Spinning World.”
Also, “Drive’n The Rain” can be said to be Nakata’s response to the recent global “city pop” movement shedding new light on the sophisticated urban J-pop music from the ‘70s. “I think the song emits a feeling of temperature and wind, like the night and rain. It has an organic feel to it,” says KASHIYUKA.
Organic is an important keyword in describing PLASMA. Although the group is known for their performances featuring electro sounds and the latest technology, such as projection mapping and AR, their latest album gives a sense of what is real rather than the virtual, analog rather than digital, and people’s warmth.
The three women share their impression of the new studio set. NOCCHi notes, “When I listened to the finished album, I thought it captured today’s world, and that it was a proposal from Mr. Nakata, like, ‘Wouldn’t these songs be ideal for Perfume to sing in this day and age?’ The mood he suggested was laid-back and relaxed, with messages of hope and kindness. I got the feeling that he was standing with us.”
“I thought it’s an album that encourages you to relax and be your ordinary self,” says KASHIYUKA. “The kind of music that blends into your daily life and helps you recall the mellow time of day.”
a-chan adds, “I think it’s very typical of us to offer an album like this when the world has changed because of the novel coronavirus. It’s really fitting that it’s not an album that forces people to get their spirits up.”
PLASMA was released globally in various formats including CD, downloads, and streaming at the end of July. Regarding the possibility of a world tour supporting the album, NOCCHi says, “We as Perfume aren’t able to go abroad yet, but if there are people out there who are waiting for us, then we’d love to go see them.”
“With the development of the Internet, information and communication technology, people are becoming ‘individuals’ regardless of whether they live in Japan or elsewhere,” KASHIYUKA adds. “No matter where we live, we each have our own problems and difficulties. And if there are people who support us under such circumstances, we’re willing to go anywhere to see them.”
a-chan jokes, “We’ll be touring Japan from Aug. 20 to Nov. 6 on our arena tour, Perfume 9th Tour 2022 ‘PLASMA,’ so everyone is always welcome to come visit us here!” [Laughs]
–This interview by Atsuo Nagahori first appeared on Billboard Japan.