The idea of a musician “selling out” seemed to be laid to rest in the Oughts. As bands gained steam courtesy Toyota commercials and Natalie Portman shout-outs, the once-scruffy music obsessives poised to blast a lesser-known group for such crimes as appearing on The Late Show calmed down. Seeing once-obscure outfits like The Shins and Modest Mouse rise in popularity thanks to such commercial opportunities must have made them lighten up a bit. Or maybe they just realized that’s one of the only ways bands can make money. Either way, the ridiculous notion of “selling out” fizzled out, leaving Phoenix to lend “Listomania” to a car spot aired during the same Winter Olympics Broken Social Scene played several official tie-in gigs at.
Perfume are no strangers to commercial crossovers – they’ve appeared in ice cream commercials and hosted a sketch comedy show – and as a pop group they mainly exist in their current state to make money. Still, the trio’s newest single “Natural ni Koi Shite” presents a troubling case: can a musical group take a big leap forward with a glorified jingle for a shop?
“Natural ni Koi Shite” finds Perfume…or maybe more accurately Yasutaka Nakata…moving away from dance-influenced “techno-pop” they rose to prominence with in favor of pure pop structure. The crowded robodancepop of Triangle gets opened up a bit, “Natural ni Koi Shite” moving just a pace slower and with much more room to breathe. Nakata manages to sneak in a few weird twists…he’s found a way to work in the best elements of the latest Capsule record into these three-minutes…but this track’s all about the huge keyboard hits pushing “Natural” ahead. The three singers even see better utilization, the less frantic beat allowing their (still Autotuned) voices to stand out. Perfume make their bid for pop supremacy with this single, and it’s an absolute triumph. This should be a chart juggernaut in Japan, at the very least.
Yet “Natural ni Koi Shite” still comes off as a bit unsettling. The song “debuted” in small snippets via short commercials for Japanese clothes chain Natural Beauty Basic. The three members of Perfume can also be found splashed all over the store’s official website. The video attached to the full-length single finds the trio pulling off some impressive dance moves on some sort of conveyor-belt sidewalk…all in front of a Natural Beauty Basic, which they shop in midway through. Most jarring would be the song’s chorus, which at one point definitely includes the words “natural beauty” prominently featured.
The problem doesn’t lie with Perfume appearing in Natural Beauty Basic commercials or on the chain’s website. Even the video’s product placement isn’t that big a deal, especially not in the wake of Lady Gaga’s heavily praised “Telephone” video. At least Perfume are honest about shilling for Natural Beauty Basic while Gaga just hopes people keep reading way too much into her extravagant clips. What’s weird with “Natural ni Koi Shite” is that such a musical breakthrough comes via an ad. This isn’t selling out – it’s taking off with music meant for a store sampler CD. Imagine Madonna becoming a household name thanks to a song about the great taste of Pepsi.
It’s, admittedly, a personal choice as to whether this connections bugs you out or not. As mentioned, this is the most mainstream of J-Pop, where making the most money towers above all other objectives. Plus, Perfume’s target demographic probably loves Natural Beauty Basic, and couldn’t be more thrilled that one of their favorite musical acts has teamed up with one of their favorite shops. When one member of the trio comes out of the store holding a bunch of shopping bags with a grin plastered on her face, they don’t see a terrifying embrace of consumer culture like I do…they see a girl happy because she bought some nice shoes. It all might be a bit troubling, but with a song this good it’s easy enough to block those factors out and just love “Natural no Koi Shite” for being damn catchy pop. I just wish Perfume could have saved the Natural Beauty Basic tie-in for something that wasn’t there best song to date.