Review: Perfume’s “Fushizen na Girl/Natural ni Koishite” Single

One important fact must be addressed when talking about Perfume, whether in discussion of the trio’s music, the group’s commercial ventures or Ayaka Nishiwaki’s hair – every Perfume song generally sounds the same. The pop-outfit aren’t artistically bankrupt so much as they have stuck to a winning template…wall-to-wall electro-sweetness, digitized vocals and an insanely good ear for dance pop, masterminded by Yasutaka Nakata. Critics flog the Hiroshima three-piece for mining this particularly gooey vein of pop dry, knocking their last full-length Triangle for “crushing boredom” and robbing the singers “of their own personality.”

For the first point – not to tread on the idea of “personal taste,” but being bored by Perfume seems really bizarre. I could see being overwhelmed by them, or being put-off, but to be rendered bored seems strange, but whatever those are small potatoes. As for the second point, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…why exactly does this matter again? This obsession with “personality” basically translates into “talent” which leads down the road to the uninformed-mom thought of “they aren’t good because they don’t play instruments (I’ve heard of)!” I’d get this harping on “personality” if applied to the lukewarm-badlands of indie rock where anything going beyond “jangly” guitars gets a gold star.

But we’re talking about mainstream pop! This stuff gets cultivated in P&R laboratories, any “personality” present a result of Monsanto-like engineering. And this all goes double for J-Pop, which rarely bothers to put too much thought into the whole personality thing anyways. Oh, Ayumi Hamasaki just released a rock ‘n’ roll album only months after dropping a pair of big, sappy ballads. Why would she make such a shift? Who cares, just buy them now. Even Lil’ Wayne got a smidgen of backstory as to why he went and excreted Rebirth on the world.

So, to wrap up this extended intro/screed, let’s turn to Roger Ebert. He’s made his name reviewing movies for what they are, nothing more and nothing less. He recognizes not every picture intends to be the next City Lights, and he takes this into account. Dude gave both CGI Garfield movies three stars because, while everyone else drooled at the prospect of sticking it to a cat voiced by Bill Murray, he recognized that they were harmless kids movie that did a decent job bringing the comic to the big screen. Perfume aren’t setting out to be Radiohead, Polysics, Justin Bieber or Omar Souleyman: they make bright, light as candyfloss electro-pop meant to get stuck in your head or soundtrack a night of dancing/karaoke with friends. Proceed from there.

All that’s to say – Perfume’s newest single sounds distinctively like Perfume, and you’ll either love it or hate it. “Fushizen na Girl/Natural ni Koishite” find Nakata and his trio of robo-girls doing what they do best, leaving detractors to sneer and give up on them 30 seconds in, while the entire population of 13-year-old girls in Japan and me(I acknowledge the group’s target audience and also the creepiness that entails) rejoice at a new slab of dancey disco-pop to entertain us.

Of the two new songs, “Fushizen na Girl” finds Perfume and Nakata sticking closest to the script they’ve perfected to this point. Specifically, this latest single recalls the electro-glide majesty that was “Dream Fighter,” both songs guided by sweeping Auto-tuned vocals and disco-influenced beats (check the congas kickin’ underneath all the electro-noise). It’s four minutes of Perfume executing the brightly colored swooshy pop they do so well, so spending too much time on “Fushizen na Girl” seems kinda silly. Let’s focus on a few track highlights though. Despite all the references to how Nakata crams every second of Perfume’s music with noise, “Fushizen na Girl” highlights how he’s still able to pace himself so great parts get a chance to shine. Just listen to the little ascending flutters drifting up after every few lines or the well timed digi-sighs. It’s a busy track, but a very well choreographed one, bolstered by the three front-and-center member’s zig-zag vocal work.

“Fushizen na Girl” is a great run-of-the-mill Perfume track, but B-side wins this round easily. I’ve already gushed about “Natural ni Koishite” on these Internet pages, but that won’t stop me from praising it even more. Ignore the consumer-tastic video – I still cringe whenever the one girl comes out of the store and the others react to her shopping bags like they’ve been reunited with a childhood golden retriever – and jingle tie-in. This song finds Perfume edging away from laser-light-show dance music and embracing unabashedly massive pop sounds. Nakata gives “Natural ni Koishite” just a little more space than most Perfume songs, and the added air gives more emphasis on this track’s two biggest assets – the big hop-scotching beat and fuzzy bass blasts. They lend “Natural ni Koishite” a surprising boom-bap quality that, when joined by the little electronic accessories and typically stellar robo-voices, create a stupidly blissful piece of warm weather pop. It’s an exciting development in the Perfume songbook, and one of their most accomplished pieces yet.

So there you go…one track that finds Perfume refining the formula they’ve been coasting on for nearly a decade, the other showing the exciting directions they could head in. Allow me to return to the personality issue one last time – critics say the vocal manipulations and sea of electro-smashes keep any of the individual members from expressing themselves. Listening to “Fushizen na Girl/Natural ni Koishite” I won’t argue with that…but I do think Perfume the group’s personality (whatever you want to define that as) does come through. Just listen to the music.

8 responses to “Review: Perfume’s “Fushizen na Girl/Natural ni Koishite” Single

  1. I most certainly enjoyed these two songs by Perfume.
    It’s actually the first time I’ve heard them singing, and I love the sound.
    Yeah, they clearly don’t even intend to market themselves as revolutionary artists. But in their niche, they’re great.
    Light songs, catchy, happy.
    Life offers enough drama, no need for that in every song.

  2. Thank you! Finally a critic who isn’t ridiculously hard on the girls! While they aren’t the world’s most ground shattering group, they are pretty high when compared to so much of the trash coming out of other countries *coughUScough*. I cannot fathom how people can complain about their “lack of personality”…have they ever seen a live or even a video of one? (Which also leads me to ask, can half of the people reviewing them even understand any of the lyrics?) The trio is one of the most energetic and amazing people I’ve ever seen in the music scene.

    Personally, I really enjoyed FNG and NNK; NNK especially considering it’s something Perfume hasn’t done before.

    They may not be the world’s best singers either, but they CAN sing without the vocoder; and unlike a lot of mass-produced talent-less artists, the girls have worked HARD to get where they are now. Personally, I think a lot of artists can take some cues from Perfume.

    さよなら!

    P.S.- their voices aren’t “auto-tuned”, its a vocoder, and yes, there is a big difference.

  3. acrosstheseaandback

    Hey Mike, thanks for reading!

    Yeah, I’ve written a lot on this blog but I completely agree that this critical focus on “personality” just seems pointless. They make really catchy dance-pop music…isn’t that good enough? I agree with Mara a lot when she says “life offers enough drama, no need for that in every song.” Sometimes you just need pop bliss.

    Also, THANK YOU for pointing out the vocoder/Auto-tune point. I cop to not totally knowing the difference between the two…I always assumed “vocoders” sounded like Daft Punk while “Auto-tune” sounded like T-Paine…but you’re comment spurred me to read up on the differences and yeah, seems like it could very well be vocoder. My bad, now I know. Whatever it is, I think it’s used very well in Perfume’s music. Thanks again!

  4. Hey, no problem; nice site by the way.

    I totally agree though…they’re very nice.

    No problem on the clarification, it just irks me sometimes when people (not you) complain about a lot of artists’ “auto-tuned” voices and use that to say they have no skill, when in actuality its vocoder use for artistic means.

  5. OMG, ever since I found out about Perfume on this blog, http://qlartistoftheweek.blogspot.com, I’ve been in love ever since! My god I❤ Perfume, especially Natural ni Koishite because the vid reminds me of my time when I'm w/ my 2 best friends in the mall.

    Go Perfume!😀

  6. Pingback: New Perfume Video: “VOICE” « Make Believe Melodies

  7. First of all, great writing! Actually ridiculously articulate compared to a lot of J-Pop ones I read (Japanese ones mostly but anyhoo…) but I will object to one claim, that the music’s target audience is 13-year-old girls. Deceptively, the target is actually middle-aged men. Perfume often talks about how glad they are that girls are finally starting to come to their concerts, as their longtime fans were mostly 30-40 year-old men, and their music has long been described as “Ojisan-hoihoi,” or a kind of cockroach trap for middle-aged guys who got into YMO and other J-techno back in the day. Also, the girls are all black-haired (conservative), well-spoken, less in line with what 13-year-old girls want to become and more in tune with the middle-aged guy’s vision of an ideal girlfriend.

    Also, maybe their personalities are a bit manufactured, but judging by Kashi and A-chan’s interviews (they do say a lot of things that makes their PR managers blanche with nervousness), they’re more genuine than you or I would care to give them credit for. I think that Edge is hands-down their best song, not the pop fluff.

    Go Perfuuuume!

  8. Personally I think Perfume is awesome. Who else can churn out wall to wall, 6-minutes of straight up, smart dance music? Fushizen Na Girl was perhaps one of my favorite Perfume songs. I still remember the first time I heard that chorus harmony drop at the minute mark… aural bliss. Both of these songs are cornerstones in Perfume’s discography. FNG because it reached #2 in the Oricon charts! I’m not surprised with how unbelievably catchy both of these tracks are. Perfume 4 life!!

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