Making Sense of Amuro Namie’s “WoWa”

Filed in Cult of Pop 1.0

Amuro Namie’s PV for “WoWa” is out and I love it to death. Never mind the Queen of Hip Pop, this wacky video has ensured that she’s also empress of my heart. (Not counting the wife, of course. No one tell her I wrote this, she already thinks W are the co-empresses of my heart.) Some of it is strange, some of it is sexy, and some of it is cute… It left me feeling both puzzled and ready to kill in the name of Amuro. But for what reasons, I’m not sure. Is it the cuteness? The strangeness? The sexiness? Is this some clever kind of indoctrination?

I’m not sure.

I mean, I watch Tommy Heavenly6’s excellent “Ready” PV and it’s cute, strange, and sexy – but it’s clear that the strangeness is the defining punky spirit of the video, giving it a bit of edge while playing with the pop cuteness of her image. And while I’m not too hot for the song, Koda Kumi’s “Butterfly” PV is like Four Kumi Characters In Search Of Their Breasts. It’s a bit strange at times, and certainly cute when Kumi decides to show her vulnerability – but sexiness is the driving force of the video.

“WoWa” is a more complicated beast than “Ready” and “Butterfly”. It’d be easy to blame the Pink Panther for this, but I think there’s more to it than that. Namie’s going for something different here, but what exactly is hard to pin down.

So let’s play “Strange, Sexy, or Cute?” – the Okinawan Poppin’ La La Coochie Version.

Namie watching TV. The PV begins with Namie sitting on the floor of a very pink room, watching an old-fashioned television. It’d be stylishly postmodern if it wasn’t so cliche. Anyway, this is a nod to her pink cartoon co-stars and is actually a good tip-off that we’re not looking at a PV as serious as some of her other urban-themed songs. And while this motif is pretty common – W use it in “Koi no Vacance” for example – what I’m most reminded of is Koda Kumi’s “Love and Honey” PV, which features another cartoon-based character, Cutie Honey. (Though technically, Kago and Tsuji are also cartoon characters…) Anyway, Verdict: Cute.

Namie Whistling. Namie whistles as the song begins. Watching her whistle is just… yikes! I don’t think anyone else can make whistling so damn sexy. Setting aside the puckered lips and all the fantasies it conjures, she’s just got a beautiful face: setting aside the requisite symmetry, there’s a softness to her features that’s both vulnerable and… wise? Knowing. Experienced. There’s something behind the eyes, to the set of the lips, that makes her sui generis. I look forward to every close-up shot of her throughout the PV. Verdict: Sexy.

The royal title. Queen of Hip Pop is the name of her upcoming album. I like the sound of it and all, and it certainly suits her. I like how it’s a defiant statement of supremacy – which is very hip hop, if not hip pop – and it certain rolls off the tongue in a memorable fashion. But still, deciding to call oneself royalty or a supreme anything is always a bit odd to me, even in the hyperbolic world of entertainment. And to have the Pink Panther and his girlfriend write it on the television just makes it… odder? The cartoon characters are at least a shotgun blast over the head, warning you this isn’t your typical Namie video. So, Verdict: Strange.

That tracking shot. Here’s a shot that just seems to come out of nowhere – I get a sense that it’s some kind of pop culture reference, so if anyone cares to illuminate me, I’ll be grateful. At any rate, it starts with a female DJ (who reminds me of Lady’s “Attention” PV) and tracks backward to show a bunch of Amuro’s backup girls putting down their drinks at the bar, and finally Namie and the girls all lean in and look puzzled at the camera. This is as funny as I think they intended, but such elaborate tracking shots always remind me of Kubrick’s The Shining (the great fetish film for tracking buffs). And that girl right next to Namie looks like she could be in Lady. Verdict: Tie, strange and cute. (Because Lady is very, very cute. Three-fourth of them, at least.)

Rollerskating pom pom cheerleaders. Ahh… Just think about it. Rollerskating. Pom pom. Cheerleaders. The nod to Gwen Stefani’s annoying “Hollaback Girl” video is obvious, though Namie’s video seems less slutty and more… organic, for lack of a better term. In as much as rollerskating pom pom cheerleaders “fit” in any setting or song, it seems more appropriate in “Wo Wa” to me. (But I’m biased.) Anyway, I know the obvious verdict is “cute”, but the male in me finds this imagery a melange of carnal fantasies, a potpourri of whitebread kink. Rollergirl from Boogie Nights and Debbie Does Dallas and Tommy February6’s cheerleaders – which featured the too-young too-hot Hinoi Asuka. And the part of me reacting above the waist finds it something of a semiotic curiosity: a too-obvious attempt to be playful and sexual in the same candy-flavored breath. If anything, this image is as cartoony and oddly innuendo-ridden as the Pink Panther himself. But it is effective in getting me riled up, as the below-the-waist reactions attest. Verdict: Tie, strange but in a very sexy way.

The song itself. It creeps up on you, simple and mildly ridiculous but ultimately addictive. And what the fuck, you can whistle along to it. Namie coos throughout the song, girlish and demanding at the same time. The beat becomes seductive quickly, while the drum rolls and whistles as the song closes is like a slow pelvis grind against the ears. It sounds like essential Namie to me, though I must admit I’m much more familiar with recent Namie and not her earlier stuff. Verdict: Tie, strange and sexy.

Wo’s and Wa’s in the air. In case you’re not too sure what the title of the song is, actual cartoon-lettering Wo’s and Wa’s pop up on the screen. This gives you a chance to notice how poufy Namie’s hair is, frizzier than a cat drying after a storm. Verdict: Strange.

The Pink Panther’s driving skills. So the Pink Panther – or as I’ll call him from here on, that pink bastard – is trying to impress his date by showing off his driving skills. This being a cartoon, he does lots of zany things while he drives, which I guess is humorous but is really just odd. How is his date supposed to be turned on by this? It isn’t slick, it’s a fucking hazard to the road! And in this shot, it looks like he’s driving with his tail while exposing “little pink” to his date… and she’s laughing at him. Verdict: Strange. Very strange.

The silhouette. Again, this reminds me of Koda Kumi, the part in “Shake It” where she stops being a harem girl and emerges from the dark in a sleevless hoodie. But here Namie just strikes a pose and flows to another pose, like those naked-girl mudflaps on eighteen wheelers, except come to beautiful life. Verdict: Sexy.

The black outfit. From her cute pink outfit, we now have Namie looking incredibly incredibly gorgeous in a short black dress. She’s so sexy here, she even ditches her cheerleaders in favor of two male dancers. This is more recognizably Namie to me: street tough and aloof, but making you feel her moves like some gift from the J-urban heavens. Verdict: Sexy.

Again, that black outfit. I mean… Just look at her! Verdict: Undeniably sexy.

And again, that… No, wait, what else? Oh, yeah: Amuro-style English. I should’ve mentioned this earlier but wanted to fit in another shot of the black dress. But am I hearing the lyrics right? “Where’s the wo wa? Who’s got the wo wa? Somebody wrote the wo wa? I want to hear you say wo wa?” One of the absolute proofs that Amuro Namie is the queen of hip pop is that she gets away with some of the most bizarre manglings of English I’ve ever heard – and not only that, she makes it sound sexy. It’s like the Eddie Murphy joke about how saying anything in French sounds sexy, even if you’re just saying you’ve got take a shit. Namie’s last single, “Want Me Want Me” is chock full of English – some of it incomprehensible (bad) and some undeniably filthy in its come-on (very, very good). At its most nonsensical, she declares, “I am oochie poppin’ la la coochie” – and she makes you believe that, man. She really is oochie poppin’ la la coochie and you want to be oochie poppin’ la la coochie with her. Any fan can make his own list of favorite Namie-isms: “Body Feels Exit”? “If you’ve got chicas you gotta put them up”? It’s like she’s being put through the world’s most misguided ESL course. Verdict: Strange. But I must admit, I’d miss it if it disappeared.

Pink Panther gets some. So that pink bastard is dancing with his date but she’s keeping him at a distance. So he kicks a coconut tree so a coconut falls on the car’s hood, which apparently causes a loud noise and sends his date right in the pink bastard’s arms. She isn’t afraid of his driving but a coconut drops and she’s holding tight for dear life. This is slick? Pimping? And look at the self-satisfied smile on the pink bastard’s face as he holds the girl (female cat?) close to him. I know he’s got roofies in his pocket, if he has a pocket. Verdict: Strange. Disturbingly so.

Crunching popcorn-eating sounds. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Back to watching TV in her room. By this point, I’m both oddly perturbed and hot & bothered by the PV. And crunchy popcorn can have a real seductive subtext if it’s Namie doing the crunching. So, Verdict: Sexy.

So. A quick count of cute (2) and strange (8) and sexy (7)… shows that this is primarily a strange video. If you cut out all the sequences involving the Pink Panther, though, it’s less strange than sexy… but still undeniably strange. It could’ve been worse. But this is certainly a quirky, rather distinctive PV – it borrows from other PVs by other artists, but Namie makes this one uniquely her own by the force of her persona.

I am just so fucking relieved that Namie doesn’t ever dance with the pink bastard at any point. That would’ve been too MC Scat Cat for me. And besides, she could do much better than him.

Amuro’s quickly growing into my absolute favorite Jpop performer, right after SweetS. Along with my increasing interest n Dream, I’m becoming more of an Avex fan than a Hello! Project fan, which is an odd thing to observe in myself. But really: can even Ayaya get away with “who’s got the wo wa”? Would she even dare to attempt it right now? Amuro is taking risks and that’s as sexy as anything else about her, no matter how strange those risks seem.

I just hope she doesn’t use Deputy Dawg or Captain Caveman in her next PV. I’m not sure if I can take that.