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Label scents global success with Japan band Perfume

The world's biggest record label says it is trying something a little different as it seeks the elusive "holy grail" for Japanese pop -- global chart success.
/ Source: Reuters

The world's biggest record label says it is trying something a little different as it seeks the elusive "holy grail" for Japanese pop -- global chart success.

A procession of "J-pop" acts touted as the next big thing on the world stage have come and gone, most causing barely a ripple in markets like the United States, Germany and Britain.

Audiences outside Asia just don't "get" the music and lyrics, experts say, although pinning down exactly why has proved more difficult.

Labels' strategy has tended to focus on coaching Japanese acts to sound and appear more Western, notably by encouraging them to sing in English and try genres like hip-hop and R'n'B.

Now Universal Music Group plans to do the opposite as it seeks to launch techno-pop girl band Perfume on to the world stage -- celebrate their "Japan-ness."

"We want to sell the package as they are now," said Kimitaka Kato, managing director of Universal International at the label's Japanese division.

"I won't get them to sing 100 percent in English and not Westernize them at all unless they ask us to," he told Reuters by telephone from Japan. "I think with Perfume it's all about that futuristic Japanese image."

In what is billed as a first for Universal, it has just released Perfume's number one album "JPN" on iTunes in 50 countries.


Kato said the trio -- Nocchi, Kashiyuka and Aa-Chan -- may learn English over time, enabling them to express themselves overseas, but for now they would play on the image of "mysterious, futuristic, robotic, doll-type girls, well choreographed with laser beams."

And in a bid to avoid mistakes of the past, they will stick to the style of music they know best.

"We are Japanese, we are Asians, we can't necessarily sing 'R'n'B' or hip-hop," he said. "We should do what we're good at -- what we're good at is pop tunes."

In their 20s, the singers often appear in matching outfits, and YouTube footage features high-tech shows with elaborate lighting, synchronized dancing and giant video screens.

Perfume formed in 2000 and had its breakthrough in 2007 with the hit "Polyrhythm." According to Universal, which signed the band from independent label Tokuma, they have sold 1.3 million albums in Japan to date.

Kato said he had been encouraged by the recent success of "K-pop" acts from South Korea who had made limited inroads in Europe and beyond in recent months.

But he also conceded there was no guarantee that Perfume would find the magic formula to appeal to audiences in the United States and beyond.

Universal has tried before, notably with singer Utada who broke chart records in Japan but failed to match expectations internationally.

That may explain the label's gradual approach with Perfume, starting with promotion inside Asia followed by a small "showcase" tour further afield.

"I think it will work, but if it doesn't, I don't want other Japanese bands having a hard time," Kato explained.