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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Lavigne gets into complicated situation with racist video

Published: April 25, 2014
Section: Arts, Etc.

Remember when Avril Lavigne had music that was worth being nominated for a Grammy? Lavigne has come a long way from her “Complicated” days—a long way down. The Canadian singer-songwriter, who is now 29 years old, seems to have pulled a Benjamin Button and has reversed the aging process.

On Tuesday this week, a bizarre new music video hit the Internet and has been making waves ever since. Lavigne released the music video for her new single, “Hello Kitty,” on the Internet April 22 and has since been accused of being racist toward her Japanese fan base. The song features Lavigne in Tokyo street-style outfits going to stereotypically “Japanese” hangouts, such as a candy store and a sushi bar. Following behind her like a strange cult are four Japanese backup dancers in matching red wigs and suspenders. The song itself mainly consists of Lavigne singing “Hello Kitty” and yelling simple Japanese to a high-paced, pop beat with occasional dub-step sequences.

Lavigne has gotten flack for depicting Japanese culture in a highly stereotypical way, and some people have gone so far as to call her racist. Twitter and Facebook were flooded on Tuesday and Wednesday with viewers making comments about how horrified they were at how racist the video was and how Lavigne’s career has gone downhill from the 2002 release of her first album, “Let Go.” In response to the major criticism of “Hello Kitty,” the video was taken off of YouTube on Tuesday night and was not re-posted until Thursday afternoon.

Avril Lavigne responded to criticism towards her music video on Facebook, posting a status that reads, “RACIST??? LOLOLOL!!! I love Japanese culture and I spend half of my time in Japan. I flew to Tokyo to shoot this video specifically for my Japanese fans, WITH my Japanese label, Japanese choreographers AND a Japanese director IN Japan.” Lavigne has stood by her video despite the criticism, promoting it on her website even after it was taken down from YouTube.

On top of accusing Lavigne of racism, critics of the video saw something else wrong: It is just plain bad. The song’s repetitive, simplistic lyrics get stuck in the listener’s head in a torturing way similar to “It’s a Small World.”

The song is a sugar-coated pop mess, Lavigne makes herself look ridiculous by overacting throughout the entire video and the stereotypical representation of Japanese culture is an unfortunate artistic choice. But all of these merely contribute to a disappointingly vapid music video and not a deliberately insensitive, racist message aimed at Japanese culture.

The main failure in this video is Lavigne’s effort to look cutesy. Her efforts to look like a Japanese-inspired sex kitten are misguided and fail to come across as realistic or appealing. The over-simplified pop lyrics don’t reach their goal of being catchy and easy to learn and rather come across as forced and trite. The use of Japanese in the lyrics is also unnecessarily awkward, especially because she neither speaks Japanese nor removes her Canadian accent from her poor attempt to say Japanese words.

Overall, “Hello Kitty” is possibly the worst music video since Rebecca Black’s “Friday” based on music and artistic taste alone, but maybe it doesn’t deserve as much criticism for being racist as it’s been getting. The only thing that is not racist or misguided is the pastel color scheme, which is admittedly cute. There is something to be said for cultural differences in taste. Lavigne’s video, as she said in her post on Facebook, was produced by many Japanese musical professionals. Equally interesting is the fact that her husband, Nickelback lead singer Chad Kroeger co-wrote the song, which contains aspects of dubstep and techno-pop. As a rock band lead singer, he obviously knows how to write a good electropop song.

You should definitely see the video for yourself because it’s quickly becoming a huge topic on the Internet and will probably produce a plethora of memes with its wacky images. If this is some sort of ploy by Lavigne just to get media attention, it is certainly working.