Do Mannequins Dream of Electropop?
Japan has always had an adventurous streak when it came to popular music and technology. In the 70s and 80s, Ryuichi Sakamoto and his band YMO gave the world much in the way of sampling, paving the way for bands such as Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran to incorporate electronic tones in their music. The 90s saw the explosion of Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution on a global scale, with millions stomping their way through eurodance and techno hits from Toshiba EMI’s Dancemania series. Currently, the Yamaha developed Vocaloid 2 software series poster girl Miku Hatsune reigns supreme, a computer generated popstar whose aquamarine pigtails are a common sight in both anime and the Oricon chart. I mean, you don’t get bigger than opening for Lady Gaga on her tour.
Despite this, Japan’s music industry has been seen to largely play catchup with the rest of the world. Major labels are slow to embrace streaming services. Japan’s iTunes store is a wealth of anison, electro and pop but only a small fraction of that is available globally. Official Youtube accounts often only has short versions of music videos up, to the frustration of anyone who wants to keep their downloads and music video viewing legal.
In the meanwhile, K-pop catapulted into the world’s pop culture stage through utilising social media channels and YouTube. The “Korean Wave” brought with it groups like 2NE1 and Big Bang having evangelists like will.i.am and Diplo. PSY made his brand of wackiness viral with Gangnam Style dominating the summer of 2012 and beyond. The appeal of K-pop was a combination of wholesale lifting from American pop trends and a dash of exoticism. Add a fashion forward aspect and you have a recipe for a visual based, ear friendly success that goes through Youtube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
FEMM, short for Far East Mention Mannequins is a dance duo consisting of RiRi (also known as MS-000000) and LuLa (also known as SW-000000). These two mannequins are controlled by their agents – Honey-B and W-Trouble, who talk for them and manage their social media. FEMM was a group engineered to perfection to dominate the world. The FAR EAST MENTION MANNEQUINS AGENCY SYNDICATE is a secret organisation with the goal of liberating all the mannequins from their human oppressors by turning them into FEMMs. FEMMs are sentient mannequins that are capable of free will. Their fans are fellow agents and we’re all helping further the mannequin liberation agenda. Confused? Are you sold yet?
It’s just part of the appeal.
Pictured: RiRi (left) and LuLa (right) of FEMM
Equal parts mysterious and beautiful, they have the most intriguing and depth filled backstory to a pop group I’ve ever seen. They first appeared via Youtube, with a mysterious teaser of two girls – mannequins, if you will -walking around Tokyo and rescuing other mannequins.
The teaser is nothing short of pure sci-fi, evoking Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell and Tron to see the least. And what happened next, nobody quite expected. A slew of music videos entirely in English, talking about girl power, feminism and having fun. Visually creative music videos that integrated complex choreography that paid homage to voguing and twerking. An unusually bold style for a Japanese group, not to mention that they were clad in all latex. And not just your typical full body suits either – latex school girl uniforms, latex kimono, latex combat and nurses uniforms, latex dresses and latex maid outfits. Their first video “UFO” is a cover of the Pink Lady song, and boy is it a trip.
Their biggest hit to date is the Fxxk Boyz Get Money, a stomping killer of a track that talks about how most boys are silly silly things that are not worth your time and that cold, hard cash is a better alternative. A Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend for the Facebook age that hit over a million views on Youtube.
I can’t begin to explain what pulls me to FEMM, but I’ll make a good shot of it here.
Their music is about empowerment first and foremost, touching on the real kind of relations between girls and romantic love. Their debut album Femm-Isation is a perfectly curated EDM infused pop taking a influences from Zedd, David Guetta, Giorgio Moroder and SebastiAn to say the least. The lyrics are worth looking at too, as the entirety of the album is recorded in English and often incorporated in their videos, which goes to show that they’re really aiming for global domination. Astroboy is about that one boy who you really want to sleep with and you know it’s going to be a wild ride when you do. Kiss the Rain is a touching take on the longing of long distance relationships. Dead Wrong is about how you’re partying after a break up rather than crying about it. Wannabe is about envy and how you’re not that girl that’s always with him. Bar the human agents of W-Trouble and Honey-B featuring on Astroboy, the vocals are all processed and have a mechanical stutter. Even the gentle piano ballad Unbreakable is decidedly processed and pitch corrected to sound not like human voices. Which begs the question, do the mannequins feel the emotions that they’re singing about? Or is it for our (decidely human) benefit?
It works on a meta level for me, a commentary of how pop groups are often over-manufactured tightly controlled affairs with the girls (and they are often girls) behaving like beautiful mannequins singing about an inoffensive puerile love and outlook on life. (To see the epitome of this, a certain pop group with 9 members actually turned into mannequins in a shop window for one of their videos, though I’m not saying who.)
FEMM take this to the extreme and actually have their girls be mannequins in the form of RiRi and Lula, who are “identically different.” They dance like mannequins. Heck, they take it further and actually act like mannequins on stage and any time they’re in costume. When FEMM performed at the Japanese Youtube Fanfest, they were carried on stage by their handlers. But because they take it to this extreme, their mannequin aesthetic has brought them to be taken seriously in the fashion world with FEMM recently modelling for Dolce and Gabbana and featuring in Vogue Japan in Louboutins.
Yet despite this, they managed to drop references to Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.
All their videos are inherently giffable as seen from the above frames from Astroboy, including their latest work PoW! which as part of its hype campaign has a set of perfectly looped gifs from the video on their website. Their Instagram is perfectly curated, showcasing RiRi and LuLa as they perform at Tokyo’s clubs and their interactions with other artists.
FEMM look like they are poised to hit the mainstream in a big way. Along with fellow bilingual fashionable Tokyoite group Faky, they released a Japanese cover of the EDM hit No Boyfriend by Sak Noel which features the girls of Faky and the FEMM mannequins in a hilarious girls night out karaoke sequence. Hot on the heels of that, their first major release is PoW!/L.C.S., a full length EP that is being released on CD by avex trax and JPU Records in Europe. The CD will be bundled with a copy of Femm-Isation, or more hilariously, a blank CD if you’ve already bought it so you can burn your own copy.
We’re on the cusp of a great mannequin uprising and I for one, welcome it.
FEMM’s debut album “Femm-isation”, their latest EP PoW!/L.C.S. are available to get on iTunes. Full length videos are available on FEMM’s official Youtube for nearly all of their songs.