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Puffy Ami Yumi: Japanese Pop Sensations Invade US

First appeared in the Willamette Week, July, 2002

They play to stadiums full of screaming fans. They’ve sold millions of records. They have their own TV show and action figures. They can’t even go to the corner store without being recognized. They are Puffy AmiYumi, one of Japan’s biggest pop sensations and they’ve come to take America by storm.

Well, the members of this super-cute, sugar-pop duo—Ami Onuki and Yumi Yoshimura—are more pragmatic than that. “We don’t expect to be playing Madison Square Garden overnight,” says Ami, “to be honest, we don’t worry about the speculations [of the American press].”

“I am happy for the opportunity of playing in front of an American audience,” echoes Yumi, “I hope they like our show.”

The duo came together back in the mid-nineties, when the two gals—unknown to each other at the time—entered a talent search contest for Sony. The talent scout who thought to pair the two together has certainly earned his pay, as the duo has gone on to sell over 14 million copies of their half dozen releases. In building their repertoire, they’ve explored just about every pop style imaginable. A short list of stylistic landmarks might include: ELO, Abba, The Who, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Jam, Motown, and more.

“We just try to do something interesting and really fun,” explains Ami, “not only for our audiences but also for ourselves.” Yumi adds, “We just [go where] the music leads us.”

It remains to be seen whether millions of American kids will go for the Puffy AmiYumi pop rummage sale. One stumbling block will certainly be that most of their lyrics are in Japanese. “It may be difficult,” agrees Ami. “Nonetheless, you will get the vibe of what we are singing about.” And besides, let us not forget the cross-cultural megaforce known as Hello Kitty; Puffy AmiYumi—with their cute looks and cartoon identities (the creation of celebrated New York pop artist, Rodney Alan Greenblat)—could certainly tap into that vibe.

All-in-all the girls will take it as it comes. “I would love it if people just enjoy the music,” says Ami. “I can’t do something that I personally am not interested in. We always try to do some experimental stuff to see what happens. That is the Puffy AmiYumi way.”

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