Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Today is Puffy's 12th Birthday

I suppose next year I'll have to come up with a more imaginative title for this post, but today is "officially" Puffy's birthday. On this day in 1996, Puffy released their first single "Asia no Junshin", and they haven't stopped singing it since.

12 years. It's a long time in the Japanese music business, which can be as fickle as a cat in heat. It's really hard for me to believe that it's been that long, just like it's hard for me to believe my first trip to Japan was nearly ten years ago now. I refuse to believe I'm in my thirties.

I knew about Puffy shortly after their first album was released; I came across them in the course of my work. Saw pictures, heard some song snippets, didn't really think much of them. Disposable, I thought, like so many other young female Japanese idols. Three years later, I was in Japan and saw one of their videos in my hotel room - I think it was "Puffy de Rumba" or something, and it didn't do much to sway my opinion. My next trip was right around the release of the "Hurricane" single, which I also caught at my hotel (I've now got a pretty strong mental association between Puffy and the Makuhari Prince). I remember thinking "man, they've gotten a lot cuter over the years" before realizing that the phrase "over the years" was already kind of an amazing thing to be thinking about a musical act like this. I started to respect them, as I do anyone who displays obvious staying power, whether it be Ayumi Hamasaki or Madonna. They've obviously got something that people want.

But I still wasn't swayed by the music.

Problem was I really hadn't heard any of what I now consider their best stuff, which often isn't the singles. And they were still doing a lot of weird things in those days - it was probably tough picking a really representative song to make a video out of. A rumba was as Puffy-ish as anything else.

In 2004, the buzz for "Hi Hi" started picking up steam in the United States, and I read an article in I believe the New York Daily News that had me both amazed that they were making the trip across the Pacific and that in fact they were still around at all. (It was accompanied by one of my favorite photos of them, which didn't hurt.) I read it with interest despite not knowing or caring about their music at that point - I was more curious about the story behind it all. Some of what I'd read made me wonder if I'd misjudged them, or if they'd simply changed.

Shortly afterwards, the "Hi Hi" web site launched, and one of the things it did was auto-play a rotation of "Planet Tokyo", "Friends Forever" and I believe "K2G". Despite the corny English lyrics of the first two, I was basically blown away. I looked at their official web site and checked out some of the promo photos of them, which at that time had them decked out as indie rock chicks. I remember an almost physical feeling of disappointment that I'd apparently been missing out on this for eight years already, that I apparently just didn't "get it" before then. (I had also just missed their US debut tour.) They were always just what I was looking for in music, and I just hadn't known or seen it.

My first two Puffy albums were, I'm almost embarrassed to say, An Illustrated History and the Hi Hi soundtrack. I just felt like I needed to get caught up, man, and fast. But I realized then how much they had changed over the years, and they've changed a lot again in the four or so years that I've been actively following them. I'm sure they would certainly argue that it's how they stay fresh and relevant... but then I wonder why they still sing "Asia no Junshin" whenever they're on TV. There are obviously a lot of people that still see them, or want to see them, the way they were in 1996.

Anyway, their ten year anniversary was a big deal for them, as it should have been. But each passing year now is no less of a feat, I think, and it'll be pretty unbelievable if we're sitting here in 2016 talking about 20 years of Puffy. But it's starting to look more and more possible.

Happy birthday, Puffy!


  1. Vince here,
    I've told the story of how I first heard "An Illustrated History" before, but I didn't tell you how I became a 'hard-core'.
    I know a lot of people would put what I do when I like an artist or group, a syndrome!
    If I still think said artist or group are great by the SECOND Cd I buy, I need to get EVERYTHING THEY MADE.
    My second 'soft-spot' is when someone does a "Beatle" parody for an album cover.
    It made me both a RESIDENTS fan AND a Frank Zappa fan.
    Now, I know you said the american "Nice" cover is not the origional, but when I saw it at AMOEBA in LA, it put such a big smile on my face, I HAD to buy it, WITHOUT HEARING A SINGLE NOTE!!!!
    Like I said, I know this could be considered a sickness, but I don't care. It IS an odd way to discover things, but, you know, they wouldn't made that cover without knowing they would pick up a Beatle fan or two.

    And, we Beatle fans ARE loyal.

  2. I'd have to echo a lot of the comments here - Jeff's "late to the party" admission, induction (and indoctrination) via "An Illustrated History", the importance of Puffy's Beatles connections, Vince's "gotta have it all" syndrome...

    I've been enjoying a lot of Japanese music over the past ten years, starting with Shonen Knife and, soon after that, Petty Booka (who wonderfully connect to a lot of the '70s folk and roots music I love). And so on and on. But there was something special about Puffy. I'm not sure why I was late to the party... maybe I thought they were too successful, and so couldn't really be all that interesting musically. (But, hey, remember The Beatles?) When I finally tumbled, it was pretty hard. I don't know if the "weirdness factor" did it, or if it was the glorious sound of the girls' voices and ever-changing arrangements. It's something that's just so right.

    I loved that "Nice" cover parody as well, btw. And the Beatles influences in the music are what make it work ("Dare Ga Sore O" is one of my favorite songs, and - I wonder - has anyone come up with a definitive count of the references in "Kore Ga Watashi No"???)

    Puffy in 2016! You can do it!