I do not remember how I stumbled across FEMM.
It must have been on one of those nights when I was trapped in a YouTube black hole trying to find new content to absorb. I just remember stumbling across a song called “Kill The DJ” in my Recommended Videos column and before I knew it, I was watching two expressionless women in latex belting out a catchy bit of braggadocio.
They caught my attention from minute one:
Within moments, I had binged all their songs.
FEMM is an electro-pop duo whose name is an acronym for “Far East Mention Mannequins.” They are a gimmick band in much the same vein as acts like Gorillaz, or Lordi, or Genki Rockets. FEMM’s shtick is that they are living mannequins named RiRi and LuLa, and are portrayed by Emily Kaiho and Hiro Todo respectively – who also portray their “producers” Honey-B and W-Trouble (Do you …Do you get it?). According to FEMM’s own lore (which I don’t fully get but here you go anyway), the band came together to liberate “dolls” and unite the world while asking two important questions to the public: “Do dolls have feelings? Do their songs move people?”
This is going to be important later.
Watching FEMM is like watching a Bizarro Universe version of Perfume. Now, I’m not going to throw shade at Perfume. Their music is catchy and energizing, their choreography is impressive, and I’m totally going to fly to Japan and marry Nocchi and become a stay-at-home dad so I can raise our 2.5 dogs and white picket fence. However, the content of their music is very light and playful (look up lyric translations and you’ll see what I mean). Conversely, to them and to the safer and friendlier veins of most J-Pop, FEMM’s music tends to be more aggressive and adult.
Consider the following: at the time of writing, Perfume’s most popular song on their YouTube channel is “Flash,” followed by two tracks innocently titled “Magic of Love” and “Pick Me Up.”
Presently, FEMM’S most popular song on their channel is titled “Fuck Boys, Get Money.”*
What I like about FEMM isn’t just the music, although many of their songs can get me through a long day. I like how they are musically in direct opposition to most J-Pop.
Everything about FEMM clashes strongly with their whole “doll” and “mannequin” motif. When we think of dolls, we think of fragile cutesy things meant to be cared for and doted on. Mannequins, as per FEMM’s namesake, are supposed to be stiff and lifeless blank slates we project the trends of the times onto. FEMM challenges this regularly. Not only are their lyrics more mature, but both halves of FEMM run around in latex bodysuits and fright wigs, do provocative and complex dance moves, and make it clear they’re not just pretty faces. What’s more, the pair sing in much-deeper tones than some of their more popular J-Pop contemporaries (AKB48, I am looking at you), which arguably make them more womanly.
There is also the matter of the two questions FEMM poses to their audience: “Do dolls have feelings? Do their songs move people?” The second question is answered easily; taste is subjective. However designed-by-committee a song or artist’s image is, such songs can, will, and do resonate on a personal level. I imagine there are still people who listen to Milli-Vanilli and Ashlee Simpson, despite the artists themselves being outed as frauds who lip-synched on stage.
That first question, however, must be answered. Do dolls have feelings?
It’s an important one to ask because it feels like a question being asked of the music industry with regards to its talent. Pop stars like Ariana Grande or One Direction (or anyone else over the past century, really) are viewed as eye candy that can sing and move in ways that are pleasing to the general audience. But how do they feel being up there? Rather, how do we make them feel?
It is scarier in Japan in some respects. Idol Culture, as it’s called, deifies talented people to the degree that any mention of personal involvement outside your career can mean life or death. Remember AKB48? When one of their members was discovered to be in a relationship with a boy, from another pop group no less, her managers forced her to call it off. Then, in penance for daring to have a life outside music, she shaved her head and gave a tearful apology on YouTube. It doesn’t just extend to music; one voice actor, Hiroshi Kamiya, had to apologize for being married with a son, and actress and singer Aya Hirano came under fire for having older boyfriends and for confessing to dating multiple people.
Is it worth it being in the spotlight when children and alleged adults lose their minds over the goings-on of their idols’ personal lives? Do we not treat them like dolls in the hands of brats? Do people not become obsessive or possessive over people that they have claimed for themselves?
Do dolls have feelings?
Clearly. We just aren’t allowed to know that.
And in Japan, where FEMM’s message of liberation is being broadcasted from, “dolls” get punished for expressing them.
* Yes, I removed the censoring and I am using proper pronunciation here. Otherwise, “Fxxk Boyz Get Money” sounds like a brag that insufficient men are surprisingly wealthy.
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