80s stadium girl rock, Japanese style
In early 1983, five female musicians joined forces to create a pop-rock band that would shatter the image of incompetence that had pervaded Japanese female artists for so long. Once Princess Princess took the stage and let their guitars wail, the generic prepackaged female pop seemed silly in comparison. Pri Pri (as they are affectionately known) proved that Japanese women were not only capable of writing and playing their own material, but also making their own career decisions. Considering that a few years earlier most female performers were barely allowed to style their own hair, Princess Princess had made some significant advances for Japanese women- albeit quite unknowingly.
Whether or not Pri Pri had feminist intentions, their priority was to keep releasing the energy-fuelled rock anthems that brought music fans to their concerts in droves. The grandiose synth lines and power chords that kick off songs like "Oh yeah!" "Pilot Ni Naritakute" and "Get Crazy!" bring Van Halen and Bon Jovi to mind. Although the girls always made sure to throw in a blend of pop, blues, and funk to keep things interesting.
Lead guitarist Kanako Nakayama, drummer Kyoko Tomita, bassist Atsuko Watanabe, keyboard player Tomoko Konno, and lead vocalist/ guitarist Kaori Okui were a teenage boy's dream come true. In fact, the only band my boyfriend can remember loving as a kid was Princess Princess. It was his tattered Pri Pri compilation that I somehow inherited and played endlessly in my car. After a quick listen to Pri Pri's '89 hit single "Diamonds," I was an instant fan. This was the girls' shining moment of pop - Kaori Okui tones down her rock n'roll voice, and accents her sweeter side. Think Katrina and the Waves' "Walking on Sunshine" with girly "oohs" and "aahs" harboring in the background. Instantly addictive.
The biggest hit for Princess Princess came in 1987 with "Sekai De Ichiban Atsui Natsu" (The Hottest Summer In The World), a song that can almost always be heard echoing from Japan's plethora of karaoke boxes. It's a karaoke classic. The bass leaden intro mimics Kim Wilde's "Kids in America" though the song quickly takes an original turn into a melodic, keyboard based explosion of pop rock.
At a mere 16 years old when she joined the band (the other four girls were 18 and 19), Kaori Okui led Pri Pri to the height of their success. Writing virtually all of the hit singles, Kaori's talent and star power not only helped sell the records, but made for spectacular live shows. Fans no longer had to wait for Kiss and Van Halen to tour Japan to catch a glimpse of American style rock n'roll. Princess Princess mastered the headbanging, jumps, guitar tricks, and rock n'roll attitudes while perfecting a mix of Japanese pop with American rock.
Pri Pri managed a 13-year career before deciding to call it quits. As Kaori Okui explained in a radio interview: "During a band meeting, we were discussing how to approach our next album. Our group split into two- one side wanted to go for a more futuristic sound, and the other side didn't want to change. We couldn't agree on anything except that we all loved the band. And in order to remain close friends, we decided to break up the group rather than start a battle."
But before they went their separate ways, Pri Pri decided that they owed it to their fans to announce the break up in person. With that in mind, the girls made a point to tour every city in Japan, and hold a discussion period during the show to explain their situation and gain feedback from their fans.
For a band that stayed true to their music and their fans for 13 years, the break up was a shock to the whole music industry. Five competent, lively female musicians playing in a rock n'roll band was like nothing Japan had ever seen. Princess Princess would be missed, but their spirit would be kept alive by the many female pop-rock bands that followed in their footsteps.