Puffy AmiYumi ("PUFFY" in their native Japan: they took on their American name after a lawsuit from one Sean Combs) is a Japanese pop band led by two vocalists, Onuki Ami and Yoshimura Yumi. They are perhaps one of the oldest Japanese bands that still enjoys widespread popularity—so widespread, in fact, that they are now attempting to cross the pond.

The band was born in 1995, after Ami and Yumi put together separate demos for Sony in an attempt to get a contract. The two girls didn't even know each other, coming from two different worlds within Japan: Ami was from Tokyo, and Yumi was an Osakan. A certain Sony exec happened to theorize that their voices would sound good together, and invited them to audition as a duo.

In 1996, they made their debut with the single "Ajia no Junshin" ("True Asia"), which went platinum at a furious pace and propelled Ami and Yumi into Japanese stardom, giving them their own variety show, an agressive merchandising empire, and Moby-scaled commercial licensing.

Their penchant for clashing T-shirts and faded jeans basically started the fashion craze in Japan that eventually seeped over into America and beyond. The Puffy fashion is the centerpiece of their cute-yet-rebellious image, pushed further by their album art, invariably done by Rodney Alan Greenblat (the genius behind PaRappa The Rapper). Puffy's look has become the gold standard for female J-pop artists, imitated by many but mastered by no others.

If you want to talk about an eclectic band, Puffy is it. Their sound ranges from punk rock to funk to folk to disco, with all sorts of dizzying variations in between. Okuda Tamio, formerly of the band Unicorn, was Puffy's senpai in their formative days, and helped them to develop this unique sound over time. American critics have compared their style to The Cardigans, Eels, The Monkees, The Pooh Sticks, and Abba, never able to settle on what genre they should rightfully fall into.

I got to see Puffy on July 21, 2002 during their much-heralded North American tour, which took them across most of the Japanese-inhabited parts of the United States and Canada. The show I went to, at the Paradise club in Boston, Massachusetts, was attended by a healthy helping of Japanese diaspora and more than a few gaijin, many of whom were anxious to see the opening hometown act, Bleu. But the applause for Bleu was nothing compared to the absolute riot that ensued when these two petite Japanese girls got on stage and began belting out lyrics amid a five-piece rock orchestra background, complete with a raggedy-haired Slash lookalike on the vocalizer.

Seeing Puffy in person made me re-evaluate their leetness. On television, you might mistake them for an *Nsync-style commercial front, and in their official English translation, you might use them as another case to prove that the Japanese are truly mad. But in reality, they are icons, more like the Madonna of Japan than the Britney Spears of Japan: their music and style basically set the stage for all the acts that clueless teenyboppers in Japan have fallen in love with ever since.

Their most recent adventure is a cartoon on the Cartoon Network called Hi Hi Puffy Amiyumi.

Still, they rock.

Discography:

Amiyumi (1996)
Jet CD (1998)
Fever*Fever (1999)
PRMX (1999)
The Very Best of Puffy Amiyumi Jet Fever (2000)
Spike (2001) (North American debut)
The Hit Parade (2002)
An Illustrated History (2002)

Nice (2004)


Sources: www.puffyamiyumi.com www.womanrock.com/features/puffy_amiyumi.html www.bar-none.com/bios/puffyamiyumi.htm www.chartattack.com/damn/2002/07/2412.cfm Exarch

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