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Essay

PPAP

By Patrick St. Michel

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If you had told me at the start of 2016 that the most listened-to song of the year out of Japan would be about fruity pens, I would have been deeply confused. Yet here we are, 2017 on the horizon, and PPAP — short for Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen — has racked up millions upon millions of views on YouTube. Centered entirely on the idea of combining one pen with an apple and another with a pineapple, the goofy but deeply catchy tune has achieved a feat most J-pop artists can only dream of.

And it's the creation of a comedian. Kazuhito Kosaka, better known as Kosaka Daimaou, wrote PPAP for his character Pikotaro, a cheetah print-sporting man who dances awkwardly and often has a big grin on his face. He uploaded PPAP to YouTube on Aug. 25, but it took about a month to go viral. A shout-out from Canadian pop star Justin Bieber on Twitter — "My favorite video on the internet" — really got things moving.

Just why were people so smitten with PPAP? Well, it does everything a viral video should. It's a touch bizarre, while also being very easy to get stuck in your head. It's short, making it easy for people to view it repeatedly. And, most importantly, it's the type of clip that's easy to spoof or react to. Part of the popularity of Pikotaro's song can be attributed to other YouTubers talking about or parodying it in their own videos. Like many online hits before it, PPAP felt like something everyone was reacting to.

Pikotaro isn't the first Japanese comedian to score an unlikely hit song thanks to the power of YouTube. Duo Kumamushi scored one of 2015's biggest hits with Attakai n Dakara, while earlier this year the pop outfit Radio Fish — fronted by comedy pair Oriental Radio —went big with the dance number Perfect Human. Yet those tracks only really made inroads in Japan. PPAP went global, laying claim to being the most successful Japanese comedy song of all time.

Of course, the flip side to rapid internet success is an equally quick fall. As big as PPAP got — being lampooned on late-night American TV, for example — its 15 minutes of fame ended fast (though, in those 15 minutes, you could have watched the video 12 times). Pikotaro probably won't have a song or comedy routine that comes within replicating a fraction of PPAP's success. He'll ultimately be just another internet meme.

Which shouldn't detract from all the good things that his silly musical number has accomplished. It's got more than 4.5 million views on YouTube, and became the shortest song ever to chart on the Billboard music charts (at number 77) — no small feat. And, if nothing else, Pikotaro taught us how much fun it is to talk about pens, pineapples and pen-pineapples.

PPAP

日本人お笑い芸人が扮するピコ太郎がYouTube に投稿して、世界中で話題を呼んでいる動画「PPAP」。ビルボードの音楽チャートにランクインするほどの人気の理由は何だろうか?

The Japan Times ST: November 18, 2016

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