Editor's Picks

JapanMonday, October 17

Exclusive Interview with PIKOTARO

The lyrics are nonsense, but it's still addictive. "Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen," or "PPAP," is an almost worryingly catchy song that's drawing in listeners around the world. NHK World's Aki Shibuya met the artist responsible, PIKOTARO, and asked him how he's dealing with his newfound fame.

PIKOTARO(P): Hello, Madame.

Aki Shibuya (A): Hello.

P: Thank you for having me here, Madame.

A: It's a pleasure to have you. Can I call you PIKOTARO?

P: Yes, Madame. I'm a singer-songwriter from Chiba Prefecture and I go by the name of PIKOTARO.

A: My name is Aki Shibuya, and I'm an anchor for NEWSROOM TOKYO. Thank you for talking with me today.
NEWSROOM TOKYOキャスターの渋谷と申します。きょうはどうぞよろしくお願いいたします。

A: I'm very honored to meet you.

P: You left me no choice but to say that I'm very honored to meet you, too.

A: You must be very busy.

P: Yes, I am because I have a part-time job, too.

A: And what, may I ask, is your part-time job?

P: The other day, I was doing maintenance work on traffic lights. I had to plug and unplug their electric cables to make sure that they were flashing. I do all kinds of work outside of my music, like attaching an extra horn to drone beetles and selling them as “rhinoceros beetles”.

A: That's your job...

P: Ah-huh. It's for a Canadian company.

A: Right... Forgive me for asking, but what is your main occupation?

P: I've been working as a singer-songwriter.

A: And finally had your big breakthrough.

P: I'm not sure if you'd call it a breakthrough.

A: How do you feel about the attention you're getting from the overseas media?

P: The other day, people at my agency told me, "Great news, PIKOTARO. Yours is the most viewed video in Uganda!" And I still don't know how to digest the news. Of course, if I have to describe my feelings alphabetically, I'm "ha-P” (Happy) that people around the world are listening to my music. I really haven’t been able to adjust to this much attention because I've been singing in front of small groups of people for such a long time.

A: You uploaded your video on to You Tube and had an overwhelming reaction. Has your life changed dramatically since then?

P: It was so sudden, and I haven't been paid at all yet.

A: So your popularity is not reflected in your income.

P: Things changed in the last few weeks -- actually in the last three or four days. I uploaded my video on Aug. 24, and for the first two weeks to a month, only musicians who I know well tweeted about it. Then, a really famous website in the US that collects links about certain topics and -- can you believe it -- Justin Bieber, both shared my video. The popularity of my video rose rapidly, especially after Justin Bieber mentioned that it was his favorite.
本当に数週間の出来事なので。なんなら3日4日くらいで変わりました。動画を上げたばかりのころから、8月24日に動画をUploadしたんです。そのUploadして、そこから1カ月2週間ぐらいは、まあすごく知り合いのアーティストの方とかにはリツイートしてもらって。ところがアメリカのすごい有名なサイトをまとめた会社とか、何よりもJustin Bieber。Justin BieberがMy Favorite Videoだっていうふうに書いてくれたじゃないですか。あそこから一気に、急展開しましたね。

A: You mean, the “Justin Bieber”?
Justin Bieber。

P: So that's the correct pronunciation of his name?

A: Yes. Did your life change suddenly after these events?

P: To tell you the truth, nothing has changed.

A: Really?

P: Well, maybe it's just my mindset that hasn't changed. I was just invited to perform at a very big fashion show, and was very surprised to see the audience's response. I'm still not used to the fact that people know my songs. I'm amazed like odoroki-momonoki-20seiki.

A: That expression is hard to translate into English, but anyway, you were invited to perform at the Girls Award show last weekend, and the audience's response was...

P: ... mixed. The audience members were divided into groups of people who were either really happy and enthusiastic, or really confused. But I had an overwhelmingly good response in general, and we all danced to Pen Pineapple Apple Pen. As a joke, I said, "Let's say it together," and the audience really sang the lyrics. If you look at the video that was recorded of that performance, I stopped dancing for a second because I really didn't expect the audience to sing along.
ええ、もう嬉しい具合に盛り上がる人とドン引きの両方に分かれるんです。でも反応がものすごくありまして、一緒にpen pineapple apple pen というのを全員で。ちょっとギャグでSayって言ってみたら、本当にpen pineapple apple penって言ってきて、そこから次の踊り、僕一瞬止まってるんですね。「あ、あぁ踊ってる」って感じですね。

A: That sounds like fun. Have you ever experienced being so popular before?

P: To tell you the truth, I never expected to have this kind of international popularity. I was pretty popular among my relatives and neighbors. People told me in bars that I was hilarious, but I never would've imagine that my music would have this much impact. To be interviewed by NHK is like a dream, too. I really still can't believe it.
正直言うと、こんなに世界的なんていうのは何も考えてない。まあ、親戚界隈ではすごく人気がありまして、「ピコ太郎、面白いね」なんて飲み屋ではいつも言われていたんですね。まさかこういうところで、こういう風になるとは想像もしてなかったので。今こうしてNHKさんに呼んでもらってることすらも、”Like a dream”、夢のようですね。本当に。まだ信じられません。

A: Performing at the Girls Award show also helped your popularity because young women had a chance to see you and to be impressed.

P: I was the show's "special secret guest," or was it their "very special guest"?

A: You were their "very special guest"!

P: Right. One of my friends who went to the same show a few years ago said that Osamu Mukai (a Japanese actor) was the "very special guest" then. I'm sure some people were expecting to see someone like him and shocked to see a guy like me appearing on stage. Their expectations must have been high, but I was glad to know that many people already knew who I was.

A: So you're in the same class as Osamu Mukai.

P: Are you kidding? I want to set the record straight here, but I don't think I'm in the same class as Mr. Mukai. My producer, Kosaka Daimaou, was also very surprised.

A: As we were just talking, you reminded me so much of my friend, Mr. Kosaka. Don't you think that the two of you are very similar?

P: A lot of people have said the same thing to me. I've met him many times, but aren't we completely different in terms of our features and our height? I mean nobody would think that Antonio Inoki (retired professional wrestler) looks like Osugi (fashion critic), right? I feel like we're as different as they are.

A: As different as those two?

P: Our features are completely different. Mr. Kosaka has typical Japanese features, and I look more like Western people. But I also understand that the relationship between producers and artists can get pretty intimate. All I can say is that I've been told that a lot, but I think that we are quite different.

P: He has also been doing some comedy with his music, but I specialize in a style of musical comedy that I call piko-pop. It's like a cross between Japanese oldies and old-time music. I like to sing about various themes, for example, world peace, children's love for their parents, also the existence of dark matter. The message of Pen Pineapple Apple Pen is that apples and pineapples can be united if we stick a pen in them, and that we are all riding in one spaceship called earth. I hope that it will make some money, too.
あの方もお笑いと音楽やってまして。僕はもう専門でこのいわゆる「ピコ・ポップ」と自分では呼んでるんですけど、歌謡曲というか唱歌というか、みんなの世界平和。そして親への愛、あとはダークマタ―の存在証明。いろんなものをテーマに作って歌っているので、今回のpen pineapple apple penもやっぱり、リンゴとアップル、ペンで刺せばひとつだよ。我々は宇宙船地球号に乗ってるんだ。そんな感じで作った曲ですね。後はまあ、売れればいいなっていう。そんな感じです。

A: How did you come up with piko-pop?

P: I can't play any instruments. Since I didn't own any, and only had an old computer, all I could do was to make sounds on this computer. What I really wanted to do was to sing with an orchestra, but I had to give up the idea because I had no money. In fact, I've been in debt my whole life -- since I was born. So I was looking to create a musical sound that would not get in the way of my song’s message. Rather than having a complex sound, I wanted to create simple arrangements, so that men and women of all ages could understand the lyrics. And in order to attract fans, I try to write songs that are charming -- not too aggressive -- and catchy.

A: Your songs do stick in the listener's head.

P: I think so, too. Honestly, I have absolutely no clue as to how this works. All I'm trying to do is to write tunes that will put a smile on people's faces and are easy to remember. What I didn't expect is that people would actually remember PPAP and start recording their own versions. I never imagined that K-pop artists, Americans, Indians, Malaysians, Filipinos and some famous Japanese singers would cover my song.

A: Yes, your song has already been covered, or should I say imitated?

P: Yes. It's great that many people are doing their own versions, but their musicality is way more advanced than mine. I'm really happy that there is an awesome R&B version of Apple Pen. But the problem is, the musicianship is so totally amazing that the original version sounds cheesy in comparison. There is also an acappella version in the style of Pentatonix, which is so good, I feel embarrassed about my own version.
そうですね。一個だけ言いたいことがございまして、カバーはいいんですけど、音楽のレベルをガンガン超えてくるんです。♪Apple pen!みたいなR&Bバージョンとかが来たりするんですね。あれ勘弁願いたいですね。ありがたいんですけど、すげーレベルで来ちゃうんで。ペンタトニックスみたいにアカペラでやってみたりとか、困っちゃうんですよね。

A: But I think people imitate you because your song is very simple and basic. It's also funny to hear native English speakers singing, "I have a pen" or "this is a pen," which are basic English phrases that Japanese typically learn at school.
でもその一番基本中の基本、ベーシックなところで歌われているので、皆さんがマネしやすいとか、英語圏の方でも、"I have a pen." とか"This is a pen."とか英語の基本的な、日本で受ける教育の中で学ぶフレーズですよね。そういうのを英語圏の方がマネされて。

P: So many people have told me that the correct grammar is "I have an apple."
"I have an apple."が正解じゃないかってすごく言われるんですけど。

A: What did you sing instead?

P: I thought it was "a apple." But when you say "an apple," it sounds like a cross between a nap and an apple.

A: Yes, it sounds a bit like that.

P: It sounds really strange to my ears. But I think it's okay because I asked an American on Twitter, and he said that it's easy to understand the lyrics. Maybe I should've been more accurate...
"I have an apple."ってスゴイ変なんですけど、でもこれをアメリカの方にTwitterで聞いてみたんですけど、理解はできるよって言ってました。だからそういう意味ではいいのかなって。あるいは、ナップルだといかなかったかもしれないなと思ってますけども。

A: It was good because you had a chance to brush up on your English grammar.

P: That's an excellent way to look at it.

A: What are your future plans?

P: I've been tweeting about it, but I always wanted to perform at NHK's Year-end Song Festival and the Summer Sonic music festival. My new dream is to perform at Madison Square Garden. I want to promote world peace through my songs and make people around the world happy. I want to make people smile.

A: Could you please repeat the last part?

P: How do you say "I want to make people smile" in English?

A: "Smile everywhere"?
Smile everywhere?

P: That's it. "Smile everywhere," or "nobody smile."
そうです。Smile everywhere. エヴリホエア。Nobody smile.

A: No one will smile if you say "nobody smile."
Nobody smileだと誰も笑顔にならない。

P: Is that the opposite?

A: Yeah, I think so.

P: "Nobody" is the opposite of "everyone."

A: Everyone smile.
Everyone smile!

P: Everyone smile! Everything smile!
Everyone smile! Everything smile!

A: Do you want to make an inanimate object laugh?

P: Is that what I just said?

A: Uh-huh. I think "everybody smile" is appropriate.
そうですね。thingだとモノなので、Everybody smileとか。

P: Can you teach me English on a regular basis?

A: Please let me know anytime if you ever need help. By the way, do you make your own costumes? Or is this what you wear every day?

P: I wear this every day. Usually, I wear jersey pants and pull them all the way up. My stomach gets cold if I wear regular pants.

A: You pull your jersey pants all the way up above your stomach.

P: That's right. It's the latest trend, you know? And it only costs me ¥8,000.

A: If it's okay, could you please teach me the PPAP dance while wearing your fantastic costume?

P: Of course, Madame. I want you to learn and remember this dance. Can I teach you here?

A: Yes, please.