Interview: PIKOTARO – 12 months on from becoming an internet sensation

Internet culture moves fast — the Mannequin Challenge of yesterday soon gives way to the Expanding Brain of now, already fading into the past before the first brand tweets about it. By all accounts, Pikotaro’s time should be up. His viral hit video “PPAP” — for those who need a refresher, he has a pen, he has an apple, uh, OK you got it now — turned one year old in late August. In the immediate aftermath of the just-over-a-minute-long clips success (spurred on by Justin Bieber), the cheetah-print adorned performer — a character created by and played by comedian Daimaou Kosaka — found himself traveling the globe and crashing the Billboard charts.

But in online terms, a year in the public is retirement age, times 500.

Yet 12 months on from “PPAP,” Piko Taro continues to achieve more and more. He’s popped up in all sorts of TV shows and commercials in Japan, including one alongside the governor of Tokyo. He continues to upload new songs to YouTube. And this summer, he somewhat surreally played biggie-sized venues, such as Zozo Marine Stadium as part of the Summer Sonic Music Festival. And, a week after that, he played to a capacity crowd at Avex’s annual A-Nation festival, leading thousands of fans in a rapid-hit set capped off by a special EDM-ed up version of his hit number.

Before he took the stage, Piko Taro caught up with Hello Asia! backstage at Ajinomoto Stadium in Tokyo to talk about a year of “PPAP,” traveling the world and making Jennifer Lopez double take.

Hello Asia: How’s your day been so far at A-Nation? How are you getting ready for your performance in a couple of hours?

PIKO TARO: I’ve just been trying to relax like I’m at home, like I’m just inside my one-room apartment. The stage is so big here! I am going to get tired running from one side of the stage to the other. I’ll spend my time on the stage like I’m just inside a YouTube video frame though.

It’s the first time I’ve ever played at A-Nation, and there are a lot of artists I’ve never seen before that I’m hoping to see. I’m trying to motivate myself up for the set later.

Who are you most looking forward to seeing?

Today’s final act, AAA, is high up there. I think the character of their group and of me, musically, is really similar [laughs]. But I’m looking forward to it. Then there is Beverly. She was just the opening act for Ariana Grande out here in Tokyo. Her voice is very high tone. Ahhhhhhhhhhh [trying to imitate her vocal range].

Last week, you opened the biggest stage at Tokyo’s Summer Sonic music festival, one of Japan’s largest events. How was that experience?

I still can’t believe it. I played the Marine Stage, inside a baseball stadium…same stage as Foo Fighters, The Black Eyed Peas, Calvin Harris. Same stage! It was a dream come true, even though I was a little nervous being the lead-off hitter for the festival.

You also played the Osaka leg of the festival the next day. What were the differences between the two?

Tokyo people act cooler than Osaka people, because Tokyo people have gotten used to big festivals like Summer Sonic. So they acted really cool about it, really chill. In Osaka, meanwhile, they have also gotten used to it…but they still try to committ to it more. They have way more fun with the performers. It was loud, it felt like a party.

What was something you learned from playing inside a stadium like that?

I learned that I needed to focus more on the details of my performance. There are lots of cameras around the stage, and they capture every little details of what you are doing. For example, I was really considerate about what I was doing with my fingers, how I was moving them. You would think on a big stage like that you should do big movements, but actually it’s about smaller ones that people see on the big TV screens. I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to perform like that again, but that’s my biggest takeaway.

Changing gears a little bit, but yesterday [August 25] marked the one year anniversary of you uploading your song “PPAP” to YouTube. Obviously, you’ve had a very busy year. How would you summarize the last year of your life?

I will never ever forget this past year of my life. I’ll probably say “2016” when I’m dying [laughs]. Those will be my last words. There were so many specific moments I remember. One of my favorite was filming a commercial with Justin Bieber. He had never been in a foreign commercial before. The first time we met in person, it felt so exciting…everything really started from him, even though he is so much younger than I am. We talked about a few things, like I asked him “Do you like sushi” and he said “yes,” or talking about “kawaii” [cute] things.

What have been the weirdest, for you, things to happen to you over the last year?

Probably when I went to Belgium for the first time. My producer, Daimaou Kosaka, went to immigration, and the guy handling the immigration desk looked at him and said “PPAP?” He was shocked by the response! Kosaka explained he was just the producer of the song, but the immigration guy asked for a signature. But he didn’t have any paper on hand, so he handed Kosaka one of those “Suspicious Bag Check” papers and asked him to sign that. Kosaka looked at it and said…do you have anything else? [laughs] We were so happy to be recognized outside of Japan.

What other places did you go to in the past year?

Taiwan, Belgium, France, New York, Los Angeles, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia….uhhh, Korea. Uhhhhhh, where else. Wales, Cardiff in Wales. Singapore, Hawaii. That was all in a half year. My passport is like a stamp rally [laughs].

Now that you are such a travel pro, do you have any tips for international travel?

Before a long flight, you should drink red wine. You’ll sleep for a long time. Once, on a 14 hour flight, I was able to sleep 10 hours by doing this. Ultimately, dealing with the time difference between places is the hardest part of it all.

Yesterday, besides celebrating “PPAP’s” one-year anniversary, you released a new song called “Love And Peace ONDO.” Why did you decide to mix styles like you did in that song?

My producer has been making electronic music for over 10 years. But since getting popular since “PPAP,” he has seen an interview to make electronic sounds. In Japan, we have the traditional summer dance, the bon odori. The stage during that looks like a DJ booth, at least to me. So I thought of combining this Japanese dance music with EDM. This song won’t just be released alone — I want to extend the idea explored on this song in future tracks that we make.

What do you want to do in the future?

First, I combined fruits together in a song. Next, I want to combine vegetables. [laughs]

I also want to add more variety to my live show. I want people to join me in my performance, like after I perform, I want to ask people to dance together with me, where everyone can dance with me and be loud. I want to do more interesting concerts all over the world.

I also hope to start a new label sometime in the future. It would only put out funny songs…we would only put out movies, though. Like 9Gag. Funny songs only. That’s all Kosaku’s idea, he’ll announce it. [laughs]

How’s your relationship with him been over the year? You know, after people get famous, sometimes relationships change. How about you guys?

We’ve only gotten closer. Before, our tastes in food were different, but now they have gotten so similar. When Kosaka got a canker sore in his mouth, I got one too. Strange, isn’t it? But we are still very much different people.

Justin Bieber was the one who introduced it to a lot of people, but whatever artists have you seen respond to your work?

At the Grammy Awards, Morris Day from Morris Day And The Time, he saw me and said “wow, Piko Taro, my grandson is your fan. Can I take a photo with you?” THAT Morris Day…Morris Day, from the Prince movie…asked for a photo with me. Morris Day!

Also at the Grammy Awards, Jennifer Lopez looked over in my direction and did a double take…twice. She double taked twice seeing me! [laughs] That was a really funny moment.

How has PPAP influenced the way Kosaka produces music, and the way you perform? What are the biggest changes?

That’s a tough one. I had a moment where I got lots of reviews for my song, and I tried not to think about them. But sometimes it’s hard to ignore reactions from the audience. So I don’t think the Roland 808 is that interesting a music tool, but since “PPAP” was made by it and proved successful, I felt the need to use it again to make something that was just as popular. I couldn’t stop thinking about that.

Before I got a huge hit in “PPAP,” I didn’t think about anything in particular about making songs. But after that, I had so much pressure, or people’s expectations. Consciously, I tried to ignore those reactions or expectations, and just try to be free to make whatever music wanted. Then I started getting in touch with what I like and don’t like in music, and went from there.

What is your strategy for the future?

I believe that you should always be fully swinging the bat, because sometimes you randomly end up hitting a home run. That’s what happened with “PPAP.” You need to focus on the now, rather than imagining the future. I’d be happy if I got another home run, but I try not to consciously think about it. I just keep swinging to see what happens, because I don’t know how to hit home runs, exactly.

Last, you’ve been a lot of places in the past year, but you haven’t gotten out to Australia yet. If you went there, what would you want to do there?

Hmmmmmmm. I want to see kangaroos. I want to go to a park that is filled with nothing but kangaroo, and shoot a video with me and them. Besides that, I want to go to the ocean. What’s it called, that famous place? The Great Barrier Reef! I want to fly a drone over it as part of a video, that’s all this beautiful nature and then me dancing nearby. [laughs] That would look great.

Follow what Pikotaro gets up to via his Official Twitter, Instagram and Facebook