With his elaborate hairstyles and eighteenth-century-inspired Lolita and glam-rock wardrobe, guitarist and performer YOHIO has become a huge hit in Japan. YOHIO and his Seremedy bandmates, who are based in Sundsvall, Sweden, are often referred to as “visual-kei,” a Japanese music genre known for its emphasis on elaborate visual appearance. The band has recently released an album here in Sweden, and YOHIO caught my eye in a recent newspaper profile of “A Typical Sunday” in the life of the seventeen-year-old.
As a performer, YOHIO represents many different links; between Japanese cute and Swedish metal, maleness and feminine dress, on- and off-stage personas. His wardrobe choices are the result of a lifelong interest in Japanese pop culture, and are well suited to the field of performance and visual-kei in particular. While the signs and intentions of this style are distinctly hyper-feminine, the wearers of Lolita outfits are not always female, and visual-kei performers are often male-identified but interested in female-signified and/or elaborate dress.
YOHIO presents a certain contrast to his bandmates, seeming to prefer bright white dresses while his bandmates are often in head-to-toe black or red when they perform. His ultra-feminine appearance also separates him visually from the other four band members, who have chosen somewhat more androgynous looks. This preference for clothing that is traditionally worn by females has generated much questioning of his sexual orientation, in a predictable conflation of cross-gendered dress and sexual identity that has plagued many visual-kei performers, including Japanese guitarist-turned-fashion designer Mana.
Singing in Japanese and dressed for the streets of Tokyo, YOHIO has been called “the missing link between manga and Yngwie Malmsteen,” a Swedish heavy-metal star known for his highly technical guitar performance. Although an interest in Japanese culture is not unheard of in Sweden, Lolita style and visual-kei bands are rare, and Seremedy currently have a limited audience in their own country. The band suggests that Japanese audiences “have a better appreciation for what [they] are doing,” meaning not only the music but the “whole product.”
As more people (especially young people) embrace and identify with global subcultural styles, national identity is reexamined and even questioned. Although some may suggest (or warn) that Sweden will be a “cluster-nation” comprised of dozens of separate subcultures by 2020, I would argue that this is hardly a new concept–but now it may be easier to see. Swedish subcultures that have strong visual identities (roleplayers, raggare, black metal) generally take inspiration from other Western or widespread subcultures (fantasy, 1950s America), and it is exciting that groups–no matter how small–continue to expand and explore Swedish identity as mediated through an interest in other societies. While the music is not quite my style, I look forward to following YOHIO’s influence on Swedish subcultural identity as well as following his wardrobe choices.
Do you identify with a subculture–or maybe a formerly-sub-culture–that uses strong visual identifiers? When does a subculture become considered part of mainstream culture; what are the metrics? Are there subcultures in your country that have their roots in other nations?
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Lead-in photo credit: Kristopher Lönnå, dn.se 08/28/12
McVeigh, Brian J. Wearing Ideology: State, Schooling and Self-Presentation in Japan. Oxford, UK: Berg, 2000 (esp. chapters 5 and 6).
Slade, Toby. Japanese Fashion: A Cultural History. Oxford, UK: Berg, 2009.
Steele, Valerie, ed. Japan Fashion Now. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.
Tseëlon, Efrat. “From Fashion to Masquerade: Towards an Ungendered Paradigm” in Entwhistle, Joanne and Elizabeth Wilson, eds. Body Dressing. Oxford, UK: Berg, 2001.