The ever-fragile accord between East Asia and Canada’s shrillest pop stars suffered increased strain this week, as Justin Bieber and Avril Lavigne both sparked international incidents that called into question their credentials as cultural ambassadors—even to a region that embraces the shoddiest products Western culture produces, in return for us not asking too many questions about our iPhones.
Trouble began yesterday, as it so often does, on Instagram, where Bieber took time out from his touring all of Japan’s most historic Universal Studios to stop at a Tokyo shrine, where he posted a photo of himself, head bowed, just being #blessed. “Thank you for your blessings,” Bieber wrote in the caption, presumably addressing it to the building where so many have bestowed their wishes for peace in Justin Bieber’s upcoming DUI trial.
Unfortunately, this building was the Yasukuni Shrine, a controversial monument to Japanese soldiers who died in World War II—including military leaders who tortured Chinese and Korean prisoners and took sex slaves they dubbed “comfort women,” leading many to regard Yasukuni as a standing testament to war criminals. “Thank you for your blessings,” therefore, suddenly sounded kind of dumb.
Among the many ways in which Bieber’s visit was unfortunate, it came not long after Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a similar pilgrimage in December, followed by another visit— just the day before Bieber’s—by Japanese ministers. To be fair to Bieber, however, these things were reported in newspapers.
Bieber—whose past dabbling in foreign affairs included changing the name of Indonesia to Some Random Country, expressing dismay that the Holocaust kept Anne Frank from becoming a Bieber fan, attempting to fist-fight the British press, spray-painting racist graffiti in Brazil, and trampling the Argentinean flag—similarly experienced immediate backlash from one of the few remaining continents that hasn’t yet weighed in on hating him.
After receiving numerous negative comments, Bieber deleted the photo and replied, expressing his disbeliebf: “While in Japan I asked my driver to pull over for which I saw a beautiful shrine,” Bieber said, in a statement that has already angered the world’s grammarians. “I was mislead to think the shrines were only a place of prayer. To anyone I have offended I am extremely sorry. I love you China and I love you Japan.”
Given that this is Justin Bieber, of course, even his apology has produced more anger—this time from Korea, where his failing to mention the nation in his apology has resulted in several major media outlets issuing articles criticizing him, and some declaring that he’s lost his Korean fanbase. With Europe, South America, Southeast Asia, and now East Asia upset with Bieber—and the United States recently forced to consider his deportation—Bieber is no doubt trying really hard not to fuck up somehow in Antarctica. (His previous statements on how “everyone loves penguins” have so far maintained diplomatic relations.)
Meanwhile, Canada’s girl Bieber, Avril Lavigne, found herself facing similar criticisms after releasing the video for “Hello Kitty,” a collaboration with her new husband, Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger, that also combines pop-punk with dubstep, and is somehow even worse than all that sounds. In the video, Lavigne boasts a Skrillex haircut and wears a skirt made out of cupcakes. Within the first minute of the song, she screeches the line, “Someone chuck a cupcake at me,” as though this is a thing that happens sometimes, or is even loosely tied to a recognizable feeling or experience. Incredibly, however, these are not the reasons people are upset with Avril Lavigne.
Instead, most of the backlash has focused on Lavigne’s appropriation of Japanese culture and imagery, from her shout-outs to “kawaii” (the Japanese term for “what the fuck are you giggling at?”) to her cartoonish trip to a sushi bar to her Japanese backing dancers, whose numbed, emotionless expressions echo the listener’s upon hearing “Hello Kitty.” It’s also been compared to the time Gwen Stefani received similar backlash in 2004 by surrounding herself with the Harajuku Girls, back when Twitter didn’t exist.
Today, of course, the backlash was instantaneous. Avril Lavigne’s video was branded racist, even beyond being broadly offensive to the human race. But today Lavigne has issued a response, arguing that it can’t be racist, because she appropriated actual Japanese in her appropriation of things that are Japanese.
Lavigne and Kroeger are expected to make a similar statement soon, arguing that the song and video clearly can’t be awful, LOL, because they spend half their time being awful, making awful videos for their awful fans.