It was the night before Halloween 2016. Girl’s Pic Vol. 3 was happening, the latest in a series of concerts put on by the television station Music-ru to promote women artists. After a band and a duo performed, a solitary young woman in a black glittering gown bound by a pink sash graced the stage of Club Quattro in Shibuya, holding an acoustic guitar.
“Zero songs,” she sang, the first line of the title track from her latest album, Tokyo Black Hole. “The mom-and-pop candy store in front of the station has been torn down/I used to think I’d destroy this city with water balloon bombs.”
The singer-songwriter Oomori Seiko presents to her audience a dichotomy of femininity and anxiety, girlishness and destruction. These themes aren’t contradictory: they’re inseparable. Her website profile calls her a “word magician of the new girl generation.” “Tokyo Black Hole,” the song and the album, begin softly, surreptitiously, but soon the pain beneath the description of Tokyo streets comes to the forefront.
“Hello hate,” Oomori intones. “That person who wanted me to die/Will die someday without anybody/And I will forget about it.”
In her albums, Oomori Seiko’s raw, pained lyrics are hidden in a soft, muted delivery, disguised within bubbly synth and pop beats. But on a stage, with just her guitar, she disguises nothing. She screams, strums, and sings, asking for the lights of the venue to be kept up so she can see the audience’s eyes. The connection with the crowd, for the sake of her own emotions and theirs, is placed center stage.
A little ways into Oomori’s second song, the lights started to go down and she said, still strumming, “Keeping them up is good!” The lights went back up, so she could see the crowd’s eyes.
The gentle, muted pop of Oomori’s albums is so at odds from her solo live performances that they might as well be completely different songs. The glittering synth is replaced with the metal of messy guitar chords, loud, loud, loud, with Oomori’s words pouring over them, drowning out any possibility of calm.
Her themes of innocence, sweetness, and girlishness do not mask pain, but instead, mix with it. Being feminine can be extremely painful. References to buying manga, distorted love affairs, and her at times strained relationship with songwriting run through her music.
“Music is not magic,” Oomori repeats like a mantra in “Ongaku O Sute Yo, Soshite Ongaku E” (“Throw Away Music, and, To Music”). “But music is…”
Oomori was never rawer than during the end of her set. At the climax of a song she stepped on a pedal to turn off her guitar and pulled away from the microphone while still playing, and sang directly to the audience, her voice reverberating in the small venue.
Not produced. Not edited in the studio. Just her voice and the sound of her guitar, nothing else. Vulnerability and pain shared with the audience as a way of mutual catharsis.
She did not perform “Magic Mirror”* that night, the song she wrote when she was thinking about quitting songwriting, or “Pink,” from her first physical CD (which makes an auditory cameo at the end of the “Magic Mirror” music video), but perhaps these songs are the most evocative of what it means to be Oomori Seiko.
“So I can be a girl, give me the color pink,” she sings in the song about the color.
What does it mean to be a girl? To have femininity?
“Why can’t girls play rock music?” she sings in “Magic Mirror.”
Oomori connected deeply with the audience, not only by making it a point to make eye contact and see faces, but also, changing lyrics to suit the fact that this concert was in Shibuya on Halloween weekend, and chatting about her day and the show whenever she paused between songs (which was not all that often). She was not trying to hide anything or present anything more or less than herself. Just be truthful.
Judging by Oomori’s popularity not only in Japan, but also among English-speaking fans, her complete honesty as a performer transcends boundaries of language. When an interviewer from Japanese entertainment website Natalie pointed out the range of ages and genders at Oomori’s concerts, she responded, “Everyone is interesting. I want to know about the lives of many different people.”
If the audience’s rapt attention in Shibuya was any indication, showing interest in others causes those people to be interested in your words, too.
*Please note that the “Magic Mirror” music video linked here contains nudity.