Woman rapper, Akko Gorilla praises “Gyaru,” which is an umbrella term for a highly influential Japanese fashion subculture, in her music. It can be said that there are a lot of people that look to her as the ideal woman of a new era. After leaving her label in the midst of the pandemic, she released a zine in May called “#SayHello.” With the theme, “spit it all out now,” Akko Gorilla published a zine project made from artwork submitted by anyone who wished to do so. She also released a theme song alongside the project, aptly named “SayHello.” Both of these works are filled with Akko Gorilla’s thoughts and feelings regarding the current times we all live in. What exactly are those thoughts and feelings? What does it mean to live authentically as a rapper with a “Tsuyo Tsuyo Mind”?
A medium for individuals to bring about change, no matter how small
――You’ve been working at a fast pace despite the ongoing pandemic, but do you think the reason behind that can be seen in “#SayHello,” the zine project you released back in May?
Akko Gorilla (hereinafter Akko): I actually don’t have the desire to work fast. I had been depressed since the pandemic started and was asking myself why I was feeling that way. Upon looking inwards, I realized that people feel like they can’t really be their own person in society. At the core, it’s socially unacceptable for people to openly express human emotions such as unfiltered happiness all the way to anger and I’ve always disagreed with the values that exist on top of that social rule. Despite the fact that people feel like they can’t own who they are, entertainment doesn’t confront that reality. Rather, entertainment provides a way to escape it and I felt like that shouldn’t be the case. That’s why I wanted to create something with everyone and thought about making a song and zine which focus on the theme of everyone having a seat at the table. The zine and song were released under my name but since we all did it together, this work is ours.
――On the cover of the zine, there’s a photo of you with your mouth being covered and that imagery is impactful.
Akko: I was planning on handing out that bandana (instead of a mask) to everyone during my “Miracle Me- One Man Tour,” which was supposed to happen in Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka starting from March 20th. We were still unsure about going forward with the tour, so we stopped producing the bandanas at that point. With the artwork, I wanted to convey how I couldn’t say what I wanted to say because of the bandana, but “sell” it in a tongue-in-cheek way by saying that the bandana would fight off viruses. Like “I can’t say anything because my mouth is covered, but I will say hello!” After the tour got cancelled, I started working on the zine and song in April and released them both in May.
――Would it be right to say that anger is the main emotion in “#SayHello”?
Akko: It’s not like it’s just about anger. When I look back at that period, I was filled with rage but I actually think the overall zine is more… chaotic. My goal wasn’t to say that I was angry. I wanted to provide one solution to dealing with social rules; it’s the norm to always read the room and refrain from openly expressing emotions. I just did what I could as an individual living through the coronavirus pandemic. “#SayHello” is a small project, but I wanted to create a medium that would enable individuals to bring about change, no matter how small. The zine format is small and simple, but it resonates with people and also welcomes a lot of freedom in regards to expression. There’s a lot of things that need to be changed right now, right? I’m not a politician nor am I an educator. However, I am a rapper and I think what I can do is change people’s mindset.
Having a reason to live; the necessity of creating a zine
――“#SayHello” was a participatory project but could you talk about how you gathered the artwork?
Akko: I used a website called “note” and social media. I announced that I had started working on a zine project on social media and wrote about the details as well as my thoughts on “note.” I didn’t receive a lot of submissions at first but I ended up with a lot of them eventually. When I saw what was being sent, I was like “as long as I put my heart into it, people will understand me!” I was also surprised to see that a lot of young people submitted their work. You could say that teens and young adults pay acute attention to what’s going on and come to question society. They want to take some sort of action as a result of that.
――What sort of works were submitted?
Akko: I got a lot of different kinds of work. For instance, I got cute drawings that were about protesting and original playlists and such. With this project, I made it a point to refrain from laying out specific guidelines. I wanted the project to feel raw and authentic. There were artists that sent in their work but they did that with their own volition. That really hyped me up.
――Did you have some personal changes by creating this zine project?
Akko: The way I think has changed here and there. Also, I was able to go out of my comfort zone because of this and my career has expanded too. I think my role is to tell everyone, “don’t hold back; let’s take a step forward together.” In retrospect, perhaps it was a good thing I assigned myself the challenge of finding my purpose as an artist.
――Did you lose sight of your purpose around April to May, when we were all essentially at home?
Akko: The stage is a vital place for me to express myself. In other words, in a way, performing live is also a political act for me. I’ve expressed what I stand for at my live shows, so not being able to do that was tough. It’s hard to stay motivated without a goal, and it also makes me feel lost. That’s why I decided to find out what it is I live for and started “#SayHello.” On “note” I wrote, “isn’t it important for all of us to have a purpose? Why don’t we create our own purpose in life?” The zine was made through a series of meticulous processes but it was so fun. I think this project gave the participants a sense of purpose too.
Let’s make mistakes together because it’s normal to be imperfect
――On April 1st, you announced your marriage and decision to leave your label on Twitter. Was the decision to become an independent artist something you had already decided on prior to making that statement?
Akko: My decision to leave the label wasn’t affected by coronavirus at all, as I had made up my mind many years ago. My goal isn’t to sell hits as a mainstream artist. With that being said, I aimed to change people’s mindset by using an environment where my lyrics could reach a large amount of people. That’s what I wanted to do with being signed to a major label. When I signed to this major label in 2018, I worked with people that related to what I wanted to do, which was changing the listeners’ world. As a result, I was able to connect with so many people by working in an underground way as a mainstream artist, so I became independent as planned. Because I left the label in on a good note, I’m still close with the people I used to work with. I’m able to translate ideas into action immediately now that I have more leeway, so being independent goes well with the way I operate. Once I think of something, it’s like “time to get to work! Alright, what’s next?” (laughs). Products like “#SayHello” and the bandanas are sold on my online store called “Evergreen,” and my friend helps me run it. We’re figuring it out as we go. I’m at a good place right now because I get to spend my time with my friend as well as myself.
――You also started “Gorichan Club,” which is a new community that fiercely sticks by your side.
Akko: Yeah, that’s a fan community and it’s just so amazing. During that period where we were advised to stay home, I distanced myself from social media. I wanted to create a utopian fan community without any of that toxic internet culture like people one-upping each other and cancelling others. Those in my community say what they want with full autonomy. It’s not like there’s a lot of people but we’re getting more members day by day. Some of the things that have been happening have exceeded my expectations. For instance, the fans make their own content within the community and sometimes, that leads to potential business opportunities. I was like, “so this is what an online community looks like!” (laughs). I want to continue fostering a community with good vibes, with all of us educating and empowering each other.
――What sort of influence does your “Gyaru” philosophy have on you today?
Akko: There are so many different types of “Gyaru,” so I can’t make a sweeping statement. I grew up reading “GALS!,” which was a running manga series in “Ribbon,” a manga magazine. The “Gyaru” girls in the manga series were unapologetic about themselves and had this sense of independence that was quite Hip Hop in spirit. For me, being a “Gyaru” is like, “Come on, hedonistic girls! We’re all so amazing, for real!” The characters in the series aren’t the brightest, but I love how they carry this attitude of like, “Yes, I live with my head held up high. Got a problem with that?” For instance, instead of saying “I don’t know much about politics so I can’t say anything,” a “Gyaru” would say “this involves all of us; no one is perfect so let’s make mistakes together.” I think that’s the attitude of “Gyaru.” That attitude has had a huge influence on my work during this time. There’s a little bit of self-doubt reflected in my “Miracle Me E.P.” album, which came out in February, but at the end of the album, that feeling is transformed into “I chose to have this ‘Tsuyo Tsuyo Mind,’ so what?” “Tsuyo Tsuyo Mind” refers to having a strong mentality. You can see how my thinking shifts to “I’m just doing what I want” throughout the album. The “Gyaru” ideology has this subversive power to crush darkness in any given era.
――I see. What’re your plans for the near future?
Akko: I’m not sure when it’s going to be released, but I’m making an album. Also, I just started working on creating a magazine with a friend. I’m planning on coming up with my own chronological table of each “Gyaru” for the magazine, and I’m doing so much research regarding history right now. I want to portray historically important women as “Gyaru.” Like, “Joan of Arc? Raicho Hiratsuka? Yep, they’re all ‘Gyaru’ now!” (laughs). Plus, I want to add a Hip Hop context too, as that’ll make it even more interesting. With women like Aretha Franklin and such in mind, I would like to create something that anybody could read and have fun. I would also like to express myself in my own free-spirited way. Doing research is quite hard, but gaining all this knowledge is helping me expand my mind. I’ll do my best so stay tuned!