Place all your My Little Ponies, Lisa Frank stationary, and Barbie shoes in a blender, add a dash of MikuHatsune the vocaloid, and puree. What do you get? Something only half as cute and colorful as Nenna Yvonne, the Nigerian-American singer-songwriter who came to Tokyo in October for an uber-trendy performance. Donning a wig that would make Marie Antoinette flush with jealousy, Nenna sat down with me after her brief but bouncy live. Just the typical girl talk: clothes, hair, and how it was impertinent to get up early on Saturday mornings for a dose of Sailor Moon when we were kids.
pSKY: How did you get into this kind of style of fashion and music?
Nenna Yvonne: Well, I grew up pretty much admiring a lot of anime cosplay artists. And I also kind of was into anime characters in general. Like Sailor Moon. I was watching that from when I was very little. So that was the thing to do after school and on weekends. My brother would sketch out the characters for me. He’s kind of a visual artist and I’m a musician, so it kind of runs in the family in a way. I took a lot of Japanese influence as far as music and culture and just fashion sense, and I combine it with kind of American, kind of urban style, just in the music side of it. For the image side of it, I wanted it to be completely kawaii. It’s the contrast that I’m looking for. I just kind of fell in love with it.
pSKY: A lot of people seem to want to do what you do. How did you make it in the industry?
Nenna Yvonne: I think making fashion your own, you kind of have to already have it in you. People always say that no one can take something that’s already yours. So if it’s something that you have naturally, it’s something that just comes out naturally. You don’t really have to force it or explain how to do it for you. So as an artist it kind of became an image and identity for me because it’s just natural.
pSKY: Have you gotten a chance to go around Tokyo at all?
Nenna Yvonne: We went to Harajuku, we went to Kiddy Land, we went to the shrine. We went to a couple different places, more like monumental places. A lot of it has been me just kind of getting adjusted to the time difference.
pSKY: What did you think of Kiddy Land?
Nenna Yvonne: Kiddy Land is like magic land. I thought they redid the place. I heard they kind of re-structured it from what it used to look like. A lot of celebrities like Michael Jackson used to go there and collect because there are a lot of collectibles and cosplay characters. I saw the Miku character. I’ve been following vocaloid music on YouTube of all places. Vocaloids are cool though because it’s like this anime character that’s just got so much energy and personality. It’s like, wow, is this human or is it a hologram, but it’s cool because it gives you kind of a visual representation of what you want to be yourself. So I took a lot out of that place.
pSKY: Do you make or design your own clothes?
Nenna Yvonne: Some of the pieces are actually mine. It’s a whole team of people in hair and makeup that came together. We visualized it and we said, “OK this is what we’re going to do.” I added my own kind of personal style and taste to it, and it just came to life!
pSKY: Is your hair heavy?
Nenna Yvonne: Not so much, but I can feel it when I tilt my head. Dancing on stage with it, it was a little scary!
pSKY: Who is your audience for your music?
Nenna Yvonne: It’s just about putting out music that I love, and hoping that people in general will just gravitate to it and take something away from it. A lot of people throw around the words “marketing” or “niche” or “what’s your fanbase?” But the world is your fanbase. Creativity starts from who you are and nobody can come in and say, “I’m going to market you this way.” The gimmick starts and stops, but the artistry never ends. It just keeps going.
pSKY: Who are your inspirations musically?
Nenna Yvonne: Musically, I pull from everything. I would even say anime characters inspire me. Conversations with friends and family inspire me. I write all my own music, so I really take inspiration from just about anything. Like I could be creating a piece for myself for a live show and just like, “Oh! I have a great idea for a song!” and just kind of note it on my cell phone or something. Then I go home and record the melodies and go back and kind of revise it a little bit, and then start structuring a full song. So I’ve been writing for a long time, but inspiration for me comes from characters as well as Janet Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, Michael Jackson, Grace Jones even.
pSKY: I saw that you’ve done modeling that’s not exactly the same style as your music persona.
Nenna Yvonne: My look and my fashion sense is so versatile, I really can just transform depending on the visual and just the direction of who I’m working with and who I’m collaborating with. I have a lot of photographers come up to me and say, “Hey, what do you think about dressing up in like a dominatrix crazy catsuit with heels up to here?” And I’m like, “Let’s do it!” I’m all about experimenting and having fun.
pSKY: What do your parents think of all this?
Nenna Yvonne: Right before I came on the plane to come here, my dad was the last person I spoke to and he was just so excited for me because he’s so professional and strict. My dad’s a diplomat, so he’s really stern and kind of like business-oriented. I grew up with a sense of political understanding, not just on a national level, but on an international level because we traveled a lot. So he kind of saw me doing this in the long run because he saw how much I love doing music from the time I was a little girl. He kind of saw it coming.
pSKY: Is he musical at all?
Nenna Yvonne: No, no one else in my family. I think the only person that’s into music that way is my uncle, but I’m the only one that’s pursuing it.
Official Nenna Yvonne website – http://nennayvonne.com/