Once upon a time, a Tumblr named fuckyeah1990s decided to list what it considered the “Top 10 alt-girls of the 90s”. The post created a lot of outrage due to the absence of women of color, and Tumblr user grrlyman responded with the post “Top alternative women of color of the 90s”. It was nice to see one Asian woman on the list, but I thought that I could find a lot more. Thus, this countdown was born.
Hibari’s Hi 8: Alternative Japanese Women of the 90s
8. Mutsumi “632” Takahashi (Super Junky Monkey)
If Rage Against the Machine or Red Hot Chili Peppers were Japanese women, they would be Super Junky Monkey. Mutsumi “632” Takahashi alternated between in-your-face raps (in Japanese and English) and haunting vocals. Her death in 1999 brought an end to this group, and we haven’t really seen a brash female rocker like her ever since.
7. Haruka Tenoh (Sailor Moon)
Haruka Tenoh, a.k.a. Sailor Uranus, defies the magical girl stereotype by racing cars and adopting a masculine look. She and her partner Michiru Kaioh/Sailor Neptune are the first mainstream lesbian couple in anime and probably the most well-known in Japan.
6. Miho Hatori (Cibo Matto)
Punk rocker Miho Hatori teamed up with Yuka Honda to form Cibo Matto in 1994. Their funky trip-hop sound and food metaphors made them more popular in America, and they made appearances on MTV and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Hatori has also worked with the Beastie Boys, released a solo album, and lent voice to Noodle of Gorrilaz.
5. Tomoko Kawase (The Brilliant Green)
The Brilliant Green’s frontwoman, Tomoko Kawase added a touch of kawaii (cute) to the alternative rock with her sweet voice and lighthearted lyrics about love and cats. She had a refreshing simplicity, but don’t let that fool you. She’d later launch a solo career masquerading as caricatures of the pop scene.
4. Jenny Shimizu
Photo by Bruce Weber (from jennyshimizuonline)
This Japanese-American became the face of Calvin Klein’s CK One fragrance almost overnight. Her androgynous, tattooed look made her stand out on the runway, and she starred as a rebellious teen in Foxfires. Despite the high profile hook-ups and TV appearances, she still considers herself a mechanic. She’s an icon for both lesbians and Asian-Americans.
3. Yoshimi P-We (Boredoms and OOIOO)
You know you’re an alt girl when you’re the inspiration for a Flaming Lips album (Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots). Yoshimi P-We has played drums for The Flaming Lips, as well as Boredoms and Free Kitten (a project of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon). In 1997, she created the all-female experimental group OOIOO, for which she plays a multitude of instruments and sings.
2. Ringo Shiina
Ringo Shiina was one of the hottest songwriters of the late 90s, ranking among J-pop idols like Ayumi Hamasaki in sales. Despite shunning superstardom, she has remained well-known for her catchy songs with complex lyrics and unique fashion sense. Those traits have also inspired several female rockers and even the manga character Nana Osaki.
1. Naoko Yamano (Shonen Knife)
Shonen Knife was the band that turned Kurt Cobain into “a hysterical nine-year-old girl” with their performance. Their upbeat songs caught the attention of many alt rockers in the 80s, and they found some success in American in the 90s. As the remaining original member, guitarist/vocalist Naoko Yamano continues to rock with the band, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last year with a world tour and Ramones cover album.
Listening to: “Yumemiru…” by Nanase Aikawa