When Sanrio—that megalithic maker of kawaii icon Hello Kitty—partnered with guitar companies to make pastel-colored six-strings bearing the mouthless kitten’s face, many a big-time musician found the ostensibly kid’s-oriented instruments irresistible. Hello Kitty guitars were “possibly the apex of Sanrio’s cross-media synergy-blitz,” wrote David McNamee in a cranky 2009 piece at The Guardian, “that has seen them slap the cold, vacant stare of their brand-leading cash cow… on to every conceivable kind of consumer merchandise including vibrators (sorry, massagers), assault rifles, tampons, condoms, urinal cakes, cars, computers, booze and pet costumes.”
The chirpy Lisa Loeb took to Hello Kitty guitars as part of a personal brand makeover, which doesn’t much surprise since she eventually moved to writing children’s music. But “a scan of YouTube,” McNamee goes on, “reveals that Hello Kitty’s core audience is actually balding, middle-aged men, shredding out covers of Yngwie Malmsteen and Rush.”
I’m not sure how accurate this statement is in market research terms, but I can testify to knowing at least two middle-aged men who swear by pink Hello Kitty Stratocasters.
Go ahead, laugh it up, but you probably wouldn’t do so in front of certain Sanrio shredders, like former Ozzy Osbourne and current Black Label Society guitarist Zakk Wylde, who has made a side gig—as we noted in yesterday’s post—playing covers of heavy rock tunes on tiny, cutesy Hello Kitty acoustic guitars. See for yourself in his Hello Kitty take on Black Sabbath’s “N.I.B.” at the top and a version of his own original “Autumn Changes” further up. Would you laugh at seriously versatile Marilyn Manson guitarist John 5 and his Hello Kitty guitar? Maybe, but reserve your judgment until after you’ve seen him start his “new career” in Hello Kitty guitar marketing above.
Rising to the challenge, Mark Tremonti and Eric Friedman decided to take on Metallica’s “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” on a Hello Kitty guitar and ukulele, “refusing to skip the track’s various solos,” points out Loudwire. It’s ”a true jam on truly crappy instruments that the boys somehow made work.” What, exactly, is the appeal of these Hello Kitty sessions to people who aren’t, presumably, the usual Hello Kitty tween demographic?
Maybe it’s just some good clean fun from people who might seem to take themselves a little too seriously sometimes. When rock stars show a sense of humor, it makes them more relatable, right? Hey, even the Beatles made their bones with musical comedy, so why shouldn’t Evanescence’s Amy Lee give us a moving, candlelit rendition of Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark,” as played on a Hello Kitty keyboard?