"It is necessary that I am viewed as a product. I am a product."
-- Ayumi Hamasaki, quoted in TIME Asia
(浜崎あゆみ) is a Japanese phenomenon
In the last few years, Hamasaki -- universally known just as Ayu --
has become ubiquitous in Japan as pop star, TV star,
advertising model... like most tarento or idoru
in Japan, who never limit themselves to one forum.
A cute little girl with immensely
large eyes and an irritatingly nasal voice, I used to sneer
and call her the Britney Spears of Japan, a manufactured
entertainment product for the masses.
And I was right -- but with a very unexpected twist. Read the quote
above carefully: because the only
person who manufactures Ayu is Hamasaki herself. Ayumi
Hamasaki is not Britney Spears of Japan; but odds are she is
well on her way to becoming its Madonna.
Like new, like me,
Like you, I am reborn
Ayu is, at best, a mediocre
singer. Prior to some tentative
attempts on her last few albums (under the pseudonym CREA
she did not compose
While certainly attractive
, her looks and her diminutive frame alone
would not be enough to compete in the Japanese market, already
full of überbabes like Hitomi
, and while she did model
teen she was canned by her agency at the ripe old age of 16.
In fact, it's a small miracle that she became a star
she was spotted at a karaoke
bar by Avex
, who wheedled
her for several years and even paid for several months of singing
lessons in New York
before getting her to sign a record contract.
In a place that is nowhere
I am standing on my own
Instead, she has blazed her trail primarily through sheer
. Ayu is extremely particular (and, it must be said,
at times extremely odd) about what she wears; her wardrobe ranges
from combat fatigues
to a kimono
, while accessories
range from fox tail
s clipped to a belt
to soda can pull tab
as a necklace
comes to mind,
to make yet another poor parallel to the West, except that everything
Ayumi wears becomes the height of fashion
overnight. (The mindless
of most of her fans is, alas, entirely identical if not worse
than the Western sort.)
I am no longer afraid of anything
I am no longer alone
Perhaps more importantly from a musical
point of view, Ayu writes
all her own lyrics, which are often as quirky
as their writer.
The themes of love
and lack thereof do feature heavily,
but you won't find a single "Oops, I Did It Again
"I Am A Slave 4 U
" in her output. A love song? Try
", one of her biggest hits, whose refrain extols
skipping along hand in hand -- and tells people to liven up
their mundane lives by going ahead and screwing up beautifully.
A lack-of-love song? Try the balladlike "Scar
about her boyfriend crying as he left her.
While her songs are musically run-of-the-mill J-pop, she has
cleverly extended her appeal by becoming, literally, the most
remixed artist in the world. All her albums are released in
multiple "ayu-mi-x" versions, usually one "Non-Stop Mega Mix"
featuring techno/trance remixes, another "Acoustic
Orchestra" with classical reworkings of her songs, and more
of than not eurobeat and trance versions as well. The list
of her remixers is a who's who of the dance scene:
Ferry Corsten, Junior Vasquez, System F, The Orb...
Unlike most Japanese singles, which are usually 3-inch mini-CDs,
Ayu's singles are full-sized CDs containing up to 10(!) remixes
of the same track.
To date, Ayu has sold over 30 million records
in Japan alone, half of them singles and the other half albums.
12 of her singles and all of her full albums (plus one of the remix albums)
have reached #1 on the Japanese charts. These have been flooded out
at such a speed that she at one point had four albums in the top 10!
Unfortunately, Ayu's output is (song titles excluded) entirely
in Japanese, which severely limits her potential overseas.
But thanks to extensive exposure on MTV Asia, she has become a
fashion icon in much of the rest of
Asia, and I was not a little surprised to find life-sized
cardboard cutouts amd hear her songs playing in the crowded
corridors of the Sungei Wang mall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
In that memory, and others since, the sea grows wider
Somewhere meeting, connecting, flowing
And surely we see the same scenery
Personally, my musical tastes coincide with hers poorly enough
that the only Ayu-products I really appreciate are the techno/trance
es; mix III, in particular, has some truly excellent tracks.
But I have a lot of respect for her as an artist, and her music is
so omnipresent in Japan that I can't help getting all goosubumpy and
when I hear some of her songs.
Born: October 2, 1978 in Fukuoka, Kyushu, Japan
Height: 156 cm
Weight: 46 kg
Blood type: A
Marital status: Engaged to childhood friend and pop star Tomoya Nagase
of boy band TOKIO
http://www.avexnet.or.jp/ayu/ (official homepage, Japanese)
http://www4.ocn.ne.jp/~ayuready/ayuuta1.htm (lyrics, Japanese)
http://www.time.com/time/asia/features/ayumi_hamasaki/ (interview, English)
http://www.v-stuff.net/japan/jpop/ayumi_hamasaki/biography.htm (bio, French)
http://home.no.net/ayumi (fansite, English)
Translations by yours truly