Ayumi Hamasaki (浜崎 あゆみ ,Hamasaki Ayumi, also 浜崎歩) (born October 2, 1978) is a Japanese singer-songwriter and former actress. Also called Ayu by her fans, Hamasaki has been dubbed the "Empress of Pop" due to her popularity and widespread influence in Japan. Born and raised in Fukuoka, she moved to Tokyo at fourteen to pursue a career in entertainment. In 1998, under the tutelage of Avex CEO Max Matsuura, she released a string of modestly selling singles that concluded with her 1999 debut album A Song for XX. The album debuted atop the Oricon charts and stayed there for four weeks, establishing her popularity in Japan.
Because of her constantly changing image and tight control over her artistry, Hamasaki's popularity extends across Asia; music and fashion trends she has started have spread to countries such as China, Singapore, and Taiwan. She has appeared in or lent her songs to many advertisements and television commercials. Though she originally supported the exploitation of her popularity for commercial purposes, she later reconsidered and eventually opposed her status as an Avex "product".
Since her 1998 debut with the single "Poker Face", Hamasaki has sold over 50 million records in Japan, ranking her among the best-selling singers in the country. As a female singer, Hamasaki holds several domestic records for her singles, such as the most number-one hits, the highest sales, and the most million-sellers. From 1999 to 2009, Hamasaki had at least one single each year top the charts. Hamasaki is also the first female singer to have eight studio albums that topped the Oricon.
Life and music career Edit
Childhood and early endeavours
Born in Fukuoka Prefecture, Hamasaki was raised by her mother and grandmother. Her father had left the family when she was three and never again came into contact with her. Because her mother worked to support the family, Hamasaki was primarily taken care of by her grandmother.
At age seven, Hamasaki began modelling for local institutions, such as banks, to supplement the family's income. She continued this career path by leaving her family at fourteen and moving to Tokyo as a model under SOS, a talent agency. Her modelling career did not last long; SOS deemed her too short and transferred her to Sun Music, a musicians' agency. Under the name of "Ayumi", Hamasaki released a rap album, Nothing from Nothing, on the Nippon Columbia label. She was dismissed from the label when the album failed to chart on the Oricon. After this failure, Hamasaki took up acting and starred in B-movies such as Ladys Ladys!! Soucho Saigo no Hi and television dramas such as Miseinen, which were poorly received by the public. Growing dissatisfied with her job, Hamasaki quit acting and moved in with her mother, who had recently moved to Tokyo.
Hamasaki was initially a good student, earning good grades in junior high school. Eventually, she lost faith in the curriculum, thinking that the subjects taught were of no use to her. Her grades worsened as she refused to put her mind to her studies. While living in Tokyo, she attempted to further her studies at Horikoshi Gakuen, a high school for the arts, but dropped out in the first year. Because Hamasaki did not attend school or have a job, she spent much of her time shopping at Shibuya boutiques and dancing at Velfarre, an Avex-owned disco club.
At Velfarre, she was introduced to her future producer, Max Matsuura, through a friend. After hearing Hamasaki sing karaoke, Matsuura offered her a recording deal, but Hamasaki suspected ulterior motives and turned the offer down. He persisted and succeeded in recruiting her for the Avex label in the following year. Hamasaki started vocal training, but skipped most of her classes after finding her instructors to be too rigid and the classes dull. When she confessed this to Matsuura, he sent her to New York to train her vocals under another method. During her foreign sojourn, Hamasaki frequently corresponded with Matsuura and impressed him with her style of writing. On her return to Japan, he suggested that she try writing her own lyrics.
1998–1999: Rising popularity
Hamasaki's debut album under Avex, A Song for XX (1999), was "unassuming": its singles were not major hits, and the tracks, composed by Yasuhiko Hoshino, Akio Togashi (of Da Pump), and Mitsuru Igarashi (of Every Little Thing), were "cautious" pop-rock songs. However, Hamasaki's lyrics, introspective observations about her feelings and experiences that focused on loneliness and individualism, resonated with the Japanese public. The songs gained Hamasaki a growing following, and the release of the album was a success: it topped the Oricon charts for five weeks and sold over a million copies. For her achievements, she earned a Japan Gold Disc Award for "Best New Artist of the Year".
With Ayu-mi-x (March 1999), the first of a series of remix albums, Hamasaki began moving beyond the pop-rock of A Song for XX and began to incorporate different styles including trance, dance, and orchestra. Composed by Yasuhiko Hoshino and Dai Nagao (of Do As Infinity), the singles released later that year were dance tunes and earned Hamasaki her first number-one single ("Love: Destiny") and first million-selling single ("A"). Her second studio album, Loveppears (November 1999), not only topped the Oricon charts, it sold nearly 3 million copies. The album also showcased a change in Hamasaki's lyrics. Though the lyrics of Loveppears still dealt with loneliness, many of them were written from a third-person perspective. In support of Loveppears, she held her first tour, Ayumi Hamasaki Concert Tour 2000 A.
2000–2002: Commercial peak From April to June 2000, Hamasaki released the "Trilogy", a series of singles consisting of "Vogue", "Far Away", and "Seasons". The lyrics of these songs focused on hopelessness, a reflection of Hamasaki's disappointment that she had not expressed herself thoroughly in any of her previous lyrics and a sense of shame of her public image. Likewise, many of the songs she wrote for her subsequent studio album, Duty (September 2000), involved feelings of loneliness, chaos, confusion, and the burden of her responsibilities. She described her feelings after the writing as "unnatural" and "nervous". The musical style was darker as well; in contrast with Loveppears, Duty was a rock-influenced album with only one dance song, "Audience". Duty resonated with fans: the "Trilogy" were "hit singles" ("Seasons" was a million-seller), and the album became Hamasaki's best-selling studio album. At the end of 2000, Hamasaki held her first New Year countdown concert at the Yoyogi National Gymnasium.
In 2001, Avex forced Hamasaki to release her first compilation album, A Best, on March 28, putting the album in "competition" with Hikaru Utada's second studio album, Distance. The "competition" between the two singers (which both claimed was merely a creation of their record companies and the media) was supposedly the reason for the success of the albums; both sold over 5 million copies. In support of Duty and A Best, Hamasaki held a tour of Japan's domes, making her one of few "top-drawer" Japanese artists to hold a concert at the Tokyo Dome.
I am... (January 2002) marked several milestones for Hamasaki. Hamasaki increased her control over her music by composing all of the songs on the album under the pseudonym "Crea"; "Connected" (November 2002) and "A Song Is Born" (December 2001) were the exceptions. I am... also showed evolution in Hamasaki's lyrical style: it was a retreat from the themes of "loneliness and confusion" of some of her earlier songs. Moved by the September 11 attacks, Hamasaki revised her vision of I am..., focusing on issues such as faith and world peace. "A Song Is Born", in particular, was directly influenced by the events. The single, a duet with Keiko Yamada, was released as part of Avex's non-profit Song+Nation project, which raised money for charity. She also dropped the planned cover and opted instead to be portrayed as a "peace muse", explaining,
I had a completely different idea for the cover at first. We'd already reserved the space, decided the hair and makeup and everything. But after the incident, as is typical of me, I suddenly changed my mind. I knew it wasn't the time for gaudiness, for elaborate sets and costumes. It sounds odd coming from me, but I realize what I say and how I look has a great impact.
The outlook inspired by the September 11 attacks extended beyond I am.... In 2002, Hamasaki held her first concert outside Japan, at the MTV Asia music awards ceremony in Singapore, a move interpreted as the beginning of a campaign prompted by a sluggish Japanese market. At the ceremony, she received the award for "Most Influential Japanese Singer in Asia". In support of I am..., Hamasaki held two tours, Ayumi Hamasaki Arena Tour 2002 A and Ayumi Hamasaki Stadium Tour 2002 A. In November 2002, as "Ayu", she released her first European single, "Connected", a trance song from I am... composed by DJ Ferry Corsten. It was released in Germany on the Drizzly label. Hamasaki continued to release singles (all of them remixes of previously released songs) in Germany on Drizzly until 2004.
After performing at the 2002 MTV Asia music awards, Hamasaki felt that by writing only Japanese lyrics, she was not able to bring her "message" to other countries. Realizing that English was a "common global language", she used it for the first time on her next studio album, Rainbow (December 2002). Though she did not compose as much as on I am... (only nine of the album's fifteen songs), she was still heavily involved in the production. The album was stylistically diverse; Hamasaki included rock- and trip-hop-influenced tracks as well as "summery", "up-tempo" and "grand gothic" songs and experimented with new techniques such as gospel choruses and the yells of an audience. The lyrics were also varied: themes in the album included freedom, the struggles of women, and "a summer that ends in sadness". "H", the album's second single, became the best-selling single of 2002. Hamasaki starred in a short movie, Tsuki ni Shizumu, which was created to be the video for the album's third single, "Voyage".
2003–2006: Decline in sales
In 2003, Hamasaki released three singles, "&", "Forgiveness", and "No Way to Say". To celebrate the release of her thirtieth single ("Forgiveness"), Hamasaki held the A Museum concert at the Yoyogi National Gymnasium. Her mini-album Memorial Address (December 2003) was her first album to be released in CD+DVD format in addition to the regular CD-only format, a decision that came from her increased interest in the direction of her music videos. Like her previous albums, Memorial Address topped the Oricon chart and sold over a million copies. Sales of Hamasaki's singles began to wane. Although all three of the album's singles topped the Oricon charts, "&" was Hamasaki's last single to sell over 500,000 copies.
By the end of her Arena Tour 2003–2004, Hamasaki had grown dissatisfied with her position in Avex: she felt that the company was treating her as a product instead of a person. Along with her dissatisfaction over her last two studio albums (which she thought had been rushed), this led her to begin work on My Story (December 2004) early. In contrast with her previous albums, My Story had no set theme, nor did Hamasaki attempt to write "something good" or even "something that would give people hope"; rather, she simply wrote freely and honestly. As a result, the album contained mostly autobiographical lyrics about her emotions and reminiscences of her career. She approached the composition of the music with the same freedom per the lyrics. Because she liked rock music, the album had notable rock overtones. She was so pleased with the result that she declared My Story the first album she felt satisfied with. My Story and its singles, "Moments", "Inspire", and "Carols", all topped the weekly Oricon charts; moreover, My Story became another million-seller. From January to April 2005, Hamasaki held the nationwide My Story arena tour, her first album-based tour.
(Miss)understood (January 2006), Hamasaki's seventh studio album, showed new musical directions. Wanting to sing a tune like those of the group Sweetbox, Hamasaki obtained the permission of Sweetbox composer Roberto "Geo" Rosan to use demo songs he had intended to use in Sweetbox's upcoming album. She edited the songs to fit her personal vision, rewriting the lyrics and rearranging some of the songs. The result was more musically diverse than the previous album; (Miss)understood included ballads, funk, dance-pop, R&B, and rock songs. All of (Miss)understood's singles reached the top of the Oricon; "Bold & Delicious" became Hamasaki's twenty-fifth number-one single, tying her with Seiko Matsuda for the record of most number-one singles by a solo female artist. Though (Miss)understood also reached the top of the charts, Oricon stated that it sold fewer than a million copies—Hamasaki's first studio album to do so. In support of the album, Hamasaki held the (Miss)understood arena tour, which spanned three months with thirty concerts, from Saitama on March 11, 2006 to Yoyogi on June 11, 2006.
2007–present: Market penetration beyond Japan
On February 28, 2007, Hamasaki released A Best 2, a pair of compilation albums containing songs from I am... to (Miss)understood. The two versions, White and Black, debuted at the first and second positions on the Oricon weekly charts, making Hamasaki the first female artist in thirty-six years to hold the top two positions on any Oricon album chart. At the end of 2007, the pair became Japan's fifth and seventh best-selling albums of the year respectively.
In support of A Best 2 and Secret, Hamasaki held the four-month-long Tour of Secret from March to the end of June. It was her first international tour, and aside from Japan, she performed in Taipei, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Her foreign fanbase highly anticipated the concerts, and tickets for the Taipei and Hong Kong performances sold out in less than three hours.
Unlike its predecessors, the writing of Hamasaki's ninth studio album, Guilty (January 2008), was not an emotional experience for her, nor did it have a set theme. However, she said later that the album's tracks appeared to tell a story. Most of the songs were dark; the album had a notable rock tinge. It contained some upbeat dance tracks and ballads, though the latter also had rock overtones. Guilty peaked at the number-two position on the weekly Oricon charts, making it Hamasaki's first studio album not to reach the top. However, Hamasaki's first digital-only single, "Together Whenand the singles "Glitter / Fated" and "Talkin' 2 Myself", reached the top of their respective charts. A short film, Distance Love, was used as the music video for "Glitter" and "Fated". The film, shot in Hong Kong, co-starred Hong Kong actor Shawn Yue as Hamasaki's romantic interest. Guilty was later released as a digital album in twenty-six countries outside Japan, nineteen of them Western nations. That, along with Hamasaki's decision to employ western DJs such as Armand van Helden for her 2008 remix albums Ayu-mi-x 6: Gold and Ayu-mi-x 6: Silver, has been interpreted as her first step into the global market.
In April 2008, to commemorate her tenth anniversary in Avex, Hamasaki released the single "Mirrorcle World"; it topped the Oricon, making Hamasaki the only female solo artist to have a number-one single every year for ten consecutive years. Hamasaki also held her second tour of Asia, Asia Tour 2008: 10th Anniversary, to celebrate her tenth anniversary. From April until June, she toured Japan, holding seventeen concerts. Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Shanghai were again the foreign stops after the domestic performances. On September 10, 2008, Hamasaki released A Complete: All Singles, a compilation album that includes the A-sides of all her singles along with previously unreleased footage from her A-nation concerts.
Her tenth studio album, Next Level, will be released on March 25, 2009 in several formats: CD, CD+DVD, 2CD+DVD and a two-gigabyte USB flash drive. The flash drive edition is expected to be priced at ¥6800 (approximately USD$75). The first single, "Days/Green" (December 2008), became another number-one single for Hamasaki. The second single, "Rule/Sparkle", was released on February 25, 2009; "Rule" will be used as the international theme song for the upcoming film Dragonball Evolution.
Image and Artistry Edit
Time magazine notes that Hamasaki lacks such talent as the dance moves of Namie Amuro, the "supermodel allure" of Hitomi, and the "vocal pyrotechnics" of Hikaru Utada; indeed, Hamasaki's high-pitched voice is often considered screechy, even by some fans. However, her music is sometimes considered one of the major forces in shaping Japan's current music trends; this has been attributed to her constantly changing image as well as her self-penned lyrics, though critics credit clever marketing strategies. Hamasaki's lyrics and image have gained a following predominantly among the Generation X of Asia, mainly because of the "conflicting or inharmonious beauty" of her fashion and lyrics; Hamasaki's fashions combine Oriental and Western elements, and her songs, unlike those of many of her contemporaries, all have English titles but contained no English lyrics (until Rainbow). The popularity of her music extends beyond Japan; she has a "sizable [following] across Asia" and is one of the few Japanese singers whose albums have sold over 10,000 copies in Singapore. In 2002, however, Hamasaki's domestic sales began declining due to a sluggish Japanese market and increasing piracy in Japan. As a result, she began moving toward the Asian market in 2002, performing at the 2002 MTV Asia awards in Singapore, at South Korea's "Asia Song Festival", and at a concert in Beijing to celebrate Sino-Japanese relations. With her popularity declining (due in part to the rising popularity of other singers like Koda Kumi), she made a foray into the Asian market, starting with her first tour of Asia in 2007.
Style and Influence
Because of the widespread influence of her music, Hamasaki has often been compared to Madonna, whom Hamasaki cites as one of her influences, along with soul musicians Babyface and En Vogue and rock bands Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. She also admires Michelle Branch, Kid Rock, Joan Osborne, Seiko Matsuda, Rie Miyazawa, and Keiko Yamada; these diverse influences have led to the variety of her own music.
Hamasaki began commissioning remixes of her songs early in her career, and this also influenced the diversity of her music. Found on many of her records, these remixes span different genres of electronic dance music including Eurobeat, house, and trance, as well as acoustic genres such as classical and traditional Chinese music. She has employed Western as well as Japanese musicians; among those she has worked with are Above & Beyond, the Lamoureux Orchestra of France, and traditional Chinese music ensemble Princess China Music Orchestra.
Hamasaki has released more than a hundred original songs; through them, she has covered a wide range of musical styles, such as dance, metal, R&B, progressive rock, pop, and classical. She uses different instruments and techniques including piano, orchestra, gospel choirs, guitars, traditional Japanese strings, music boxes, and effects such as yells, claps, and scratching. She frequently employs others to compose; as she has explained, "I'm not a professional; I lack even basic knowledge about writing music." However, she started to compose her own melodies after her staff had failed to compose a tune for "M" that appealed to her. Wanting to produce works faithful to her visions, Hamasaki took control of most aspects of her artistry. I am... is representative of this stage in Hamasaki's career; she directed the production of its songs, videos, and artwork. Later in her career, however, she began delegating many tasks, including composition, to her staff.
Hamasaki is often involved in the artistic direction of her live performances; they are often lavish productions that use a variety of props, extravagant costumes, and choreographed dances. She has used large video screens, fireworks, simulated rain drops, trick stage floors, and suspended devices. She is also involved in the artistic direction of her promotional videos and tries to convey in the videos the meanings or feelings of their respective songs. The themes of the videos are varied; she has made "sad and fragile" or "emotional" videos ("Momentum", "Endless Sorrow"), "refreshing" videos ("Blue Bird", "Fairyland"), and humorous videos ("Evolution", "Angel's Song", "Beautiful Fighters"). Some of her videos contain short storylines: the video of "Voyage" depicts Hamasaki as a woman in a mental hospital whose previous incarnation was a woman in feudal Japan who was sacrificed to the moon; the video of "Endless Sorrow" features a young boy living in a society where speaking is forbidden by law. Additionally, the videos of "Fairyland", "My Name's Women", and "Jewel" are among the top twenty or so most expensive music videos, making Hamasaki the only non-Anglophone to hold such a distinction.
Lyrics and Themes Hamasaki's lyrics, all her own, have resonated among her fans, who praise them as being honest and "expressing determination". Because she has "trouble voicing her thoughts", Hamasaki uses her lyrics as an outlet; she "draws from her own experiences and emotions" and tries to put them "honestly into words". She has stated that honesty is essential to her lyrics, saying, "If I write when I'm low, it will be a dark song, but I don't care. I want to be honest with myself at all times." Because of this, she did not use English lyrics until her album Rainbow, as she had felt that she could best express herself in Japanese. As with her musical style, the themes of her lyrics have varied: although "loneliness and confusion" were frequent in her earlier albums, she has branched out to wider themes such as faith and peace; themes in her later albums have included love and the struggles of women. In addition to drawing inspiration for her lyrics from personal experiences and feelings, Hamasaki bases lyrics on sources such as historical events. The life of Joan of Arc was the inspiration for "Free & Easy", while a story told to her by her friend about a saint named Mary served as the basis for "M"; the September 11 attacks inspired "A Song Is Born".
Hamasaki's influence goes beyond music; she is often considered a fashion icon and trend-setter, a status attributed to her tight control over her image. Besides her frequent appearances in fashion magazines, such as Vivi, Popteen, and Cawaii, Hamasaki has often been lauded for her trendy choices in apparels and accessories; Oricon has repeatedly named her the "Most Fashionable Female Artist". Many aspects of Japan's fashions—including clothing, hair, nails, and accessories—have in some way been influenced by her. As with her music, trends Hamasaki started have spread to Asian countries as Taiwan, China, and Singapore. Among the trends Hamasaki has started are hime-kei (a look inspired by the fashions of 18th century French aristocracy) and chapatsu (hair-dyeing). Hamasaki's constantly changing image is apparent not only in her fashion photo shoots and commercial endorsements but also in her record covers, an element she considers essential in conveying her message. She portrayed herself as a vine-clad "peace muse" or "Greek goddess" (on her album I am...), as a "twenty-first-century Joan of Arc" (for her single "Free & Easy"), and as a "funky Lolita". Though Hamasaki portrayed herself in earlier releases as a "girl next door", she has adopted a more sexualized image since the release of Loveppears. The covers for records including Loveppears, I am..., and Rainbow feature Hamasaki in states of partial nudity, for which she has generated controversy. Hamasaki also garnered criticism after she modelled bra for lingerie manufacturer Wacoal, though most of the criticism alleged that Hamasaki was only trying to "play catch-up" with Kumi Koda, who gained popularity for her overtly sexual image.
Hamasaki has been sought by numerous brands to endorse their products. Throughout her career under Avex, she has promoted products that ranged from electronics (Tu-Ka cell phones and Panasonic) to various snack foods. Among the products she has advertised on television are the Honda Crea scooter, Kosé cosmetics, Mister Donut donuts, and Boss coffee. As well as serving as background music for television advertisements, some of Hamasaki's songs have been used as themes for video games, television shows and motion pictures, such as Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams, InuYasha, and Shinobi: Heart Under Blade. Although Hamasaki initially supported the exploitation of her popularity for commercial purposes, saying that it was "necessary that [she is] viewed as a product", she eventually opposed Avex's decision to market her as a "product rather than a person".
See also Ayuready Hamasaki has been described as to have a "merchandise empire," where she launched her own fashion brand, MTRLG (Material Girl), in 2001; the clothes were sold at MTRLG boutiques and at Mise S*clusive stores. In 2002, Hamasaki created Ayupan, a cartoon version of herself that appeared in a line of merchandise (mainly figurines) and in a 2003 cartoon. For her 2007 tour Tour of Secret, Hamasaki collaborated with Sanrio to create a line of merchandise, Ayumi HamasakixHello Kitty, that features Ayupan and Hello Kitty together. The merchandise included cell phone straps and Lumix cameras decorated with a picture of Hello Kitty behind Hamasaki's "A" logo;[fn 1] the former product was a result of a collaboration with Sanrio and Japanese fashion brand Ash & Diamonds, the latter a collaboration with Sanrio and Panasonic. She briefly hosted her own television show, Ayuready? (October 2002), on Fuji Television. The talk show, aired on Saturday nights from 11:30 to midnight, often featured her performing songs with guests, among whom were Goto Maki, Puffy, and Akina Nakamori. To promote the program (and her album Rainbow), Hamasaki opened a restaurant, Rainbow House, on Shōnan Beach; it was occasionally used in episodes of Ayuready?. After less than two years, the last episode aired in March 2004.
Hamasaki dated singer-actor Tomoya Nagase since her brief acting career, and they publicly announced their relationship in 2001. Six years later, the media circulated rumors that the couple were about to get married; however, on July 13, Hamasaki announced that they had broken up. Though Hamasaki did not explain the reason for the split, she stated that they had parted amicably and the two remained friends.
In a January 8, 2008 entry on her TeamAyu blog, Hamasaki revealed that an inoperable condition, possibly tinnitus or Ménière's disease, had caused complete deafness in her left ear. She disclosed that she had been diagnosed with the condition in 2006 and that the problem dated back to 2000. Despite the setback, Hamasaki stated that she wished to continue singing, and that she would "not give up" on her fans and that "as a professional", she wanted to "deliver the best performance for everyone".
- 1995: Nothing from Nothing (pre-Avex mini-album)
- 1999: A Song for XX
- 1999: Loveppears
- 2000: Duty
- 2002: I am...
- 2002: Rainbow
- 2003: Memorial Address (mini-album)
- 2004: My Story
- 2006: (Miss)understood
- 2006: Secret
- 2008: Guilty
- 2009: Next Level
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