Animefringe Cover Story:
Ayumi Hamasaki - Profile Of The Quintessential J-Pop Princess
By Steve Diabo (Kaneda)
On the surface, Japan appears to be a country that idolizes modern Western culture and entertainment values to an almost scary extent. Japanese-dubbed Hollywood movies top the box offices, American celebrities are seen quaffing Japanese canned coffee on 15-second TV commercials, and yes, even American music is enjoyed on a grand scale. Well-known artists like Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz, Faith Hill and even Marilyn Manson find big markets for their musical exports and concert tours in The Land Of The Rising Sun.
But, as any true Otaku knows, Japan is no mere follower when it comes to music. Japan's own musical talents are the ones who truly reign supreme in their home country, and with good reason -- Japan's often-ridiculed 'eager to try anything once' attitude, the same one that brought us robotic dogs and used panty vending machines, has given rise to a music scene so diverse and innovative that you'll be hard-pressed to find one like it anywhere else. To us gaijin folk, these musicians and their works can be collectively referred to as 'j-pop' -- but no way could all of Japan's pop music fit into just one genre! On top of the scores of different styles and sounds that certain musicians and groups are well known for, you'll find a number of artists who are forever changing the mood and method of their music.
One such artist is Ayumi Hamasaki. Although she released a single to a lukewarm reception in 1995, her 'official' debut in 1998 has, in no uncertain terms, rocked Japan like a typhoon -- and opened the door to superstardom. Today, with over 40 singles, albums, and remix compilation releases all in three short years, she has become one of Japan's all-time hottest musical commodities, and is arguably Japan's crowned princess of pop. And man, does Japan ever love their princess.
Ayumi's pop-culture legacy only begins with her music. Though her music is what she is best known for, she can be seen in just about every media outlet there is. She can be found striking poses on the covers of Japan's hottest fashion and trend magazines, pushing delightful ice-creamy treats on TV, and making guest appearances galore on hip music and talk shows. You can't turn on a TV or browse a newsstand in Tokyo for more than 15 seconds without at least catching a glimpse of Ayu-chan. So how on Earth does someone become such an ubiquitous celebrity, anyway?
Well, needless to say, it doesn't take as much in Japan to become a trendsetter as it would in North America or Europe, but it is quite a feat nevertheless. A good place to start is to look at Ayumi's general profile: she's young, attractive, very trendy, and possesses many talents -- among them, playing the piano, flower arrangement, and classical ballet. She also asserts that she can communicate with dogs exceptionally well. Among her hobbies are watching baseball and listening to music (her favorite j-pop artists are Seiko Matsuda and Keiko of GLOBE). Her date of birth is October 2nd, 1978, making her a Libra -- an astrological sign whose members are said to possess sophistication, elegance, charm and a love of socializing. Does Ayumi hit the mark? It would sure seem that way.
Ayumi's music is a veritable Pandora's box of moods and styles. In the relatively short time that she's been around, she's done bubblegum pop, electronica, soul ballads, and high-energy technopop, just to name a few. Though her gamut of styles is vast and ever-expanding, her voice is always well suited to the task, and her tunes all have a tendency to get stuck in your head. As varied as her styles may be, she is still one of those artists that only Japan could conceive, so many of her catchier songs wouldn't find mass success in the European or American music scenes. Just as well, for those of us who fancy themselves j-pop fans, it's clear to see why Japan is in love with Ayumi!
Fans of Ayumi Hamasaki know that there is one thing that really sets her apart from the rest -- the enormous amount of remixes that just about all her songs spawn. In New York City, London, Tokyo, and all around the world, her songs are born anew with tribal, trance, house, club, drum n' bass and dance styles by some of the hippest remix groups around. The remixes are so prolific that they often warrant their own compilations, such as SUPER EUROBEAT's ayu-ro mix, Cyber TRANCE's ayu trance, and many, many more.
But, like all celebrities, Ayumi and her remixes can't claim full responsibility for her success. A large portion of the merit should go to her producer, a big-time music mogul named Masato "Max" Matsuura. Along with Ayumi, Max Matsuura can also be held responsible for the rise to fame of Namie Amuro, and he continues to create and maintain big-time music stars in Japan. Well-known in the music 'biz, with a reputation that commands respect, Max Matsuura is Ayumi's behind-the-scenes driving force.
Released on September 27th, Ayumi Hamasaki's latest maxi single is called Dearest. Quite a "maxi" single it is indeed, with 11 tracks: The original mix of Dearest, a whopping 8 remixes, and one bonus remix each of Unite! and Never Ever. It's also a pretty safe bet that another new single is on its way very soon. So, as the Ayumi invasion continues, we wish her the best of luck and look forward to many more years of killer tunes!
J-fan - Ultimate Japanese Entertainment Directory: Ayumi Hamasaki
Ayumi Hamasaki Official Site
Ayumi Hamasaki - Sekai