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Utada Hikaru: Profile of a Japanese-American Idol.
By Holly Kolodziejczak and Jack Blazkiewicz
Hikaru (known as Hikki to some of her fans) was born to singer/songwriter parents in New York, 1983. Since her parents were both in the music industry, Hikaru grew up immersed in music from day one. Her parents nurtured her musical talent, and also made sure she became fluent in English before returning to Japan. She spent many hours in recording studios as a child, waiting while her parents worked. By the time she was ten years old, she was already not only writing her own song lyrics, but also writing them in English. At age 12, she had already made her debut in the music world, having released three singles in the U.S under the name Cubic U. Her parents traveled with her back and forth between New York and Tokyo throughout her childhood, and she has grown up totally bilingual.
Today, Utada Hikaru (Hikaru Utada in her English releases) is 19 years old and the darling of the J-pop world. She is touted by the Japanese media as a "Bilingual Straight-A student!" When she released her first album, "First Love" in Japan in 1999, it immediately shot to No. 1 on the charts. Selling more than 8 million copies, it became the most popular debut album ever released in Japan. Even today, her popularity has not waned. Hikaru is nominated in three categories for the upcoming 2002 MTV Japan Music Awards: Best Video of the Year for her song "Traveling;" Best Female Artist, a category that has her pitted against Hamasaki Ayumi and Britney Spears; and Best R&B Artist to boot.
Hikaru's smooth R&B/pop style accompanied with her "mysterious Asian looks" are beginning to help her get her foot in the door of the American pop music industry. She often says that the late R&B singer, Aaliyah, is one of her major influences. Hikaru has also signed with the Island Def Jam label in the United States. During a recent MTV Unplugged concert, Hikaru did a surprise rendition of U2's "With or Without You." However, apart from the occasional cover, Hikaru Utada writes almost all of her material. That is a lot more than can be said for many American pop stars.
The media has, at times, compared her to Britney Spears, but the two are really in stark contrast with one another. One of the most apparent differences is in the issue of clothes; where Spears dares to bare, Hikaru lets her musical talents take center stage instead. "I'm not like a gorgeous bombshell or anything like that," she says modestly. "It was just always my music at the front." She is also insanely famous in Japan, so she enjoys the anonymity that she can still get in the United States.
However, that might change in the near future. Her song "Blow My Whistle," a duet with American R&B star Foxy Brown, was featured on the soundtrack for Rush Hour 2. As mentioned before, she's recently signed with a domestic label. She also attended a reception for President Bush at the Prime Minister of Japan's residence in February, and her song "Hikari" is the theme song for the new "Kingdom Hearts" Video game, recently released in Japan. One might say that Hikaru is poised on the brink of stardom in the west, as well.
Hikaru Utada's 10th single, "Hikari," was just released in Japan on 20 March 2002. The single sells for 1,100 yen and is composed of four tracks; the original version of "Hikari," "Hikari" PLANITb remix, "Hikari" Godson remix, and a karaoke version. Her 11th single is due out on 09 May 2002, and will be entitled "Sakura Drops." "Sakura Drops" is the main theme for "First Love," a weekly drama on the TBS Network. This single will sell for 1,100 yen and also include four tracks; "Sakura Drops," "Letters," (NTT DoCoMo [FOMA] commercial song) "Sakura Drops Original Karaoke," and "Letters Original Karaoke."
As if that wasn't enough, 19 June 2002 will bring us the release of Hikaru's third album, "Deep River." It will sell for 3,059 yen, and the track listing is as follows:
01. SAKURA Drops
03. shiawase ni narou
04. Deep River
06. Play Ball
07. Tokyo NIGHTS
09. uso mitai na I LOVE YOU
10. FINAL DISTANCE
11. Bridge (Interlude)
As of last year, Hikaru led the life of an ordinary American college student. Last fall, she attended classes at Columbia University by day and hung out with friends by night. Like a typical college freshman, she hadn't decided on a major yet. Even thought she was virtually unknown in the United States at the time, there were still some hard-to-believe rumors flying around about her during orientation week. "Most of my friends know the truth," says Hikaru. "Even before the first day of school, I was talking to this friend who was going to Columbia also, and he told me, 'People all know you're coming.' And I go, 'What do you mean?' And he said, 'Well, all the Asian kids know, but even the non-Asian students have heard something about the Japanese Britney Spears coming to their school.'"
Her father, Teruzane Utada, is a producer/musician who now runs her management company. Her mother, Keiko Fuji, was a famous enka singer in the 1970's who gave up her career at a young age to move to the U.S., breaking her fan's hearts. Following in her mother's footsteps, Hikaru also plans to retire from the music business young, perhaps as early as her late twenties. She is considering a career in neuroscience after her retirement from the pop world. "I kind of see myself in a white coat in a lab, working till late evening in front of test tubes," she says. Luckily for her fans, however, a music world with no Hikaru in it is still years in the future. She is currently taking a year off from school to focus on her music, which is sure to yield some crowd-pleasing results. Now, all we have to do is sit back and watch as this J-pop sensation makes her way across the Pacific and breaks into the American pop scene. One can only imagine how that might change the face of popular music forever.
Sources & Further Resources
Hikki's Web Site (Official Site)
TIME.com - Diva On Campus
AsiaFinest's Utada Hikaru