One of Japan's most successful pop stars.
Born in Fukuoka Prefecture, on October 2, 1978, Ayumi, or 'Ayu', as her fans and mother affectionately call her, is an enigmatic star of music and fashion in modern Japan.
Although her debut with Avex Trax began in 1998, she previously dabbled in acting and modeling. In these she was not very successful. However, her producer, Max Matsuura, discovered her when she was singing karaoke, and asked if she would be interested in pursuing a singing career. At first she was rather suspicious and declined his offer, but after months of his persistance, she eventually relented and took up vocal lessons.
Although she had never done so, Matsuura urged her to try writing her own lyrics to her first song, 'poker face'. (Note: all capitalizations are correct. Ayumi does not always use proper capitalization, likely due to the fact Japanese itself lacks capitalization.) She relates that she was scared at first of the prospect, but was too proud to admit she couldn't do it. At first, she says, the song was about a weak girl. She thought to herself after the demo recording, "What a difficult song!" But she re-wrote the lyrics until they just flowed. In the end, the song is about a strong girl who wants to smile even at the saddest of moments. Since then she has penned the lyrics to every one of her songs, with the exception of LOVE ~since 1999~, which she co-wrote with Tsunku. Eventually she grew to writing her own music, too, under the name "CREA", starting with the platinum single 'M' (2001).
So began her career. Never in her career has she ever had a single or album (remix albums, remix singles and re-releases not included) that has not hit top twenty in Japan's Oricon Chart (similar to the Billboard of the U.S.). In fact, aside from a scarce few of her earliest singles, which were not well accepted, she has never even strayed from the top ten, and most often doesn't dip below even top three. Her last fifteen singles, Free & Easy to Startin'/Born To Be..., have all been consecutive number 1 hits. She hasn't had a single not reach at least top three for the past six or seven years. Each of her albums have gone platinum (once again, remix albums not included), with the exception of one compilation album, A BALLADS, which sold over 900,000 copies, and (miss)understood, which is still selling. Her biggest seller thus far is A BEST, released in 2001, a compilation of her best selling songs to that point. A BEST sold over four million copies. Ayumi has released eight platinum albums and five platinum singles... Not bad for a young woman standing at a scant 5'1''! What she lacks in size she certainly makes up for with inner strength.
Shying away from statistics and back to art...
Ayumi's lyrics view life objectively, be it painfully, beautifully, happily, sadly, confusedly, strongly, weakly, or some combination thereof. Her lyrics tug at the heartstrings, and her voice, which I can only describe as beautifully strong and mournful (which, admittedly, can be irritating, if you haven't learned to like the style of her singing), makes it even more emotional, and then add splendid lyrics such as those she writes and equally splendid music... Well, you have a song that really just hits you and inspires you.
Ayumi currently holds the record for most hit singles of a female Japanese artist. She's also high on the list of most records sold.
I think it's difficult to classify Ayu. She's done so much, almost every genre of music... She has touched bubble gum pop, R&B, rock, ballads... You name it. Recently she's even dipped her feet in gospel-esque pop!
Ayu as a fashion figure. That's another thing indeed. If you keep up with Ayumi's news, you'd see that she is in magazines and commercials all the time. She's been the spokesperson for numerous companies. Once she did a commercial for a certain brand of lipstick, and the company sold a record amount of lipstick in the next few days. The thing is, so many people in Japan follow wherever she leads... And not just young women. Older ones, younger ones, men... Everyone seems to be infatuated with the beautiful young singer. The amazing thing is that Ayumi has not been, for the most part, overly sexy in her dress. Although she has had something from time to time, she has not been constantly outright provactive in her dress, unlike many other pop stars.
The truth is, Ayumi does not fit into the stereotype of 'pop star.' She's much more personal, much more honest about herself and life and people. She makes more of her own decisions about her image than many other singers even have the ability to.
Ayumi is, truely, a powerful figure in this modern era of Japanese music.
Ayumi Hamasaki is touring in Tokyo next week!