Teen Sensation Tops Pop Charts
July 2, 1999
In December 1998 16-year-old singer-songwriter Hikaru Utada shot to
the top of the Japanese pop charts with her debut single "Automatic."
Her first full album, "First Love," broke the previous sales record
with 5.24 million copies sold through May 4, 1999; through May 26, sales
of the album surpassed 6 million, with 7.28 million copies shipped.
Including her singles, Hikaru has sold 9.26 million copies of seven
titles in all. Though less than half a year has passed since her debut,
she has earned 21.6 billion yen (17.3 million dollars at 125 yen to
the dollar). And her first live performance, a limited-seating engagement,
garnered some 150,000 requests for just 500 pairs of available tickets.
High School Phenom
The music of Utada, who lived in New York through age 10 and now attends
an international high school in Tokyo, combines a youthful mix of
English and Japanese lyrics. She has superior talent and an authentic
R & B (rhythm and blues) sound. In order to concentrate on her studies
she makes few media appearances. Utada, who is affectionately called
"Hikki" by her teenage fans, remains unfazed by her success, saying,
"I haven't really begun putting much effort into the lyrics. I'm thrilled
that the music has become a big hit, but I'm still just starting out."
Helped in part by her unassuming, cool demeanor, her work today is
influencing not only young people's tastes in music, but their lifestyles
and fashions as well.
New R & B
The most explosive sound in Japanese pop music today is the so-called
"new R & B," sung mostly by female singers influenced by black contemporary
soul artists. These performers include such current chart toppers
as UA and Misia(both artists' websites are in Japanese only),
who not only boast fabulous singing voices but also have a hand in
writing and arranging their own songs. Their unconventional lifestyles
further endear them to their young listening audience. Riding the
crest of this new wave of talent is Hikaru Utada.
The young singer's father is music producer Teruzane Utada, and her
mother, Keiko Fuji, was herself a hit performer. Before debuting in
Japan Utada performed with her parents as a family unit called Cubic
U and released a CD on an independent label. Following the group's
1997 album "Precious," on which she sang lead vocals, one critic praised
her as "the second coming of Billie Holiday." Utada's talents have
even been recognized by established American rock star Lenny Kravitz.
The Fever Continues
The 16-year-old phenomenon continues to rewrite the Japanese pop industry's
record books. She will share the billing at Tokyo's Nippon Budokan,
Japan's premier concert venue, with hit American artists TLC and Monica
in August. Utada hopes to enter Columbia University in New York after graduating from high school, and her prospects for acceptance there have also become
a big topic of debate among her fans. Her future goal is to make her
debut in America. At the rate she has been going, Japan's newest and
youngest pop idol's big break on the world music scene may not be
by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented
here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent
the policy or views of the Japanese Government.