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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 far off.

Trends in JapanEdited 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.