Posted 24 March 2003 - 11:09 PM
©2002 Time Asia
'I have very clear ideas of what I want'
In an exclusive interview with TIME, Ayumi Hamasaki talks about her music, her fans and how fame has changed her life
Ayumi Hamasaki, Ayu to fans, is the most powerful figure in Japanese pop music. She's sold more records than any other musical act for two years running in the world's largest music market outside the U.S. Her frequent makeovers determine the course of fashion. Her huge black eyes peer out from billboards in every corner of the country. Fans memorize her lyrics, transform into Ayu clones and swear she's changed their lives. At 23, she rules Japanese youth culture—and therefore influences all of Asia's.
Though Hamasaki rarely gives in-depth interviews, TIME's Lisa Takeuchi Cullen sat down with her in late February to talk about her upbringing, her musical influences, and what she thinks about her fans in Asia.
TIME: Who's this?
Hamasaki: Marron. He's a wire-haired dachshund. He's still just eight months old—a puppy—but doesn't he look like an old man?
Yeah, because of his whiskers. Anyway, thanks for taking this interview. What intrigued us is that despite your popularity around the region, the Ayumi Hamasaki that people know is based on an image. What we'd like is to introduce the real Ayumi Hamasaki to our readers. Yoroshiku.
Listening to your last album, I thought it had a worldly outlook. Your manager told me the terror incident in New York had an impact on you. What did you think when you saw it on TV?
I thought it was a movie. I couldn't believe it was real. I've been to New York many times, and I couldn't accept it was really reality.
Did it influence your music?
Yes. It inspired one of the songs on the album [A Song Is Born].
And the image on the album cover. The white dove—a symbol of peace.
I had a completely different idea for the cover at first. We'd already reserved the space, decided the hair and makeup and everything. But after the incident, as is typical of me, I suddenly changed my mind. I knew it wasn't the time for gaudiness, for elaborate sets and costumes. It sounds odd coming from me, but I realize what I say and how I look has a great impact.
I'm told it also influenced your decision to go to Asia.
I'd never been.
Yeah, although I'd been to the U.S. many times.
How did you feel about your fans at the MTV awards show [in Singapore]?
I'd heard a lot of Asian people were rooting for me, but I had no idea. I was stunned. They were... impassioned, especially compared to Japan. I couldn't even have anticipated that kind of welcome. It made me realize how much the people of Asia support me, and that I had to go back.
You began composing on this album. What instigated that?
The way I work, typically, I do everything at the very last minute. Even if I was given two months, I'd do it in the last three days. It's best of course to ask someone who's a professional to do it.
Because it's faster?
Actually, no. It's hard to decide how to match words to music. It's not like it's twice the work. It's always difficult for me to explain to the composer what I'm looking for. I'm not a professional; I lack even basic knowledge about writing music. But I discovered that if I do it myself, it's quicker and closer to what I have in mind. When I start from scratch, I can do exactly what I want.
Compared to A Song for XX, your first album, it's like a different person is writing the lyrics on your latest. Your earlier songs focus on loneliness, and they seem more autobiographic. I Am..., though, takes on a broader view, touching on issues like faith and peace.
In the beginning, I was searching for myself in my music. My music was for me. I didn't have the mental room to be conscious of the listener; I wrote to save myself. I didn't understand what it was to write songs. But over time I began to see many things, my influence, the responsibilities that gave me.
Does that weigh you down? For instance, when I talk to kids in Japan, it seems to me they have no dreams, no aims. But when I ask whom they admire, it's you.
There were times it weighed me down. Like I was being chased. I pushed myself... even when it was impossible, I couldn't say so. I know everyone at [record company] Avex works hard for me, relies on me. Now, I don't mind. I accept it. I can lean on others, too. I feel it's okay to show that side of myself, and that's made it easier.
Let's talk about your past. You were raised by a single mother, which was rare at the time. Did that make you feel different?
I thought Mommy's life was strange, not mine.
You call her Mommy? That's so American.
Yeah, she told me to.
She lives in Tokyo now?
Yes. We're still close.
How about your dad?
I have no idea. I don't even know if he's dead or alive. He left when I was so young, I barely remember him.
Your song Teddy Bear is about your loneliness at that time.
I didn't understand my loneliness until I moved to Tokyo. I moved at 14. I came alone, without Mommy. She came later.
It wasn't long after that that you left your talent agency, then met [producer Masato "Max"] Matsuura at karaoke.
My friend at [Tokyo nightclub] Velfarre knew him, and brought him along to karaoke. When he asked if I wanted to pursue a singing career, I said, "No way."
He was this older guy, and I thought the whole thing sounded fishy. Like they were going to make me do something else. I'd never even heard of Avex, didn't really understand what it was. I thought it was maybe a club. It didn't advertise all the time the way it does now. Eventually [Matsuura and I] came to talk on the phone. I met with him over that year maybe three times.
Then he sent you to vocal training.
I had nothing better to do. Over that year he kept asking, You still don't want to do it? Finally I said okay. I was doing nothing at the time, going to clubs and to [Shibuya teen department store] 109. So he said to take lessons, and I hated it. It was bad. I hate doing things in groups. So I didn't go. But I told the company I was going. I was, I don't know, in my teens. I quit school in the 10th grade, but the lessons made me feel like I'd gone back to school. If there are rules and regulations, I can't help it, I want to break them. I wouldn't even answer my phone because I knew he'd ask about the lessons. I didn't know what to do.
So basically you became a star despite yourself.
I felt I'd lose my freedom. The thought of being told when to get up, when to eat... But then [Matsuura] told me to go to New York. I thought he was kidding. I mean, I was 17. I thought it'd be the same, and that I'd hate it. But it was really great. New York was a relief—not all hierarchical and rule-bound. I lived in a midtown Manhattan hotel, and walked to the lessons a couple blocks away.
Then you returned to Japan, and began writing songs?
Not because I'd planned to. It didn't occur to me to write them on my own. I have trouble voicing my thoughts... I can't communicate very well that way. So I'd write letters to [Matsuura]. He read them and said, "Why don't you try writing songs?" No one had ever asked anything of me before, expected anything of me. Part of me was flattered; part of me was terrified but didn't want to admit I couldn't do it. Plenty of people had patted my head and said, "Aren't you cute." There are so many who only compliment me. Senmu ['managing director' Matsuura] gets mad, but when he praises me, I know I've won it. He's the one who found me and drew me out.
When your songs became hits and your face began to appear everywhere, how did your life change?
It changed a lot. I couldn't go out, though even now I sometimes forget and say, "Hey, I'm just going to the convenience store." My staff looks at me and says, "But you can't." And I'm like, "Why not? ...Oh, yeah." I can't go to 109 much, for example, though I still like to. I have to send my stylists now.
Your image is still very much your own creation, isn't it? What struck me, watching your photo shoot last night [for upcoming album covers], was how much in control you were.
I have very clear ideas of what I want. Like one of my outfits last night; I had the top made out of a pair of pants I found at a boutique. They're French, I think. I had this idea to do a "Fake Japanese" image—you know, like what a foreigner perceives Japan is like.
You're known for spectacular image changes like that one. I suspect that helps fuel the perception that you're less a person than a product. How does Ayumi Hamasaki, the person, feel about Ayumi Hamasaki, the product?
We're similar, in some respects. It's my own image. It is necessary that I am viewed as a product. I am a product. The "Hi, this is Ayu" person on TV is the person I know they want to see. I understand it's my role to realize people's dreams. I'm okay with that so long as my songs are my own. No one can take my songs away from me. For instance, hundreds of people work at Avex. They work hard for me. I understand my words are not my own, that everything that comes out of my mouth affects them. But my songs are my own.
Which of your songs are you proudest of?
I always like whatever I did most recently. It's the closest to who I am at the moment.
What about who you want to be? I've heard you say you have no dreams.
It's true. I don't have dreams. How can I say it? I myself am a dream.
How about your future? I've heard you've thought of going into design.
I don't set goals. Like, that's what I want to be doing however many years from now. I do what I love to do at the moment. If I wake up tomorrow and decide I want to dance, that's what I'd do. Or design clothes. I think I'd throw myself into whatever I'm doing now. It's not about abandoning what I was doing before, or giving up. It's about knowing that if I die tomorrow, I lived the way I wanted to.
Who do you listen to?
Smashing Pumpkins. Joan Osborne. I loved her song in [the movie] Vanilla Sky, so I bought the soundtrack but it wasn't on it. I asked everyone about it, and finally my friend in Hawaii told me who it was. Also Michelle Branch. She's big in Japan now, and really young. Oh, and Kid Rock. If anything I lean toward his kind of music. Like a mix of things—rock, grunge, rap.
There's a rock influence on your latest album.
You talk about how you influence others. Is there someone who influences you?
It was written in some newspaper that I'm a Japanese Britney Spears. I like her, and she's fun to watch, but I don't get the sense that she's her own creation. Who I really like is Madonna. What I admire is she's made it on her own terms. But when I said that in Singapore, the press reported that I wanted to perform with her. That's not at all true. I don't think you should meet the people you most admire. I don't want reality to interfere with my image.
I see a lot of similarities with Madonna, like, for instance, the constant image changes. She's endured for so long by keeping the public interested. Are you confident you can do the same?
What inspires you?
I read and watch movies. I can't go to the movie theater much anymore, though, because I get recognized. It's worse sometimes if I wear a costume and try not to get recognized. I watch most of my films on airplanes. I just saw Fight Club, so I'm big on Burapi [Brad Pitt].
Would you act again?
When I was doing it, I hated it. It wasn't fun. Just exhausting. If it was under the right circumstances, though, the right project with the right people who'd make an effort to understand me...
Is that your dog snoring?
Yep, that's him.
Crea—your pen name?
Yes, the name of my Chihuahua. I have four dogs—two Chihuahuas, Crea and Melon, a Yorkie named Ringo (Apple), and Marron [the dachshund]. Crea is the one who looks just like me.
Posted 12 June 2003 - 04:56 PM
By MICHAEL HOFFMAN
She didn't really want to go. "What do I have to go to Thailand for?" she grumbled. Even the prospect of an audience with a royal princess failed to rouse her. Was she herself not royalty? The queen of J-Pop? The mainstay of a sagging music industry? The first, second and last word in teen and post-teen fashion? God herself, to her millions of fans?
Ayumi Hamasaki, at 24, is all these things, and this quasi-diplomatic mission to Bangkok, where she would have to kneel before a mere princess by blood, left her cold. But the Thai-government was keen to host her, and her record company was keen to send her, and so, sullenly resenting that all the worship she commands has not made her mistress of her own fate, she went.
It would have been better if she'd stayed home.
Shukan Bunshun recounts the fiasco.
The prime mover, with staunch Thai government backing, was the Thai Gem and Jewelry Traders Association. Thailand's biggest market for its gem exports is Japan. Who better than Hamasaki to implant in Japanese young people a craving for Thai rubies?
The arrangements that took shape called for her to spend four days in Bangkok. On Day Three she would take part in a palace ceremony and present Princess Ubonratana, the eldest daughter of King Rama IX, with the 3.6 million yen collected by the TGJTA for the princess' narcotics eradication program.
Hamasaki left Narita for Bangkok on Nov. 26. Trouble began before the Thai Airways plane was off the ground. Her luggage, with its 100 outfits, took time to load. Her protests over the seating arrangements took time to deal with -- she was not pleased to learn the first-class seat next to hers would be occupied. When the plane finally took off, 40 minutes late, the seat in question was taken -- reports Shukan Bunshun -- by Hamasaki's teddy bear.
At Bangkok's Don Muang Airport, the star snubbed a troupe of Thai dancers on hand to welcome her and brushed past a pack of reporters into a waiting limo, which whisked her along streets cleared of traffic to her $2,600-a-night accommodation at the Peninsula Hotel.
For the next two days she behaved as if her mission entailed offending as many people as possible, giving short shrift to reporters, abruptly canceling a scheduled TV appearance, and indulging in the sort of conspicuous consumption that is an outrage to less privileged members of our species.
Then came the "main event." One of 10 VIP participants, Hamasaki was ushered into a palace waiting room to await a rehearsal. There were formalities to master: the proper bow, the proper deportment (don't look higher than the princess' eyes). The rehearsal duly began -- but where was Hamasaki? When had she slipped out?
The ceremony was over before she reappeared, looking perfectly composed. Adding insult to injury, one of her staffers snapped a photo of the princess.
"It's a rather embarrassing story," a record company spokesperson tells Shukan Bunshun. "Hamasaki simply refused to take part. She said she wouldn't kneel to the princess. Her staff tried to make her see reason, but it was no use. 'I don't want to, and that's that,' she said."
With that she flounced out through a back exit and took refuge, apparently, in a parked bus.
Just an over-pampered kid in a bad mood, you might say. True -- but Shukan Bunshun wonders if Hamasaki realizes how close she came to getting herself arrested. The Thai royal family enjoys a quasi-divine status, similar to that of Japan's prewar emperor. An insult to the royals is no laughing matter. On the contrary, it's generally a police matter. Hamasaki got away with it, the magazine speculates, only because Princess Ubonratana has a soft spot for performers.
Posted 12 June 2003 - 05:19 PM
The strange thing about this is that she has won the "nail" award ever since it's conception. Odd how they win at there own games.
"Hamasaki Ayumi (24) was chosen today as Nail Queen 2002. She has beenselected as Nail Queen three years straight. Yesterday, Hamasaki also won her third straight 'ALL JAPAN Request Award'."
Posted 24 February 2004 - 01:33 AM
I think she's a really nice person at heart, no doubt~ As for the nail awards, LoL! I think it'd be better if you'll win and they were your REAL nails, fake nails aren't fair. :lol:
Posted 27 February 2004 - 08:32 AM
Posted 07 June 2008 - 03:28 PM
I read some of it but I just mentioned the ear thing to try to get something started. It's horrible that it happened to her.
Posted 07 June 2008 - 08:02 PM
Also, haters would say that she's been deaf for a while now. ;p
Posted 08 June 2008 - 10:06 AM
I never heard about her boyfriend beating her, though, I don't really follow that kind of news; the hearing was just something you can't go without having read about.
I'm also afraid of losing my hearing because I listen to my music pretty loud. But that's because it's the only way to truly enjoy Lossless!
Posted 08 June 2008 - 10:41 AM
Posted 08 June 2008 - 12:45 PM
I think I got it: they were living together, but she wasn't putting out enough so he would try to rape her in the ear while she was sleeping, which slowly led to deafness. She eventually found out, at which point it was all over. Genius.
0 user(s) are reading this topic
0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users