|BIG IN JAPAN
Ken Hirai, current king of Japanese R&B, has been around longer than you
think. The Osaka native began his music career back in 1993 when he signed with Sony Music
following an audition in Yokohama the previous year while he was a student. His debut
single "Precious Junk" and album were recorded the following year and released
in 1995. The first single, used as the theme to a TV drama, immediately garnered Hirai
attention and his second single, "Video Jam," also used for a drama, further
capitalized on his unique sound. Hirai' debut album, un-balanced, went on sale
the same year and was followed by a second, Stare At, in December of the
Taking things more slowly, Hirai used the next four years to consolidate his style and
take time out - he only released one single each in 1997 and '98 and didn't produce any
new music during 1999. Fans had to wait until 2000 for a third album from Hirai, The
Changing Same, and it was the first single "Rakuen" (paradise) that
established him as a major player in the domestic charts and overseas. Capitalizing on a
strong fan base in Asia, Hirai appeared at the MTV Music Summit in Taiwan in August 2000.
Voted Best New Japanese Act in a pop poll organized by the RTHK radio station in Hong
Kong, Hirai recently flew to HK to pick up the award.
Hirai's dedication to his craft is evident in the way he strives for authenticity. He even
went so far as to appear at amateur night at the Apollo Theater in New York - the classic
test of amateur talent in the R&B world. Fortunately Hirai, the first performer from
Japan, was well received by the Manhattan audience. In an interview with Time, he
explained, "When I first listened to soul music, I found something that put me in the
mood for dancing. I got this feeling that this was the music I had been searching
Hirai's soulful voice, piercing falsettos and unconventional looks may have earned him
adoring fans, but as a teenager he had quite a complex about his appearance. "I
really wanted to change my face. I wanted a flat, very typical Japanese or Asian
face," he recently told Time. Although he is pure Japanese, his decidedly
Caucasian profile and curly hair set him apart and suit his choice of music style.
Currently riding high on the success of his latest hit, "Kiss of Life," Hiari is
set to embark on a national tour bearing the same name as his third album, Gaining
Through Losing. Maybe his choice of title comes from the hiatus he took - Hirai
certainly seems to have gained much from temporarily losing his place in the spotlight.