When Utada Hikaru walked into EMI-Toshiba producer Miyake
Akira' office, he really couldn't be blamed for not taking her seriously. She was still
in her school uniform. Obviously not on the route to "idolhood," what could a
kid so young have to offer?
A great deal, he soon discovered. Utada was no amateur. By the time most kids invest in
their first pair of loose socks and Hello Kitty keitai accessories, the New
York-born schoolgirl had penned enough tunes for an album and released one in the US - all
in English - under the pseudonym Cubic U.
Though little became of Ms. Cube stateside, the album did catch the fleeting attention of
Lenny Kravitz, and in today's pop community it is not every day that Japanese musicians
get recognition outside of eastern waters. Especially in the States, where music and radio
stations are still segregated, Japanese musicians have had little luck. This is
embarrassingly obvious upon closer inspection of Cubic U's album jacket which seems to
take every measure to conceal Utada - or at least that she is Japanese. One is even hard
pressed to find her name.
Utada herself, fluent in both English and Japanese, when asked about the motivation behind
going on to make an album in Japanese, commented that in America there is the black music
scene and the white one whereas in Japan, Japanese are free to engage in all genres. Utada
refuses to be bound, saying that she will continue along her musical path as she sees fit.
Her attitude, combined with the accomplishment of releasing an all-English album in
America, probably played a significant role in EMI's decision to push her as hard as they
have in the Japanese market. The success she failed to achieve abroad was more than
compensated for here. Japan has literally never seen anything like Utada.
Before her first offering, the aptly titled First Love, even hit the stores, two
million copies were on order. The frenzy has yet to wane. She has been on a
record-breaking crescendo, having already sold 5.24 million pieces, thus surpassing the
record of 5.11 million formerly held by B'z. She has also climbed on top of Globe by
stealing the super group's place for holding the largest number of debut albums sold.
Utada, meanwhile, is still in her school uniform. The musical prodigy is only sixteen
years of age - a high school student at the American School in Japan. Reclusive from the
press, she is reportedly too busy with school to grant any interviews. One seriously
wonders how she will synchronize her career and school once she enters Columbia
University, into which she was recently accepted.
The exuberant teen, dubbed "cosmopolitan" and "borderless" by the
media, asserts that she will betray everyone's expectations - the future knows no bounds.
On the J-poparometer, Utada has proven her talent in song writing with her Japanese
release. Unlike the overly-produced, bargain-bin dance tracks on Cubic U's Precious,
First Love is a rich soulful album with the power to convert even hard-line J-pop
skeptics. She has injected the scene with a more tangible commercial dose of R&B, and
no matter how much you want to dislike what she is throwing out, there is an inescapable
charm. Tunes such as "Automatic" and "First Love" linger.
But will Utada Hikaru? Where she goes from here remains to be seen, but if nothing else,
she has made enough of a stir to cause J-popsters to seriously examine what they are
doing. We can only wait to see what will emerge from her wake.