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BIG IN JAPAN
Utada Hikaru


Utada HikaruWhen 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.

David Schneer

BIG IN JAPAN:
299: Nakamura Kankuro
Arizona lover and Kabuki actor
298: Miura Yuichiro
The Man Who Skied Down Everest
297: Iron Chef
Gourmet cuisine battles
296: "Katte wa ikenai"
"Don't buy these products"
295: Oda Yuji
The dancing detective
294: Enoki Takaaki
An artist who acts
293: Glay
Japan's reigning pop princes
292: Akebono
Hawaiian Sumo wrestler
291: Issey Miyake
Fashion designer
290: Murakami Ryu
Radical writer
289: Oshima Nagisa
Movie director
288: Takakura Ken
Crime film actor
287: Miura Kazuyoshi
Soccer player
286: Suzuki Koji
Author of the horror, Ring
285: Tezuka Osamu
God of Comics
284: Yuming
Singer/songwriter
283: Anpanman
Bean-powered superhero
282: Yamaguchi Takashi
Immersed in traditional Japanese music
281: Nasubi
Comedian
280: Doi Takako
First female Speaker of the House
279: Nakamura Kichiemon
Retiring Kabuki actor
278: Oe Kenzaburo
Nobel prize winning author
277: Kimura Takuya
SMAP member
276: Utada Hikaru
Teenage pop phenomenon
275: Bando Tamasaburo
Kabuki female role impersonator
274: Otomo Katsuhiro
Akira creator
273: Dreams Come True
Premier recording artist
272: Dango San Kyodai
Surprise hit of 1999
271: Banana Yoshimoto
Author
270: Matsuzaka Daisuke
Baseball player
269: Moritaka Chisato
Model and singer
268: Mukai Chiaki
Female astronaut
267: Natto
Traditional Japanese health food
266: Hiroaki Kikuoka
Shamisen player
265: Chikamatsu Monzaemon
Japan's most revered dramatist
264: Ryuichi Sakamoto
Oscar-winning musician
263: Shigeo Nagashima
Japan's Mr Baseball
262: Ayako Totsuka
Pioneer careerwoman
261: Yatsuhashi Kengyo
Koto player
260: Chiyotaikai
Sumo wrestler
259: Pocky
Japanese snack food
258: Itsuki Hiroshi
Enka singer
257: Pocket Monsters
Conquering the world
256: Classified ads
New concept in Japan
255: Chara
Japanese pop star
254: Pink Lady
1970's singing duo
253: Takashi Sorimachi
Japanese heartthrob
252: Ennosuke Ichikawa
Kabuki actor
251: Rie Miyazawa
Model and actress
250: Shazna
Visual-kei band

Issues 350 +
Issues 349 - 300/1
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