If you’ve been a fan of J-pop superstar Ayumi Hamasaki for as long as I have, the news of her gradual hearing loss is a heartbreaking one. Last week, Hamasaki took to her blog, TeamAyu, to deliver the shocking announcement that hearing in her right ear is weakening. “I remember wondering how would I, as a singer, be able to cope with two useless ears. I was in the dark,” she wrote while in the midst of a nationwide concert tour that celebrates her 19th year in the business. This comes after the revelation in 2008 that she had gone completely deaf in her left ear after a bout of illness led to irreversible damage.
I became a fan of Hamasaki in 1999, the year she released her sophomore album, LOVEppears. Back then, an unstoppable current from Japan had swept across Singapore and many parts of Asia. Very much like the Hallyu wave of today, we lapped up the Land of the Rising Sun’s many exports, from its well-produced dramas to catchy music. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t speak the language—artiste and fan alike were bound by a connection that transcended borders. Mind you, this was an era before Youtube and high-speed Internet made everything instantly accessible. I fondly remember trawling the Web on a 56K dial-up modem for fan sites that provided translations to her lyrics, and then compiling them into little lyric cheat sheets.
Hamasaki was, of course, on the crest of that J-wave. It helped that she was also a gifted lyricist; her words found their ways into the hearts of the public who related to her brand of “pessimistic joy, optimistic melancholy.” Often referred to as the Madonna of J-pop (the American singer was a big influence), Hamasaki crafted her image with chameleonic ability, marrying fashion with her music to sell tonnes of records (more than 50 million in fact, earning her the title of Japan’s best-selling solo act of all time).
In 2008, while I was still in university, I pulled together some money I had saved from my part-time job and flew to Hong Kong to catch Hamasaki live. She was scheduled to perform for two nights as part of her 10th anniversary tour. I dropped my bags upon checking-in at my hotel and rushed to the one she was putting up at. I waited for three hours outside the hotel with thirty or so other diehard fans to catch a glimpse of her. I’ll never forget how my hands shook after receiving the booklet with her autograph on it. The next time I caught Hamasaki live was in 2013, on her home ground, Tokyo. Imagine the joy when I found out that she will be performing here in 2014 as part of the headlining act for A-Nation, a yearly summer concert festival organised by her record label, Avex Trax. Thanks to that concert, I was introduced to a group of fellow Hamasaki fans, and I’m grateful for the karaoke sessions where we’d belt our hearts out to our favourite Hamasaki tunes.
Even though Hamasaki’s popularity has dipped in recent years, there’s no denying her impact on the Japanese music scene. My interest in her new material has also waned, but those who know me will know that she is an integral part of my identity. I still listen to her songs everyday (albeit the older ones), and ever so often I find myself loading her past music videos on Youtube even though I’ve seen them a million times—that’s because I know I’m always in for a good time. Here, I round up five of Hamasaki’s best music videos.
Hamasaki plays a marionette on her quest to become a star, only to find herself reduced to a “singing machine” and then disposed of on the streets like a piece of rubbish. Was Hamasaki alluding to the cruel state of the music industry?
2. Because of You
Corsets, latex gloves and bondage-inspired gear… Hamasaki pines for a lost love while surrounded by a group of women trapped in what seems like a—gasp—brothel from a dystopian city.
I credit Hamasaki for sparking my interest in fashion. In this music video, she undergoes five costume changes while appearing as a starlet trapped by her own fame. My favourite ensemble from the music video? Hamasaki swathed in a hippie, floor-length coat while singing in a windmill farm. You’ll have to watch until the end to see it in its glory
Released in 2000, “M” is the first song composed by Hamasaki under the pseudonym, Crea. Fun fact: Crea was the name of one of her dogs.
In this action-packed music video, Hamasaki finds herself mysteriously transported into an unknown laboratory and haunted by a group of men whose faces are covered in masks that bear her likeness. Talk about eerie…
By Gerald Tan