Monday, March 8, 2010

Personal Fad: Hamasaki Ayumi the Japanese Pop Goddess

Hamsaki Ayumi is the Japanese equivalent of Britney Spears: she is THE female pop star that's been around for the longest time (eclipsed, perhaps, only by Amuro Namie). Honestly, though, the only thing she's got going is her really cute look. As a former model, her body is skinny as hell without any trace of voluptuous sexiness that I associate with porn stars and Western celebrities. Her singing isn't all that powerful (like Aoyama Teruma or Misia). She might, though, have something to say about fashion as her clothes are immediately imitated by every Japanese girl.

Overall, though, she seems to be thriving based on her distinctly cute Japanese beauty that may be hard to come across in the West. Despite her mediocre singing talent, her songs are, like any pop songs, catchy and pleasant to listen to.

Back in 1999 in high school, I listened to her music along with Utada Hikaru and her songs became part of my teenage years of angst, sex overdrive, low self-esteem, and other issues I let my fragile self deal with.

Now after 11 years, I come back to Hamasaki Ayumi (I refuse to call her, like her fans, "Ayu," just on principle) and am hooked. Naturally her songs are different and her style has evolved. It's a more adult version of the pop idol I used to know. She even tries sexy in some of her music videos, but I must say on that point that she just can't do sexy right (Koda Kumi, on the other hand, can. She's the Japanese equivalent of Christina Aguilera after she shed all that cutie teen pop idol image and became a sex fiend/slut - slutty, but sexy nonetheless).

Anyways, all rumbles aside, I'm hooked on some of Hamasaki Ayumi's old songs and her new songs.

"Boys & Girls," "M," "Fly High," and "Evolution" belong to her old style that I'm familiar with. They are pretty upbeat and especially fit to listen to when you want some music to wash over you while doing something else.

Her new songs, "Game," "Steps," "Inspire," and "Startin'" keep her signature upbeat rhythm but also convey a certain edginess in the bass that pervades the songs and in the lyrics that have departed from the naive, innocent, lovey-dovey lyrics of her earlier days and adopted a darker, edgier, more mature tone.

As far as the music videos (or PVs as they are called in Japan) are concerned, they get weirder as the more recent you get. The music videos for all her earlier songs are quite normal. Fast-forward to recent days. "Steps" is a pretty cool video involving the concept of four different dolls. Who the man in a suit and a strange monocle is is up to anyone's guess. "Game" gets weird really fast, featuring a tentacle monster dancing a funky dance that makes you wonder if it was meant to scare you or make you laugh. "Inspire" details an elaborate fantasy involving dancing on an island with seemingly indigenous people. Well, this is tolerable, but look at her "Startin'"! I have no idea who those two goofballs in the beginning are, and I'm not sure what to make of Hamasaki Ayumi trying, for all intents and purposes, to belly dance and gyrate in a sad attempt to be sexy, and the whole Kill Bill theme, but I must say the song is pretty catchy.

The Japanese Pop Goddess is still going strong, but even she cannot ride the tide of trend all the time as she is eclipsed by new and younger artists and slides down the hit charts. The comeback of the other Japanese Pop Goddess, Amuro Namie might mean that the waning and aging Goddess may very well make another come-back, but for now, she has been consigned to the Idol of the Past.

But at least she's been listened to with perverse enthusiasm by someone like me.

The following are the music videos for "Steps," "Game," and "Startin'."


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