Hi ARAMA! JAPAN readers. The latest featured artist is Ami Suzuki! Ami recently made headlines for announcing her marriage and pregnancy, but unfortunately her music has been on the sidelines for quite a while. Ami hasn’t exactly had the career of your typical pop idol, in the blink of an eye she went from the top of the charts to getting blacklisted from the entertainment industry. Despite those setbacks she pursued on, eventually securing a contract with avex trax.
Let’s learn about Amigo!
Who is Ami Suzuki?
Ami got her start in the industry by appearing on the talent search variety show ASAYAN. She beat out over 13,000 girls and won a recording contract with Sony Music Entertainment where it was decided Tetsuya Komuro would become her producer. Ami’s debut single “love the island” was released on July 1st 1998 instantly reaching the top 5 on Oricon and going platinum. She released a string of other successful singles leading to the release of her debut album “SA”. The album was a huge success debuting at #1 and selling over 1 million copies in one week.
Following the success of “SA” Ami went on to release her most commercially successful single “BE TOGETHER”. This single caused a bit of a stir due to it being released on the same day as Ayumi Hamasaki’s “Boys & Girls”, a forced rivalry was started between the two by tabloids due to them debuting at around the same time and having such a strong impact on the music scene. The tabloids were also responsible for pitting her against Morning Musume (both got their start on ASAYAN), and Namie Amuro/Tomomi Kahara since Ami was seen as the new main “TK girl”. During this time Ami expressed interest in having a more hands-on role with the production of her music. She was constantly writing lyrics submitting them to both Tetsuya Komuro and her management, hoping that one day they would allow them to be used. Ami’s wish finally came true and her first co-written single “HAPPY NEW MILLENNIUM” was released December 22nd 1999, barely missing the top spot finishing at #2 on the weekly chart.
The following year Ami released two studio albums in celebration of her 18th birthday, “INFINITY EIGHTEEN VOL.1” and “INFINITY EIGHTEEN VOL.2”. This is where things started to get questionable for our Amigo. Right after the release of her 12th single “Reality/Dancin’ in Hip-Hop” Ami and her family filed a lawsuit against her management AG Communications. A few months prior the then president of AG Communications was arrested for tax evasion fraud, Ami started to receive quite a bit of negative publicity solely because she was associated with them. Since Ami was a minor at the time, her parents filed a suit in-order to get out of her contract in fear that the continued associations would further damage her reputation. The opposite happened.
Ami and her family won the lawsuit but as a result was completely blacklisted from the entertainment industry. Fighting against your “superiors” was just something you did not do in the Japanese entertainment industry, especially as a female idol. At the time news outlets were forbidden from officially reporting details on the story, it was just as if she disappeared overnight. That didn’t stop the tabloids from spreading rampant rumors, most prevalent one being that that Ami and her family were influenced by greed. The blacklisting was exposed for the very first time by U.S Journalist Steve McClure in a December 2001 issue of Billboard Magazine
McClure received warnings that publishing this story could potentially end his career in writing about Japan’s music industry, but he pursued on anyway. McClure was able to obtain records from the courts detailing everything about the lawsuit. The major discovery of this was how much she was earning. At the start of Ami’s deal she was making ¥200,000 a month (roughly $2000 USD) and would receive a bonus of 0.4% of her CD sales. Despite her CD sales grossing billions of yen, having dozens of endorsement deals, successful concert tours, as well as acting gigs by the time the lawsuit was filed Ami was still only earning 1 million yen a month and a bonus of 0.55% CD sales. With Billboard Magazine being an international media to Japan, very few people actually learned about the truth once the story was published.
Unable to find a record deal in April 2004 Ami released a photobook with a CD titled “Tsuyoi Kizuna”, and then created her own label Amity where she released the indie single “Forever Love”. Soon after she was approached by the head honcho of avex trax Max Matsuura, and was officially signed to the label in December 2004. Ami’s debut avex trax single “Delightful” came out the following year in March to moderate success. Her first avex trax album “AROUND THE WORLD” took inspiration from the Euro-Trance genre and was released on October 12th 2005, sales were a far cry from her previous albums with Sony. The blacklisting had still never been properly addressed in the Japanese media, creating an aura of awkwardness whenever she appeared to promote her work.
Following the release of AROUND THE WORLD Ami released a few more singles and then officially started her “Joins project”. Ami began to collaborate with a multitude of artists, all of the songs were featured on her fifth studio album “CONNETTA”. Collaborators include Otsuka Ai, Buffalo Daughter, and Ueda Kenji. Ami continued the Joins project, collaborating with Nakata Yasutaka bringing us the legendary “FREE FREE/SUPER MUSIC MAKER” single. Her following album “DOLCE” has the same “Joins” concept, mainly focusing on the electronic and house genres. Along with Nakata, the album features collaborations with Aly&AJ, RAM RIDER, and Tomoe Shinohara.
DOLCE marked the end of the “Joins project” and Ami began a short lived partnership with Nakata Yasutaka. He produced two singles and one album titled “Supreme Show”. A new single produced by Nakata was scheduled to be released but was canceled for unknown reasons.
On October 28th 2009 Ami released her 32nd and final (thus far) single “KISS KISS KISS/Aishiteru…”, her music releases became sporadic as she continued to act and focus on her new interest DJing. She also became a regular on many variety TV shows, a few of them giving her the opportunity to finally talk about her blacklisting in a public forum
(Jojo – Too Little Too Late is playing in the bg)
What’s so special about her?
She exposed in detail how corrupt things can really get behind the scenes and set a precedence for the entire Japanese entertainment industry. Vast array of catchy songs under multiple genres, there’s something in her catalog for everyone. Lastly, and most importantly she arguably has the most qt idol nickname.
Where do I start?
Supreme Show is probably Ami’s most accessible album, and is definitely one of the stronger studio albums Nakata has produced. Nakata was starting to make a sound that was distinct for Ami (compared to his other produced acts at the time), a shame they didn’t do more together. This is a must have for any j-pop fan.
FUN for FAN or Ami Selection
Is recommending best albums a cop-out? FUN FOR FAN is a collection of all her Sony era singles. For those not too familiar with female idols the vocals might take some getting used to, not everyone can be gifted like MISIA or Tomomi Itano! but over the years I’ve come to find them super charming. “all night long” is one of her (and TK’s) best songs of all time. “Ami Selection” has songs spanning her entire career, she also re-recorded all the Sony era songs included on the album. This collection gives you a pretty good feel of what she has to offer.
One of my personal favorites, I love the concept of this album so much I really wish she would do something like this again. When it originally came out I was introduced to a slew of acts in the j-electro scene that I’ve never heard about before. Having all these different collaborators makes the overall sound of the album a little muddled, but that kinda makes me like it even more.
INFINITY EIGHTEEN VOL.2
Another personal favorite. This album isn’t really as accessible as her previous ones, but how many other idols can say they have a trip-hop inspired album. It also features raps by Shawnna! As far as album tracks go this one is definitely the strongest out of her Sony releases.