20 years with Ayumi Hamasaki


Ah, Ayumi Hamasaki. Definitely one of my favorite legacy artists from the Jpop scene. Ayumi will always have a place of immense respect for me, both from a literal impact sense, and also for shaping and guiding a lot of my current taste in the Japanese music scene.

To be fair, I didn’t really start looking into her further until the mid-career era. Sure, I’d heard singles here and there (who hadn’t heard the masterpiece that is “Boys and Girls?”) but I was still riding the wave of Shiina Ringo and similar rock artists at the time. When she dropped her rockier edged tunes of the early 00s however, I HAD to investigate further.

My first purchase ever wasn’t until 2008, when she dropped the fantastic “A COMPLETE 〜ALL SINGLES〜” boxset, a truly amazing entry to the world of Hamasaki up to that point. I found myself falling deeply in love with songs from all eras, particularly I Am…, Secret and My Story. I still find “moments” her most breathtaking single (that unforgettable chorus!), and probably the most beautiful ballad in mainstream Jpop ever.

My favourite releases by Ayumi nowadays are “I Am…”, “GUILTY”, “NEXT LEVEL”, “Love Songs” and the criminally underrated EP, “FIVE”. While her sales are not what they used to be (who’s are?), there is no denying that she is truly the Empress of mainstream Jpop, and it will be a long, long time until anyone can claim heir to the throne.

I can’t wait to see what she pulls out for her 20th Anniversary release-wise, one can only hope for some vinyl pressings.


My first impression of Ayu wasn’t very good. I don’t remember the exact year, but the first memory I recall of a specific Ayu song is “UNITE!” which I found on either LimeWire or Kazaa. I remember thinking to myself “What IS this? it’s just noise. Why does her voice sound like that. This is the worst thing I’ve ever heard in my life”

Despite that I never deleted it, and would still occasionally come back to the song once in a while. She slowly started to warm up to me, and I became a casual fan. In mid 2006 after getting a recommendation I listened to the full (miss)understood album, and everything with Ayu just clicked, I was hooked.  And for the record I do really like UNITE! today.

One of my favorite memories of Ayu involves my dad’s old Beatles records. Randomly in the basement I came across them, original pressing. Asked my dad if I could have them and he said sure. Did I keep them sealed and wait for them to further increase in value? No. Did I open them for myself and relish in some classic 60s pop-rock? Of course not.

As any sensible person would do I sold them on Ebay right away and went on a Ayu (and a lil bit of Maki Goto) shopping spree via Yahoo! Auction Japan.

My favorite Ayu album of all time goes to LOVEppears (honorable mention Duty), everything about it is just perfect to me. The aesthetics, her look, the sound, I love it all. A lot of the songs resonate with me, but “Who…” just has that slight edge over the others.

The sublime minute long instrumental opening, her soft vocals and harmonies, touching lyrics…I’m not quite sure which one of those qualities makes the song “it” for me, but on first listen I instantly felt a connection and it’s never went away.


One of my earliest and fondest memories of Ayu is of her song Dearest. I heard this song for the first time around 10 years ago when I had first started to get into J-pop as a whole. I had no idea what she was singing, but the emotion she put behind each word still moved me and stuck with me for years.

I think that is her greatest skill as an artist. Possibly due to the fact that she personally writes all of her lyrics, you can truly hear the emotion and passion in her voice for every song she sings. Dearest will always have a special place for my heart for not just helping to get into Ayu, but for helping to start my love for the entire world of J-pop.


My favorite Ayu era is 1999-2001. My heart constantly balances between LOVEppears and Duty as to decide whichever is my favorite album of her.

Both of them reek of a unique subtle darkness & mysteriousness that has been a fleeting momentum in Ayumi’s whole discography. This short time that happened just before she fully embraces her “ultimate popstar” status (since ‘I am…’).

What I appreciate the most about her music at the time is the fact it was so pure and “no-frills” ; something that went missing in her post-‘Memorial Address’ era during which Ayu’s music switched into something more convoluted and a bit overproduced.

The simplicity and subtle refinement of her compositions of the time were truly were one of a kind : the frenzy rockish sound of “SURREAL”, the chaotic lyricism of “End of the World” & “Far Away”, the mysterious exoticalness of “Vogue”, the melancolic stirring beat of “PS II” & “monochrome”, the vintage catchy 90s’ electrodance of “and then” & “fly high”…I could go on for every and each song of those albums, which were in my opinion one of the best Jpop albums of the decade.

I started listening to Ayumi Hamasaki on the later height of her career (circa ~2006). Although it took me quite some time to start paying attention to her older tunes (her “popstar” tunes were a bit more appealing to me at the time – I mean, “Startin” is a certified BOP), from my present outlook I realize her oldest songs are actually the ones that left me the most intense and lasting memories.

And “End roll” is all about it.

“End roll” is about acknowledging things of the past are forever gone, and move away from them to fully enjoy present time (I’d venture to say the same way I/we should accept “this” Ayu is gone and will never come back..)

That bittersweet memory of me in the bus listening to that song, coming back from (high)school, after a struggling day with no friends, striving for success, sense of purpose, etc.
“End roll” lyrics say :

“I’m going forwards
I’ll walk alone
And see by myself
Under that light lighting my way (…)”

That life force that drives you to still going anyway despite that everlasting feeling of inadequacy. The dim light within your heart still awake despite the struggle of your life. The faith that your life will not always be this way. That depression is not fatality and the better days of your Life have yet to come.

Thank you for being with me for all those years.
Thank you Ayumi Hamasaki.

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