20 years with Ayumi Hamasaki


Does anyone remember the iconic website, Ishkur’s Guide to Electronic Music? (http://techno.org/electronic-music-guide …) It was a mind-blowing experience for a kid whose only exposure to dance music at that point was, like, “The Hampsterdance Song” or Basshunter’s “Dota”.

The glory of its Web 1.0 Flash construction uses a flowchart to trace genres like Chicago house music from its origins in 70s disco, to its influence on the more cheesier cohort of 90s Eurodance. Ayu’s sped up chipmunk voice was the first thing you heard when you pressed the “JPOP” button, basked in battering synths from a misleading remix.

I rediscovered that Eurobeat version of “Trust several, several years later as apart of that massive, exhilarating mega-mix from the LOVEppears album, along with the likes of “YOU (Aggressive Mix)”, whose original composition is the only thing I still listen to from her debut.

The song is really saccharine, like your standard J-pop affair, about spring winds and winter seas, etcetera, etcetera, but there’s just something about its yellowing varnish. The most defining aspect of “YOU” is its shrilling vocal performance that Ayu, fortunately, felt the need to re-record later on for A Ballads.

The foreign language wing of my old high school housed a computer lab that came complete with derelict HP desktops, and those super old-school Walkman headphones that cushioned foam against your precious ear cartilage. Our sensei brought us over every other week to receive instruction from those unfortunate Erin’s Challenge videos as she caught up on her grading, probably trying to decipher the chicken scratch on our worksheets. This was around the same time that http://jpopsuki.tv was still functioning, and was one of the few websites to pass the school’s filter system.

Everyone leans back in their chair, right? Our computer lab had those swiveling office types that were stationary, so you were in no real danger if you rocked too far back. However, the mechanism on ours had aged so much that if you did just that, it felt as if you were free-falling.

I was too engrossed by Ayu’s platform heels to realize, but thankfully for my instincts, I lunged right up, trying to catch myself as the headphone wire yanked out of its socket, just as the chorus to “YOU” kicked in. A room of silent teenagers trying to figure out how “aurubaito” corresponds to “part-time job” was filled by the sound of Ayu straining her voice to reach those notes.

Ayumi Hamasaki is the definition of a pop icon, marrying her musical output with equally strong visual concepts.

The television spot for Duty, her third album, features a Leopard Ayu traversing the jungle floor with Gregorian chants to soundtrack it. She pairs pink acrylic butterfly glasses with glittery cowboy chaps in “Startin’”, imagines herself as a beacon of hope on the I am… cover, and explores the effects of compartmentalization on the psyche in “Ladies Night”. But if all our senses were to be stripped away, what we’re left with is the core of Ayu’s work: her writing. From “JEWEL”: “The reason my tears overflowed, even though I wasn’t sad / Was because your love penetrated the scars deep in my heart / So deeply it hurt / And turned them into tenderness”.



I grew up during the peak of Ayumi’s success, in 2001 I was 7 years old and just remember seeing her everywhere. TV, billboards, magazines, radio…it was impossible to escape her!

While I never became a big fan that followed her career, she’s one of those special artists who has songs virtually the entire country knows. Her presence in general, also had quite a big impact on me which I never really thought about until now. The context will be completely unrelated to Ayumi, but if I hear someone with a nasal voice, or see a short blonde hairstyle, even leopard print I sometimes tend to think to myself “Ah…Hamasaki“.

“SEASONS” is my favorite song by her. It’s very nostalgic, and one of those aforementioned songs that everyone knows. It’s become a staple every time I go out for karaoke. It doesn’t matter who I’m with, without fail once the chorus hits every single person in the room is singing along.


I didn’t like Ayumi Hamasaki when I first got into Japanese music. I found her voice to be annoying and her music to not be as interesting as that of other acts. But I also have to place some of the blame on her fans, because they tended to push the most dismal songs in her discography, as if that would encourage people to listen to her.

I liked some songs here and there over the years though.

My favorite Ayu release is her album “NEXT LEVEL.” A lot of fans hate this album, but then again, I hate what a lot of her fans like. It seemed much more mature, cohesive, and interesting than a lot of her previous albums. The thing I always loved most about the album is how the intro, “Bridge to the Sky”, blends into the album’s title track. There’s a surreal quality to it, which brings to mind something I mentally link it to.

I was listening to the album in the early hours of March 11, 2011, when I got a call telling me to turn to the news. With the intro still playing, I saw the tsunami washing over Japan. The imagery, mixed with the sounds, just created this sense of awe, like as if I was watching some great CGI feat. But it was real unfortunately. But I knew everything would work out, because the song “NEXT LEVEL” started playing and it has such a message of hope to it.

Now that we shared our memories of Ayumi with you, tell us yours below!

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