Utada Hikaru discusses her creative process for new album Fantôme

In her first interview since her hiatus from musical activities back in 2010, Japanese pop icon Utada Hikaru opened up to Yahoo!Japan and gave insight into the creation of her forthcoming album Fantôme.

Before the singer’s hiatus began, she went full throttle with her artistic activities knowing her break would last anywhere from two to five years, but life hit her with a curve ball with the death of her mother, Keiko Fuji, who tragically died by suicide in 2013.

“The loss of the mother forces you to grow up,” Utada says. “Moving on after a tragic experience, I wasn’t able to be confident in myself until recently.”

In early 2014, through an announcement on her personal site, Utada announced that she was engaged to be wed to an Italian man, Francesco Calianno, who she met while he was working as a bartender in a London hotel. They were wed on May 23, 2014 and a year later, without any prior announcement, she announced she had given birth to a baby boy.

With all these changes in her life, it’s no surprise her eventual album would cover such topics. From what we’ve seen, the album is undoubtedly inspired by her late mother, even down to the hairstyle on the cover.

Utada’s first Japanese studio album since 2008’s Heart Station, Fantôme includes the previous digital singles Sakura Nagashi, Hanataba wo Kimi ni and Manatsu no Tooriame along with 8 new tracks.

■ Opening the album is Michi, or “Road.” Utada described this track as “danceable,” mentioning the lyrics candidly condense her journey since her hiatus; an affirmation that she is doing fine. The process of writing a song like this was “refreshing”, and from it you will see how much she has grown as a person since her last full-length Japanese album.

Following the opening track, the remainder of the songs on the album focuses on her lyrics and her vocals rather than instrumentation. It’s said to be much more raw.

■ Since she debuted so young in Japan, she felt it was taboo for her to talk about her sex life. She may have alluded to it famously on her English-language albums but was never able to directly express it in the way she can now, admitting that singing in English was a crutch for her to avoid talking about things. Notice how there are no English titles on this album—it was a very specific artistic choice.

The second track is Ore No Kanojo, or “My Girlfriend,” and Utada is more mature than ever.  Her self-censorship is no more—this isn’t a PG 13 song, but rated R.

After the inclusion of the French language during the writing of Ore No Kanojo,  she surprised herself and was immediately inspired to title the album Fantôme.

■ The third track is Hanataba wo Kimi ni, or “A Bouquet For You.” This was released back in April and marked her official comeback to Japanese music scene. The positive reaction to this song influenced the remainder of the album.

■ The fifth track is Ningyo, or “Mermaid,” of which the interviewer mentions is a rare sort of song for Utada. It’s an acoustic number with a simple, earthy sound and was written after her mother’s death when she didn’t know if she would be able to write music again. She was inspired to pick up a guitar and the melody came to her, though the lyrics didn’t come to her until she saw the music video by paper cutting artist Keiko Tsuji for Hanataba wo Kimini.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, check out the new PV for Hanataba wo Kimi ni which features Utada. She was just as outraged how hard it was to watch outside of Japan as a lot of her international fans were.

Kouya no Ookami, or “Wolf of the Wilderness,” is the eighth track and was inspired by German-Swiss author Hermann Hesse’s novel Steppenwolf. The novel follow the protagonist’s split between his humanity and wolf-like aggression and homelessness, whose life changes dramatically after he meets a woman who is his opposite. The track includes very noticeable breathing sounds, noting expression through breathing to be a minor theme of this album.

■ She felt Sakura Nagashi, or “Flowing Cherry Blossoms,” had to be the final track. Described as “sentimental and beautiful; a requiem for life full of literary elegance”, Utada wrote and composed the song while on hiatus due to her appreciation of the Evangelion movie series.

This latest effort appears to be one of Utada’s most personal albums yet, detailing the journey of her life these past 6 years and being able to choose both the track order and photographer for the album cover.

Fantôme will be released September 28, 2016.