Akina Nakamori (中森明菜, Nakamori Akina, born on July 13, 1965) is a Japanese pop singer and actress. She was one of the most popular singers of the 1980s in Japan. She is known for her deep, power-house voice.
Within two years of her debut, she set herself apart from all the singers of her generation by singing provocative songs, with a chameleon-like image change with the release of each new single. Her mature and rebellious image was to be the direct opposite of the other pop rival, Seiko Matsuda, who projected a girl next door, sweet-natured charm. The media competed them against each other throughout the 1980s, scrutinising every details of their lives and supposed rivalry. During that period, Nakamori has always expressed an admiration and respect for Matsuda, even humming to Matsuda's songs when both happen to be on the same live shows.
Her hair style and dress sense was very much copied by teenagers in the 1980s. Music wise, her recording company moulded her to be a successor after the mature and sophisticated Momoe Yamaguchi, a singer who retired at age 21 for marriage. Her songs were always of heartbreaks, or rebellion, never to stray far from the 'mold'.
After Akina Nakamori passed the test of Star Tanjō!, she made her debut in 1982 with the single "Slow Motion." Her first single "Slow Motion", was recorded in Los Angeles. This was released on 1 May 1982 and sold 174,000 copies, reaching number 30 in the Oricon charts. The 2nd single, "Shōjo A" was nearly banned for its risque lyrics. This single fared better, most likely due to the controversy, and peaked at #5, selling 396,000 copies. Her next single, a ballad titled "Second Love" proved to be her best-selling single. This sentimental piece debuted at #2 but reached No. 1 the following week, staying at the number one spot for 9 weeks. It sold 766,000 copies back then (to date, almost one million). In addition to the single releases, Nakamori also released two albums titled Prologue and Variation that year, which sold 453,000 and 743,000 copies respectively.
The following year Nakamori released three singles, two studio albums and her first best-of album. The singles were "Nibunnoichi no Shinwa", which sold 573,000 copies and debuted at #1, making it her best-selling single of that year. "Twilight - Yūguretayori", released in May, sold 430,000 copies and debuted at #2. But "Kinku", her last single of that year, fared better, debuting at #1 and selling 511,000 copies. All three albums, Fantasy, New Akina Etranger and Best Akina Memoir hit No. 1.
In 1984, Nakamori released "Kita Wing", which sold 614,000 copies, a bit better than her singles from the previous year, but surprisingly it did not become a number 1 hit. It instead debuted at number 2 and remained at that position for 6 weeks. "Kita Wing" is also rumoured to be Momoe Yamaguchi's favourite Nakamori Song (Yamaguchi being Nakamori's idol). Her next single "Southern Wind" brought her back to the number 1 spot, though it sold less than its predecessor at 544,000 copies. "Jūkai (1984)" proved to be another number 1 for her, selling 611,000 copies. The 9th single, "Kazari jya naino yo namida wa" proved to be a turning point in Akina Nakamori's career; as the song is considered difficult to sing with super fast lyrics. It debuted at number 1 and sold 625,000 copies. Many in Japan cite this song and her 1986 single, "Desire - Jōnetsu", as Nakamori's signature songs. Her two album releases of that year, Anniversary and Possibility both fared well and hit No. 1.
1985-1986: Commercial peak:
Nakamori kicked off 1985 with "Meu Amore," another great success for her, debuting #1 with 631,000 copies sold ultimately and also winning Nakamori the Grand Prix award at the 27th Japan Record Awards. She became the youngest person at the time (20) to be awarded such an honour. Originally, the single was to be titled "Akaitori Nigeta fly away" (The red bird flies away), but the producers felt that the lyrics were not Samba-ish enough. "Meu Amore" was the result of the newly penned lyrics. "Akaiatori Nigeta fly away" was released as a 12 inch single instead, making the No.1 spot as well. Despite the superb b-side song of Babylon which was remixed, it sold a dismal 354,000 overall. She then released "Sand Beige - Sabaku e" which sold 461,000 copies and debuted at number 1. Her next single, "Solitude" also debuted at number 1, but sold merely 336,000 copies.
She also released two albums in 1985. Firstly, Bitter and Sweet, which contained the album version of the earlier hit of "Kazari Janai No Yo Namida Wa" and "BABYLON." It sold 556,000 copies and debuted at number 1 again. Her next album, D404ME, only had a remix version of the hit single "Meu Amore" included. Yet this album sold an impressive 651,000 copies and debuted at number 1.
In 1986, at 21, Nakamori matured in her singing style and choice of songs. The first single of that year, "Desire - jōnetsu," proved to be one of the highlights in Nakamori's career. This was also the theme song of PIONEER PRIVATE commercial, and was awarded the Grand Prix at the 28th Japan Record Awards in 1986. She became the youngest winner for two consecutive years. It sold 516,000 copies and debuted at number 1. Her next single "Gypsy Queen" was a calmer song than "Desire - jōnetsu" and sold a mere 358,000 copies, but still debuted at number 1. The single "Fin" followed, and sold less than it predecessor, at 318,000 copies. Again, it debut at number 1.
To commemorate her first 4 years in the business, Nakamori released her first "BEST" album. It sold impressively, 766,000 copies and a comfortable number 1 debut spot. Then Nakamori released Fushigi, a concept album with echoing singing and obscure musical arrangement. It caused quite a stir amongst the mainly conservative Japanese public and thus sold 464,000 copies, nearly 200,000 less than Crimson, an entire album composed by only women, which sold 601,000 copies. But both managed to debut at number 1, Fushigi stayed number 1 for only 3 weeks, while Crimson stayed number 1 for 4.
In 1987, she released "Tango Noir," which sold 348,000 copies and debuted at number 1. (Even though sales of singles were declining, Tango Noir still made it to be the 2nd best selling single in 1987). Her next single was a cover of an American song, but she called her version "Blonde." It sold 301,000 copies and added to her No.1 singles. Her most critically acclaimed single of that year was a heartfelt ballad called "Nanpasen," an emotionally draining song which many people attributed to her rocky relationship with then boyfriend, Masahiko Kondō and the death of her mother. It sold 431,000 copies and debuted at number 1.
She released only one album in 1987, an unsuccessful English debut album called "Cross My Palm." It mainly faltered in the United States music industry because of Nakamori's heavily accented English and lack of promotion Stateside. Nonetheless, it was a hit in Japan, selling 343,000 copies and debuting at number 1.
On March 3, 1988, Nakamori released album Stock. Three singles were released in 1988, "Al Mauj", "Tattoo" and "I missed the shock." The first two debuted at No. 1.
In 1989, a year fans will remember as very dark for Nakamori, only one single was released due to what was almost a tragedy. "Liar" became her 19th No. 1 single. The single was rumored to reflect her feelings about her then-boyfriend Masahiko Kondō. It came as a shock when news of her attempted suicide in Kondō's apartment broke in July 1989, after he called off their engagement. Luckily, she was found and hospitalised. However, she retreated from the public eye for a while.
Her return to the music scene in 1990 was met with scepticism and curiosity, propelling the single "Dear Friend" to No. 1. Nakamori once claimed that "Dear Friend' is perhaps her only happy song. Nevertheless, she reverted to melancholic, jilted love songs that ultimately did not go well with the public's taste. Her next single "Mizu ni Sashita Hana" became her 21st Oricon #1 single, but she could not reach the top position again after that. The whole decade proved to be a hit or miss musical era for Nakamori, who somewhat lost her definitive direction in her style of music.
Nakamori ventured into acting in the 1990s, with varying success. Ironically, Kome Kome Club's 1992 single "Kimi ga Iru Dake de," which sold over 2.89 million copies, was the theme song of Japanese television drama Sugao no Mamade in which she played a role.
Her live performances continue to be of very high standard, showcasing her vocals. Her 2000, 2002 and 2003 concerts were huge successes. 2006 marked her 25th anniversary in show business. According to the Oricon Charts, she is one of a handful of singers who manage to have albums in the Top 10 in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s; proving her resilience to the taste changing music industry.
Regardless of her lack of prolific songs in recent years, Nakamori was honoured by the Japanese Music critics as the 5th best voice in the country's recording history, even ahead of her rival, Seiko Matsuda, at 7th place.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license