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Ayumi Hamasaki (浜崎あゆみ, Hamasaki Ayumi, also 濱崎歩; born October 2, 1978) is a Japanese recording artist, lyricist, model, and actress. Also called "Ayu" by her fans, Hamasaki has been dubbed the "Empress of Pop" because of her popularity and widespread influence in Japan and throughout Asia. Born and raised in Fukuoka, she moved to Tokyo at fourteen to pursue a career in entertainment. In 1998, under the tutelage of Avex CEO Max Matsuura, she released a string of modestly selling singles that concluded with her 1999 debut album A Song for ××. The album debuted atop the Oricon charts and stayed there for four weeks, establishing her popularity in Japan.
Hamasaki's constantly changing image and tight control over her artistry has helped her popularity extend across Asia; music and fashion trends she has started have spread to countries such as China, Singapore, and Southeast Asia. She has appeared in or lent her songs to many advertisements and television commercials. Though she originally supported the exploitation of her popularity for commercial purposes, she later reconsidered and eventually opposed her status as an Avex "product".
Since her 1998 debut with the single "Poker Face", Hamasaki has sold over 53,000,000 records in Japan, ranking her among the best-selling singers in the country. As a female singer, Hamasaki holds several domestic records for her singles, such as the most number-one hits overall by a female artist, the most consecutive number-one hits by a solo artist, and the most million-sellers. Since 1999, Hamasaki has had at least one single each year topping the charts (except 2011, which she released a mini-album, Five, without any singles). Hamasaki is the first female singer to have eight studio albums since her debut to top the Oricon and the first artist to have a number-one album for 13 consecutive years since her debut.
1 Life and music career
1.1 Childhood and early endeavors,
1.2 1998-1999: Rising popularity,
1.3 2000-2002: Commercial peak,
1.4 2003-2006: Decline and rise in sales,
1.5 2007-present: Market beyond Japan,
2 Image and artistry
2.1 Musical style,
2.2 Public image,
3 Other activities,
5 Personal life
7.1 Concert tours,
7.2 New Years countdown concerts,
9 See also,
12 Further reading,
13 External links,
Life and music career:
Childhood and early endeavors:
Born in Fukuoka Prefecture, Hamasaki was raised as an only child by her mother and grandmother. Her father had left the family when she was three and never again came into contact with her. Hamasaki's mother worked to support the family, so Hamasaki was primarily taken care of by her grandmother.
At age seven, Hamasaki began modeling for local institutions, such as banks, in order to supplement the family's income. She continued this career path by leaving her family at fourteen and moving to Tokyo as a model under SOS, a talent agency. Her modeling career did not last long; SOS eventually deemed her too short for a model and transferred her to Sun Music, a musicians' agency. Under the name of "Ayumi", Hamasaki released a rap EP, Nothing from Nothing, on the Nippon Columbia label in 1995. She was dismissed from the label when the album failed to chart on the Oricon. After this failure, Hamasaki took up acting and starred in B-movies such as Ladys Ladys!! Sōcho Saigo no Hi and television dramas such as Miseinen, which were poorly received by the public. From August 1995 to March 1996, Hamasaki also co-hosted the SoundLink "magazine" Hōkago no Ōsama (放課後の王様, After-school King) for the Nintendo Satellaview once a week with Shigeru Izumiya. Growing dissatisfied with her job, Hamasaki quit acting and moved in with her mother, who had recently moved to Tokyo.
Hamasaki was initially a good student, earning good grades in junior high school. Eventually, she lost faith in the curriculum, thinking that the subjects taught were of no use to her. Her grades worsened as she refused to put her mind to her studies. While living in Tokyo, she attempted to further her studies at Horikoshi Gakuen, a high school for the arts, but dropped out in the first year. Hamasaki did not attend school or have a job, so she spent much of her time shopping at Shibuya boutiques and dancing at Velfarre, an Avex-owned disco club.
At Velfarre, she was introduced to her future producer, Max Matsuura, through a friend. After hearing Hamasaki sing karaoke, Matsuura offered her a recording deal, but Hamasaki suspected ulterior motives and turned the offer down. He persisted and succeeded in recruiting her for the Avex label in the following year. Hamasaki started vocal training, but skipped most of her classes after finding her instructors to be too rigid and the classes dull. When she confessed this to Matsuura, he sent her to New York to train her vocals under another method. During her foreign sojourn, Hamasaki frequently corresponded with Matsuura and impressed him with her style of writing. On her return to Japan, he suggested that she try writing her own lyrics.
1998-1999: Rising popularity:
Hamasaki made her debut under Avex on April 8, 1998 with the single "Poker Face". It--and the following four singles--were not major hits, however each release was better than the last, thus gradually increasing her exposure and presence on the market. Hamasaki's debut album, A Song for ×× (1999), was likewise "unassuming": the tracks, composed by Yasuhiko Hoshino, Akio Togashi (of Da Pump), and Mitsuru Igarashi (of Every Little Thing), were "cautious" pop-rock songs. However, Hamasaki's lyrics, introspective observations about her feelings and experiences that focused on loneliness and individualism, resonated with the Japanese public. The songs gained Hamasaki a growing following, and the release of the album was a success: it topped the Oricon charts for five weeks and sold over a million copies. For her achievements, she earned a Japan Gold Disc Award for "Best New Artist of the Year".
With Ayu-mi-x (March 1999), the first of a series of remix albums, Hamasaki began moving beyond the pop-rock of A Song for ×× and began to incorporate different styles including trance, dance, and orchestra. Hamasaki began to experiment with different musical styles in her singles as well, releasing dance tunes and ballads as well as remixes on the singles which spanned reggae and house. The singles were milestones: Hamasaki earned her first number-one single ("Love: Destiny") and first million-selling single ("A"). Her second studio album, Loveppears (November 1999), not only topped the Oricon charts, it sold nearly 3 million copies. The album also showcased a change in Hamasaki's lyrics. Though the lyrics of Loveppears still dealt with loneliness, many of them were written from a third-person perspective. In support of Loveppears, she held her first tour, Ayumi Hamasaki Concert Tour 2000 A.
A Film for XX is the first video clip collection by Ayumi Hamasaki, it was released on September 15, 1999.
2000-2002: Commercial peak:
From April to June 2000, Hamasaki released the "Trilogy", a series of singles consisting of "Vogue", "Far Away", and "Seasons". The lyrics of these songs focused on hopelessness, a reflection of Hamasaki's disappointment that she had not expressed herself thoroughly in any of her previous lyrics and a sense of shame of her public image. Likewise, many of the songs she wrote for her subsequent studio album, Duty (September 2000), involved feelings of loneliness, chaos, confusion, and the burden of her responsibilities. She described her feelings after the writing as "unnatural" and "nervous". The musical style was darker as well; in contrast with Loveppears, Duty was a rock-influenced album with only one dance song, "Audience".Duty resonated with fans: the "Trilogy" were "hit singles" ("Seasons" was a million-seller), and the album became Hamasaki's best-selling studio album. At the end of 2000, Hamasaki held her first New Year countdown concert at the Yoyogi National Gymnasium.
In 2001, Avex forced Hamasaki to release her first compilation album, A Best, on March 28, putting the album in "competition" with Hikaru Utada's second studio album, Distance. The "competition" between the two singers (which both claimed was merely a creation of their record companies and the media) was supposedly the reason for the success of the albums; both sold over 5 million copies. In support of Duty and A Best, Hamasaki held a tour of Japan's domes, making her one of few "top-drawer" Japanese artists to hold a concert at the Tokyo Dome.
I Am... (January 2002) marked several milestones for Hamasaki. Hamasaki increased her control over her music by composing all of the songs on the album under the pseudonym "Crea", of which the 2000 single "M" was the first. "Connected" (November 2002) and "A Song Is Born" (December 2001) were the exceptions.I Am... also showed evolution in Hamasaki's lyrical style: it was a retreat from the themes of "loneliness and confusion" of some of her earlier songs. Moved by the September 11 attacks, Hamasaki revised her vision of I Am..., focusing on issues such as faith and world peace. "A Song Is Born", in particular, was directly influenced by the events. The single, a duet with Keiko Yamada, was released as part of Avex's non-profit Song Nation project, which raised money for charity. She also dropped the planned cover and opted instead to be portrayed as a "peace muse", explaining,
I had a completely different idea for the cover at first. We'd already reserved the space, decided the hair and makeup and everything. But after the incident, as is typical of me, I suddenly changed my mind. I knew it wasn't the time for gaudiness, for elaborate sets and costumes. It sounds odd coming from me, but I realize what I say and how I look has a great impact.
The outlook inspired by the September 11 attacks extended beyond I Am.... In 2002, Hamasaki held her first concert outside Japan, at the MTV Asia music awards ceremony in Singapore, a move interpreted as the beginning of a campaign prompted by a sluggish Japanese market. At the ceremony, she received the award for "Most Influential Japanese Singer in Asia". In support of I Am..., Hamasaki held two tours, Ayumi Hamasaki Arena Tour 2002 A and Ayumi Hamasaki Stadium Tour 2002 A. In November 2002, as "Ayu", she released her first European single, "Connected", a trance song from I Am... composed by DJ Ferry Corsten. It was released in Germany on the Drizzly label. Hamasaki continued to release singles (all of them remixes of previously released songs) in Germany on Drizzly until 2005.
In April 2002, Hamasaki released the single "Free & Easy". In collaboration with the magazine Free&Easy, Hamasaki also released Hamasaki Republic, a photobook that was actually a special issue of Free&Easy, in conjunction with the single. "H", Hamasaki's next single, became the best-selling single of 2002. Hamasaki released her last single of 2002, "Voyage", on September 26. In lieu of a regular-length music video, the short film Tsuki ni Shizumu, starring Hamasaki, was created for "Voyage" and was released at a select theater in Shibuya. Hamasaki's next studio album, Rainbow (December 2002) was her first to use English lyrics. After performing at the 2002 MTV Asia music awards, Hamasaki felt that by writing only Japanese lyrics, she was not able to bring her "message" to other countries. Realizing that English was a "common global language", she included English lyrics in three songs. The album was stylistically diverse; Hamasaki included rock- and trip-hop-influenced tracks as well as "summery", "up-tempo" and "grand gothic" songs and experimented with new techniques such as gospel choruses and the yells of an audience. The lyrics were also varied: themes in the album included freedom, the struggles of women, and "a summer that ends in sadness".
2003-2006: Decline and rise in sales:
In 2003, Hamasaki released three singles, "&", "Forgiveness", and "No Way to Say". To celebrate the release of her thirtieth single ("Forgiveness"), Hamasaki held the A Museum concert at the Yoyogi National Gymnasium. Her mini-album Memorial Address (December 2003) was her first album to be released in CD+DVD format in addition to the regular CD-only format, a decision that came from her increased interest in the direction of her music videos. Like her previous albums, Memorial Address topped the Oricon chart and sold over a million copies. Sales of Hamasaki's singles began to wane. Although all three of the album's singles topped the Oricon charts, "&" was Hamasaki's last single to sell over 500,000 copies.
By the end of her Arena Tour 2003-2004, Hamasaki had grown dissatisfied with her position in Avex: she felt that the company was treating her as a product instead of a person. Along with her dissatisfaction over her last two studio albums (which she thought had been rushed), this led her to begin work on My Story (December 2004) early. In contrast with her previous albums, My Story had no set theme, nor did Hamasaki attempt to write "something good" or even "something that would give people hope"; rather, she simply wrote freely and honestly. As a result, the album contained mostly autobiographical lyrics about her emotions and reminiscences of her career. She approached the composition of the music with the same freedom as the lyrics, with the album's notable rock overtones expressing her liking for rock music. She was so pleased with the result that she declared My Story the first album she felt satisfied with.My Story and its singles, "Moments", "Inspire", and "Carols", all topped the weekly Oricon charts; moreover, with sales of over 1,100,000 units, My Story became Hamasaki's last million-selling studio album according to Oricon. From January to April 2005, Hamasaki held the nationwide My Story arena tour, her first album-based tour. Also in January, she began working with Lamoureux Orchestra to create My Story Classical, a classical version of My Story; the album served as an "alter-ego" of the mostly aggressive My Story. The orchestra also created a classical version of "A Song Is Born", which was included on My Story Classical and which Hamasaki performed at the opening of the Expo 2005.
(Miss)understood (January 2006), Hamasaki's seventh studio album, showed new musical directions. Wanting to sing a tune like those of the group Sweetbox, Hamasaki obtained the permission of Sweetbox composer Roberto "Geo" Rosan to use demo songs he had intended to use in Sweetbox's upcoming album. She edited the songs to fit her personal vision, rewriting the lyrics and rearranging some of the songs. The result was more musically diverse than the previous album; (Miss)understood included ballads, funk, dance-pop, R&B, and rock songs. All of (Miss)understood's singles reached the top of the Oricon; "Bold & Delicious" became Hamasaki's twenty-fifth number-one single, tying her with Seiko Matsuda for the record of most number-one singles by a solo female artist. Though (Miss)understood also reached the top of the charts, Oricon stated that it sold fewer than a million copies--Hamasaki's first studio album to do so. In support of the album, Hamasaki held the (Miss)understood arena tour, which spanned three months with thirty concerts, from Saitama on March 11, 2006 to Yoyogi on June 11, 2006.
Hamasaki's first single of 2006, "Startin'", became Hamasaki's twenty-sixth number-one single, setting a new record for most number-one singles held by a solo female artist. The subsequent studio album, Secret, was released in November 2006. "Secrets" was, appropriately, the theme of the album; the album also explored strong female figures, love, and sadness; songs depicted the artist's struggles and were written to encourage females. Although Secret was originally intended to be a mini-album, Hamasaki "began brimming with things to say" while producing the album and wrote five more songs. The album consisted mostly of rock songs and ballads; to complement these, Hamasaki experimented with new vocal techniques. The album also topped the Oricon weekly charts, making Hamasaki the only artist to have eight consecutive number-one studio albums. Her sales, however, continued to decline: according to both Oricon and the RIAJ, Secret failed to sell a million copies.
2007-present: Market beyond Japan:
On February 28, 2007, Hamasaki released A Best 2, a pair of compilation albums containing songs from I Am... to (Miss)understood. The two versions, White and Black, debuted at the first and second positions on the Oricon weekly charts, making Hamasaki the first female artist in thirty-six years to hold the top two positions on any Oricon album chart. At the end of 2007, the pair became Japan's fifth and seventh best-selling albums of the year respectively. In support of A Best 2 and Secret, Hamasaki held the four-month-long Tour of Secret from March to the end of June. It was her first international tour, and aside from Japan, she performed in Taipei, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Her foreign fanbase highly anticipated the concerts, and tickets for the Taipei and Hong Kong performances sold out in less than three hours.
In July 2007, Hamasaki released her first single in over a year, "Glitter/Fated". A short film, Distance Love, was used as the music video for "Glitter" and "Fated". The film, shot in Hong Kong, co-starred Hong Kong actor Shawn Yue as Hamasaki's romantic interest. "Glitter/Fated" and the following single "Talkin' 2 Myself" reached the top of their respective charts, continuing Hamasaki's streak of number-one singles. In December, Hamasaki released her first digital-only single, "Together When...", which topped the RIAJ's monthly download chart. Unlike its predecessors, the writing of Hamasaki's ninth studio album, Guilty (January 2008), was not an emotional experience for her, nor did it have a set theme. However, she said later that the album's tracks appeared to tell a story. Most of the songs were dark; the album had a notable rock tinge. It contained some upbeat dance tracks and ballads, though the latter also had rock overtones.Guilty peaked at the number-two position on the weekly Oricon charts, making it Hamasaki's first studio album not to reach the top and ended Hamasaki's streak of 8 consecutive number-one albums.Guilty was later released as a digital album in twenty-six countries outside Japan, nineteen of them Western nations. That, along with Hamasaki's decision to employ western DJs such as Armand Van Helden for her 2008 remix albums Ayu-mi-x 6: Gold and Ayu-mi-x 6: Silver, has been interpreted as her first step into the global market.
In April 2008, to commemorate her tenth anniversary in Avex, Hamasaki released the single "Mirrorcle World"; it topped the Oricon, making Hamasaki the only female solo artist to have a number-one single every year for ten consecutive years. Hamasaki also held her second tour of Asia, Asia Tour 2008: 10th Anniversary, to celebrate her tenth anniversary. From April until June, she toured Japan, holding seventeen concerts. Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Shanghai were again the foreign stops after the domestic performances. On September 10, 2008, Hamasaki released A Complete: All Singles, a compilation album that includes the A-sides of all her singles along with previously unreleased footage from her A-nation concerts which is the 8th best selling album of 2008.
Hamasaki's next two singles, "Days/Green" (December 2008) and "Rule/Sparkle" (February 2009), continued Hamasaki's streak of number-one singles. "Rule" is used as the international theme song for the film Dragonball Evolution. The subsequent studio album, Next Level, was released on March 25, 2009 in several formats: CD, CD+DVD, 2CD+DVD and a two-gigabyte USB flash drive. Sonically, Next Level was mainly an electronic dance album.Next Level reached the top of the Oricon charts, making Hamasaki the only artist to have a number-one album every year for eleven years in a row since her debut. However, the album was only certified double platinum, making it Hamasaki's lowest-selling studio album to that date. On August 12, 2009, Hamasaki released her forty-sixth single, "Sunrise/Sunset (Love Is All)". "Sunrise (Love Is All)", one of the A-sides, is being used as the opening theme song for the Japanese television drama Dandy Daddy?. The single reached the top of the weekly charts, making it her twenty-first consecutive (thirty-third total) number-one single. "Sunrise/Sunset" is also her forty-fourth single to enter the Top 10, making Hamasaki the artist with the most Top 10 singles ever. Hamasaki's third single of the year, "You Were.../Ballad", was released on December 29, 2009. Hamasaki's eleventh studio album Rock 'n' Roll Circus was released on April 14, 2010. Though the album contained a few "powerful and melodramatic gothic rock" tracks, it was mainly "pure and classic J-pop", with pop-rock songs and ballads. The album topped the charts, making Hamasaki the first female solo artist in twenty years to have ten number-one original studio albums. Hamasaki also began expanding her online presence, setting up accounts on MySpace, Ustream, and Twitter. In July, entertainment company Livespire announced that Hamasaki's 2009 Next Level tour would be shown in 3D at Toho cinemas nationwide beginning on August 28.
On July 14, Hamasaki released her forty-eighth single, "Moon/Blossom". The single was released as the first of a three-part project to celebrate her yet-unreleased fiftieth single. The two other singles in the project (her forty-ninth and fiftieth singles respectively), "Crossroad" and "L", were released within a week of each other, "Crossroad" on September 22 and "L" on September 29. "Crossroad" was composed by Tetsuya Komuro and its coupling was her cover version of Komuro's band TM Network's 1988 song "Seven Days War", which was her first cover of a male song. The three singles all topped the Oricon, becoming Hamasaki's twenty-third, twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth consecutive number-one singles and setting a new record for the most consecutive number-one singles by any female artist (solo or group) as well as by any solo artist. On December 22, Hamasaki released her twelfth original studio album, Love Songs. On the same day, Naoya Urata of AAA released his debut solo single "Dream On". The song, which featured Hamasaki, was written and produced by her as well, marking the first record she produced for another singer.Love Songs and "Dream On" both reached the top spots on their respective Oricon charts. Love Songs became Hamasaki's fourth consecutive and seventeenth total number-one album. The album also marked Hamasaki's thirteenth consecutive year with a number-one album, breaking her old record.
In February 2011, it was announced that her arena tour of the year, Hotel Love Songs, would start in April. Shortly after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami hit, it was announced that the tour was rescheduled to start in late May and the tour was renamed to Power of Music. Deeply affected by the Tohoku Earthquake and tsunami devastation, Hamasaki decided to collaborate with fashion magazine, Vivi, with the sale of charity shirts and the profits going to help the victims in the devastation. On April 20, 2011, Hamasaki simultaneously released four new remix albums, Ayu-mi-x 7:House, Acoustic Orchestra, Trance 4, Ayu-ro Mix 4, and a Limited Complete Box Set, which were also released internationally on iTunes. On that same day, Hamasaki also released 2010 Rock 'n' Roll Circus Tour and A 50 Singles: Live Selection which topped the weekly chart at No. 1 and No. 2 respectively. The simultaneous releases made Hamasaki the first artist ever to have 4 albums in Oricon's top 10 and also the first artist to hold 2 top positions in the Oricon DVD chart. Their original release date of March 30 was postponed due to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and was pushed back to April 20 instead. On April 21, 2011, it was announced that she would perform in a-nation 10th Anniversary for Life Charge & Go! On May 4, it was announced that she broke another record - the female artist with the highest DVD sales with 2,313,000.
On August 31, Hamasaki released her second mini album Five, her first since Memorial Address in 2003. This is her first album to have no singles released. Five topped the Oricon Charts for 2 consecutive weeks, her first to do so since (Miss)understood. The lead song, "Progress", was used as a theme song for the videogame, Tales of Xillia. The album also features collaborations, with singers Juno and Naoya Urata from AAA. This album managed to be certified Gold by RIAJ, making Hamasaki's first album not to be certified Platinum.Complete Clip Box 1998-2011, consisting all her music videos from her first single, "Poker Face" till her latest mini-album, Five, was released on January 1, 2012. "How Beautiful You Are" will be the theme song for a drama "Saigo Kara Nibanme no Koi", and also Hamasaki's second digital single (55th single overall), which is released fully on February 8. Hamasaki describe the song as a mid-tempo ballad and a feeling of gratitude towards someone.
In 2012, The International 3D Society announced the winners of its 2012 3D Creative Arts Awards with Hamasaki receiving an award for "Electronic Broadcast Media (Television) - Live Event" for her A3D ayumi hamasaki Arena Tour 2009 A (Next Level) tour.
On March 21, Hamasaki released her thirteenth studio album, Party Queen. The album peaked at number two on the Oricon charts, becoming her second studio album to do so after 2007's Guilty.
Hamasaki released her sixth compilation album A Summer Best on August 6, 2012. It included two new songs which were digitally released for the promotion of the album: the TRF cover, Happening Here, and You & Me. It was later announced that Hamasaki would release five releases beginning on the eighth day of each month from November 2012 through to March 2013 to celebrate her 15th anniversary. The first release was her third mini-album, Love, the second was her fourth mini-album, again. The third release will a be an orchestral remix album titled A Classical while the fourth will be her 14th studio album Love Again. The fifth release will be her ARENA TOUR 2012 - HOTEL love songs - DVD. In December 2012, Hamasaki also performed three dates at the National Yoyogi First Gymnasium for her Countdown Live 2012-2013 A (Wake Up) tour.
Image and artistry:
Time magazine has noted that Hamasaki lacked talents such as the dance moves of Namie Amuro, the "supermodel allure" of Hitomi, and the "vocal pyrotechnics" of Hikaru Utada. Her own fans even considered her high-pitched voice screechy. However, her music is sometimes considered one of the major forces in shaping Japan's current music trends; this has been attributed to her constantly changing image as well as her self-penned lyrics, though critics credit clever marketing strategies. Hamasaki is also noted for the visual aspects of her artistry: she is considered a fashion trendsetter, with her influence extending beyond Japan.The Guardian says that Hamasaki has "married accessible, mainstream hits with over-the-top costumes and high-concept videos". The widespread influence of her music and her constantly changing image has meant that Hamasaki has often been compared to Madonna. Hamasaki's lyrics and image have gained a following predominantly among the Generation X of Asia, mainly because of the "conflicting or inharmonious beauty" of her fashion and lyrics; Hamasaki's fashions combine Eastern and Western elements, and her songs, unlike those of many of her contemporaries, mostly all have English titles but contained no English lyrics (until Rainbow). The popularity of her music extends beyond Japan; she has a "sizable following across Asia" and is one of the few Japanese singers whose albums have sold over 10,000 copies in Singapore. In 2002, however, Hamasaki's domestic sales began declining due to a sluggish Japanese market and increasing piracy in Japan. As a result, she began moving toward the Asian market in 2002, performing at the 2002 MTV Asia awards in Singapore, at South Korea's "Asia Song Festival", and at a concert in Beijing to celebrate Sino-Japanese relations. With her popularity declining (due in part to the rising popularity of other singers like Kumi Koda), she made a foray into the Asian market, starting with her first tour of Asia in 2007.
In the beginning, I was searching for myself in my music. My music was for me. I didn't have the mental room to be conscious of the listener; I wrote to save myself. I didn't understand what it was to write songs. But over time I began to see many things, my influence, the responsibilities that gave me.
-- Hamasaki on the new lyrical directions in I Am....
Hamasaki's lyrics, all her own, have resonated among her fans, who praise them as being honest and heartfelt and "expressing determination"; in two surveys conducted by Oricon, respondents voted Hamasaki's lyrics as their favorite aspect of her artistry. Steve McClure of The Japan Times noted that Hamasaki has "developed a reputation as a thoughtful, introspective lyricist"; Barry Walters of The Village Voice comments that Hamasaki's lyrics "pack unlikely insights." Having "trouble voicing her thoughts", Hamasaki uses her lyrics as an outlet; she draws inspiration from her own (and occasionally her friends') experiences and emotions and tries to put them "honestly into words". She has stated that honesty is essential to her lyrics, saying, "If I write when I'm low, it will be a dark song, but I don't care. I want to be honest with myself at all times." This meant that she did not use English lyrics until her album Rainbow, as she felt that she could best express herself in Japanese. As with her musical style, the themes of her lyrics have varied. Her debut album A Song for ×× dealt mostly with themes of "loneliness and confusion", as did her second album Loveppears. Duty likewise expressed feelings of disappointment and confusion. Hamasaki began to take on a more global outlook with her following albums I Am... and Rainbow, branching out to wider themes such as faith and peace. As Hamasaki matured, her lyrics began to express more confidence; themes in her later albums included love and the struggles of women. With Guilty, Hamasaki began to compose her lyrics not only as an exposition of her personal feelings but as encouragements for her listeners, an outlook she applied in Next Level as well. In songs such as "Talkin' 2 Myself" and "Mirrorcle World", Hamasaki deals with the "awareness and fighting spirit of surviving in a high-risk age" to encourage listeners; in "Rollin'" (from Next Level), Hamasaki writes, "The age is rolling around/At the speed of heading toward the end/Beyond the border/Disappointment and hope fight with each other". In addition to personal experiences and feelings, Hamasaki bases lyrics on sources such as historical events. The life of Joan of Arc was the inspiration for "Free & Easy", while a story told to her by her friend about a saint named Mary served as the basis for "M"; the September 11 attacks inspired "A Song Is Born".
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Many of Hamasaki's songs are dance tunes, such as "Evolution" (2001), a self-composed single that also has rock elements.
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"M", the first song composed by Hamasaki under the pseudonym "Crea", shifts to a relative key, like most of her self-composed songs.
"Bold & Delicious" (2005)
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Hamasaki took new directions on (Miss)understood, as epitomized by the single "Bold & Delicious", a funk-influenced song that used a gospel-style chorus.
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In addition to writing her own lyrics, Hamasaki has also involved herself in other aspects of production such as artistic direction. Though Max Matsuura is officially credited as the producer of her records, he said of Hamasaki, "Ayu is a very meticulous worker behind the scenes. A lot of the work she does by herself is more in the producer's arena. I think really we should say 'Produced by Ayumi Hamasaki'." Until her single "M", however, Hamasaki left the task of composing to her staff; as she has explained, "I'm not a professional; I lack even basic knowledge about writing music." However, she started to compose her own melodies after her staff had failed to compose a tune for "M" that appealed to her. Wanting to produce works faithful to her visions, Hamasaki took control of most aspects of her artistry.I Am... is representative of this stage in Hamasaki's career; she directed the production of its songs, videos, and artwork. She began to compose less after I Am...: whereas nearly all of I Am... was her work, only nine of Rainbow's fifteen tracks were composed by her. She was even less involved in the composition of subsequent albums, composing two tracks on Memorial Address, three on My Story, and one on (Miss)understood; since Secret, none of the songs on her studio albums have listed her as a composer. With later albums, Hamasaki also began to delegate to her staff tasks she had once handled herself. Hamasaki cites Madonna, soul musicians Babyface and En Vogue, and rock bands Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple as her influences and states that she admires Michelle Branch, Kid Rock, Joan Osborne, Seiko Matsuda, Rie Miyazawa, and Keiko Yamada; these diverse influences have led to the variety of her own music. Hamasaki began commissioning remixes of her songs early in her career, and this practice also influenced the diversity of her music. Found on many of her records, these remixes span different genres of electronic dance music including Eurobeat, house, and trance, as well as acoustic genres such as classical and traditional Chinese music. She has employed Western as well as Japanese musicians; among those she has worked with are Above & Beyond, the Lamoureux Orchestra of France, and traditional Chinese music ensemble Princess China Music Orchestra. Hamasaki has released more than a hundred original songs; through them, she has covered a wide range of musical styles, such as dance, metal, R&B, progressive rock, pop, and classical. She uses different instruments and techniques including piano, orchestra, gospel choirs, guitars, traditional Japanese strings, music boxes, and effects such as yells, claps, and scratching.
Hamasaki is often involved in the artistic direction of her music videos. They are often artistic productions through which Hamasaki tries to convey the meaning or feeling of their respective songs. The themes of the videos are varied; she has made "sad and fragile" or "emotional" videos ("Momentum", "Endless Sorrow"), "refreshing" summer videos ("Blue Bird", "Fairyland"), surreal or "scary" videos ("1 Love", "Marionette"), and humorous videos ("Evolution", "Angel's Song", "Beautiful Fighters"). Additionally, many of the videos contain short storylines, some of which use symbolism to convey their respective messages. The video of "Voyage" depicts Hamasaki as a woman in a mental hospital whose previous incarnation was a woman in feudal Japan who was sacrificed to the moon; the video of "Endless Sorrow" features a young boy living in a society where speaking is forbidden by law. In the video for "Free & Easy", Hamasaki portrayed a "twenty-first-century Joan of Arc" to convey her message "freedom cannot be easily obtained; there is a price to pay for it" and to express her opposition to her marrying at the time; the video for "Ourselves" featured masked people destroying "effigies of Hamasaki's past" such as photographs and album covers to symbolize destruction and rebirth. Additionally, the videos of "Fairyland", "My Name's Women", "Jewel", "Green", and "Virgin Road" are among the top twenty or so most expensive music videos, making Hamasaki the only non-American artist to hold such a distinction. Hamasaki is also involved in the production and artistic direction of her live performances; they, like her videos, are often lavish productions and use a variety of props, extravagant costumes, and choreographed dances. She has used large video screens, fireworks, simulated rain drops, trick stage floors, and suspended devices.
Hamasaki's influence goes beyond music; she is often considered a fashion icon and trend-setter, a status attributed to her tight control over her image. Besides her frequent appearances in fashion magazines, such as Vivi, Popteen, and Cawaii!, Hamasaki has often been lauded for her trendy choices in apparels and accessories; Oricon has repeatedly named her the "Most Fashionable Female Artist". Many aspects of Japan's fashions--including clothing, hair, nails, and accessories--have in some way been influenced by her. As with her music, trends Hamasaki started have spread to Asian countries as Taiwan, China, and Singapore. Among the trends Hamasaki has started is hime-kei (a look inspired by the fashions of 18th century French aristocracy); she has also heavily influenced the kogal subculture. Hamasaki's constantly changing image is apparent not only in her fashion photo shoots and commercial endorsements but also in her record covers, an element she considers essential in conveying her message. She has portrayed herself as a vine-clad "peace muse" or "Greek goddess" (on her album I Am...), as a "twenty-first-century Joan of Arc" (for her single "Free & Easy"), and as a "funky Lolita". Though Hamasaki has portrayed herself in earlier releases as a "girl next door", she has adopted a more sexualized image since the release of Loveppears. The covers for records including Loveppears, I Am..., Rainbow, and Party Queen feature Hamasaki in states of partial nudity, for which she has generated controversy. Hamasaki also garnered criticism after she modeled bra for lingerie manufacturer Wacoal, though most of the criticism alleged that Hamasaki was only trying to "play catch-up" with Kumi Koda, who gained popularity for her overtly sexual image.
Hamasaki has accepted offers by numerous brands to endorse their products. Throughout her career under Avex, she has promoted products that ranged from electronics (Tu-Ka cell phones and Panasonic) to various snack foods. Among the products she has advertised on television are the Honda Crea scooter, Kosé cosmetics,Mister Donut donuts, and Boss coffee. As well as serving as background music for television advertisements, some of Hamasaki's songs have been used as themes for video games, television shows and motion pictures, such as Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams, InuYasha, Shinobi: Heart Under Blade and Tales of Xillia. Although Hamasaki initially supported the exploitation of her popularity for commercial purposes, saying that it was "necessary that she is viewed as a product", she eventually opposed Avex's decision to market her as a "product rather than a person".
Hamasaki has been described as having a "merchandise empire". She launched her own fashion brand, MTRLG (Material Girl), in 2001; the clothes were sold at MTRLG boutiques and at Mise S*clusive stores. In 2002, Hamasaki created Ayupan, a cartoon version of herself that appeared in a line of merchandise (mainly figurines) and in a 2003 cartoon. For her 2007 tour Tour of Secret, Hamasaki collaborated with Sanrio to create a line of merchandise, "Ayumi Hamasaki x Hello Kitty," that features Ayupan and Hello Kitty together. The merchandise included cell phone straps and Lumix cameras decorated with a picture of Hello Kitty behind Hamasaki's "A" logo; the former product was a result of a collaboration with Sanrio and Japanese fashion brand Ash & Diamonds, the latter a collaboration with Sanrio and Panasonic. She briefly hosted her own television show, Ayuready? (October 2002), on Fuji Television. The talk show, aired on Saturday nights from 11:30 to midnight, often featured her performing songs with guests, among whom were Goto Maki, Puffy, and Akina Nakamori. To promote the program (and her album Rainbow), Hamasaki opened a restaurant, Rainbow House, on Shōnan Beach; it was occasionally used in episodes of Ayuready?. After less than two years, the last episode aired in March 2004.
In March 2011, Hamasaki donated 30 million yen to relief efforts for the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami. She also collaborated with fashion magazine ViVi to sell charity T-shirts.
Hamasaki dated singer-actor Tomoya Nagase since her brief acting career, and they publicly announced their relationship in 2001. Six years later, the media circulated rumors that the couple were about to get married; however, on July 13, 2007 Hamasaki announced that they had broken up. Though Hamasaki did not explain the reason for the split, she stated that they had parted amicably and the two remained friends.
On January 1, 2011, Hamasaki announced her upcoming marriage to Austrian actor and model Manuel Schwarz, whom Hamasaki met in August 2010 on the set of her music video for "Virgin Road". On January 2, her office announced that she and Schwarz had gotten married in the United States the day before. However, on January 16, 2012, Hamasaki announced on her website that she would be divorcing Schwarz. The reason for the divorce was that, initially, Hamasaki wanted to move in with Schwarz in United States but due to the earthquake and tsunami that hit her home country on March, 2011, she began to have a strong desire not to leave Japan. However, another report claimed that the real reason of the divorce was that Hamasaki was unaware of Schwarz's releasing of a nude pictorial book, filled with raunchy poses.
On November 14, 2012 trying to beat the tabloids with the news, Hamasaki announced on her TeamAyu fanclub blog that she and back-up dancer Maro (Uchiyama Maroka) were in a serious relationship stating "An article about me will be published in a weekly magazine tomorrow. The contents are about Maro-chan and myself. I don't want everyone to hear incorrect rumours about me from other sources, and I don't want to hide anymore, so I will say it clearly. I am in a serious relationship with Maro-chan." Maro then confirmed the news on his own blog the same day. Shortly after their announcement, the story spread quickly through the news, tabloids and gossip.
On December 13, 2013 it was announced on her official TeamAyu site that she had become engaged to an American medical student 10 years her junior, whom she had been with since the Spring of that year, adding "As my partner is an ordinary student, I would be very happy if you could watch over us quietly."
In a January 8, 2008 entry on her TeamAyu blog, Hamasaki announced that an inoperable condition, possibly tinnitus or Ménière's disease, had caused complete deafness in her left ear. She disclosed that she had been diagnosed with the condition in 2006 and that the problem dated back to 2000. Despite the setback, Hamasaki stated that she wished to continue singing, and that she would "not give up" on her fans and that "as a professional", she wanted to "deliver the best performance for everyone".