Seiko Matsuda is the number one Japanese music idol, pure and simple. The "idol" phenomenon, or the art of manufacturing ultimate media stars, has spread through Japan in the '70s and early '80s, and survived as a perfected business practice in the following decades, but, for all the abundance of idols of all sorts, Matsuda remained the top one. Later stars are known to have called her "Goddess," the number of her sales and her charts achievements look like a Guinness Book of World Records, and her career longevity has led the Japanese press to call her "the Eternal Idol." Her music was never groundbreaking -- she played ballads and dance-pop tunes conscious of Western models of the '80s and '90s -- but Matsuda still drew comparisons to Madonna, mainly due to the ambition and the showbiz independence which the two pop queens shared with each other. Matsuda's image, however, was the shy girl-next-door type, despite her fairly complicated love life.
Matsuda was born Noriko Kamachi into an aristocratic family in the southern city of Kurume. Her career began at 16, when she won the regional Sony talent show of 4,500 participants, only to be banned from finals by her father, who, however, wasn't the despot he seemed to be and allowed Matsuda to continue working with Sony and doing vocal training. Matsuda's professional debut came in a year with the single Hadashi no Kisetsu (1980), and its follow-up Aoi Sangosho (1980) already shot to sell 250,000 copies. Her third release, Kaze wa Aki Iro (1980), was the first of her 24 consecutive number one singles -- an unprecedented achievement at the time, though bested later by B'z. Matsuda's debut album Squall came out in 1980, marking the real beginning of her ultra-prolific recording career: she put out two albums per year up until 1985, and skipped a year only once in later years (in 2003), with the total count of her full-lengths in the 28 years since Squall coming to 46 (including remix albums, but not compilations). Sixteen of those charted at number one, and the 1984 effort Seiko Town pulled the unique trick of topping the charts simultaneously with the single "Heart no Earring" -- a feat never seen before and only replicated half a dozen times since. In 1983, Matsuda began writing her own lyrics, the first try being "Chisana Love Song," and soon she proceeded to writing music, starting with title track of Canary (1983), although she waited until 2007 before taking the reins completely, with Baby's Breath being her first fully self-produced album. In early '80s she also landed several small movie roles, but that remained only a sidenote to her career.
Matsuda's private life -- if it may be called that with all the attention it attracted -- was even more dynamic than her record schedule. Her relationship with the pop superstar Hiromi Go led to them being dubbed the "couple of the century," although the affair ended because of Go's wish that Matsuda quit showbiz after marriage. Matsuda quit him instead, and processed to marry the actor Masaki Kanda, and, later, to spawn rumors of her numerous love affairs, which even resulted in a special slang term being coined to describe faux-innocent ladies of the type she allegedly was. She even had an affair with Masahiko Kondo, the love of her arch-rival, pop-idol Akina Nakamori, which led to Nakamori's suicide attempt in 1989. Nakamori never recovered her career after that, but Matsuda continued to come on strong, quitting her management company to gain control of her own career and then attempting to make a break on the Western market in the early '90s, adopting a new dance music style and a sexier look, similar to Madonna's. Matsuda recorded a duet with Donnie Wahlberg of New Kids on the Block during their heyday in 1990, and the single "The Right Combination" climbed all the way to number 54 on the Billboard charts, but the album Seiko (1990), which was released in the U.S., didn't sell. She continued wooing the American public for several more years, working with Robbie Neville, David Foster, and Richard Carpenter, but took a break after her 1996 album Was It the Future failed to generate any significant buzz. Her third stab at the U.S. charts came in 2002 with the album Area 69, which landed two Top 10 hits on the dance charts. However, Matsuda still concentrated mainly on the Japanese music scene, where she retained constant popularity, although on a lesser level than that of the early '80s. Her career wasn't hurt even by another tumultuous streak in her personal life that came in the mid-'90s, complete with a divorce, another marriage, and accusations of sexual harassment being filed against her by her dancer (she won the case). In addition to continuing her music career -- she returned to Sony -- and being the country's most expensive dinner show performer, as well as a popular TV ad actor, Matsuda revived her movie career, appearing in seven movies between 1995 and 2008, including a cameo in Michael Bay's Armageddon. Meanwhile, her daughter Sayaka began her own idol career in 2002, releasing the album Doll in 2002 and starring in several Japanese movies. ~ Alexey Eremenko, Rovi
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