Hikaru Utada (宇多田 ヒカル, Utada Hikaru, born January 19, 1983), who also goes by the mononym Utada English /ˈuː tɑː də/, is a Japanese American singer and songwriter. Since the release of her Japanese debut album First Love, which went on to become the best-selling album in Oricon history, she has had three of her Japanese studio albums in the list of Top 10 best-selling albums ever in Japan (number 1, 4, 8) and six of her albums (including one English-language and one compilation) charting within the 275 Best-Selling Japanese albums list. Hikaru has had twelve number-one singles on the Oricon Singles chart, with two notable record achievements for a female solo or group artist: five million-sellers and four in the Top 100 All-Time Best-selling Singles. It is estimated that Utada has sold more than 52 million records worldwide, making her one of the best-selling music artists in Japan.
She was described by Time Magazine as a "Diva On Campus", a reference to her having attended Columbia University for a brief, career-break semester in 2000. In 2009, she was considered "the most influential artist of the decade" in the Japanese landscape by The Japan Times.
Additionally, Utada is best known in the West for making two theme song contributions to Square Enix and Disney's collaborative video game series Kingdom Hearts: "Simple and Clean" (which is the re-written English-language version of her 10th Japanese single "Hikari") for Kingdom Hearts and "Sanctuary" for Kingdom Hearts II ("Passion" in the Japanese version of the game). In 2007, her single "Flavor of Life" reached number 2 in worldwide digital download yearly single chart with over 7.2 million downloads, and contributed to 12 million digital sales for her over the same year.
Early life and beginnings:
Hikaru Utada was born in Manhattan as the only child of Teruzane Utada, a Japanese record producer, and his wife Junko Utada, an enka singer, performing under the stage name Keiko Fuji. She did her recordings with her mother, releasing songs under a band named "U3" (also known as Utada 3) until 1996 when she started her first solo project, "I'll be Stronger." The "Cookin' With Moses Vocal" from this project was called the "Cookin' With Gas Vocal" on the promotional release.
"I'll Be Stronger" was the first song Utada wrote. It was released under the artist name "Cubic U", a mathematical reference to her being the third Utada 'power', which was Hikaru's pseudonym before becoming a superstar in Japan. The song was not released in the United States, and in 1997, she started her next project, though at first she was hesitant. Cubic U released her debut single "Close to You", which was a cover of The Carpenters' song. She then released her debut album Precious.
She released Precious in Japan on January 28, 1998 and re-released it on March 31, 1999.
1997-2003: Japanese debut, First Love, Distance and Deep River:
Utada moved to Tokyo in late 1997 and attended Seisen International School, and later the American School in Japan, while continuing to record on a new contract with Toshiba-EMI. Her movement originally came from Japanese FM radio. She opted for becoming a singer-songwriter instead of attempting to become an idol. Leading up to the release of her Japanese debut album First Love, Utada released two successful million-selling singles: "Automatic/Time Will Tell" and "Movin' on Without You". "Automatic/Time Will Tell" sold over two million copies. Backed by her singles, her debut album First Love went on to sell over 7 million units in Japan alone (with an additional 3 million overseas, bringing it to a sum of at least 10 million units), becoming the highest selling album in Japan's recent history. The album yielded the single "First Love", which peaked at the number-two spot. By the end of the year, Utada was rank number 5 on a Japanese radio station Tokio Hot 100 Airplay's Top 100 Artists of the 20th Century by the station and its listeners.
After a two-year break, Utada released her follow up album Distance, garnering a first-week sales of 3 million units sold. Backed by her singles -- "Addicted to You", "Wait & See (Risk)", "For You" / "Time Limit" and "Can You Keep a Secret?" -- Distance became the best-selling album of the year, with 4.469 million copies sold in Japan alone. Additionally, "Addicted To You" became Utada's best-selling single, selling one-million in its first week which became the highest first week sales for a female solo artist and staying on top of the chart for two consecutive weeks. "Wait & See: Risk" and "Can You Keep A Secret" also were later ranked at number 6 and number 10 respectively on Oricon's list of 10 Best-Selling Singles from January 1, 1999 to April 24, 2006. Utada also went on to release a single which was dedicated to the female victim of a murder case in Ikeda, Osaka, titled "Final Distance".
In 2001, Utada recorded a song for the action-comedy film Rush Hour 2, Blow My Whistle, which is a collaboration with American rapper Foxy Brown, and was written by Utada herself, alongside Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo. The song is included on Def Jam's Rush Hour 2 soundtrack, which peaked the 11th spot on both the Billboard 200 and the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and also the 1st on the Top Soundtracks. Although Hikaru usually produces her own songs, Blow My Whistle was produced by The Neptunes.
Leading to her third album, Utada released "Traveling", "Hikari", and "Sakura Drops/Letters": all the songs reached the top of the charts. Before the release of Utada's third album, Deep River, the artist underwent surgery after being diagnosed with a benign ovarian tumor, causing Utada to put her promotional activities on hold. After recovering, she released Deep River and immediately went on promotional tours. While there were no TV appearances, she promoted her album in magazine and radio interviews.
Deep River sold 2.35 million copies on its first-week sale: Oricon reported that sales eventually surpassed 3.60 million, making Utada the only singer or group in Japanese music history to have three consecutive albums surpass the three million mark, by RIAJ standards. It was her third consecutive time to hold the number 1 position on Oricon's Yearly Albums chart and became the eighth best selling album of all time in Japan.
In 2003, Utada's promotional and personal life schedules became more active due to her marriage and an imposing agreement with Island Records in the United States to release a "proper" full-English debut album. Though she released "Colors", it was her only single release for 2003. The song featured heavy ethereal and experimental tones for the first time in Utada's discography. It became her longest charting single ever with a 45 week trajectory on the Oricon Singles chart, selling 881,000 copies, and was number 3 on the Yearly Singles chart.
2004-05: Foray into international market and Exodus:
Her first singles compilation album Utada Hikaru Single Collection Vol. 1 was released on March 31, 2004. It became the best-selling album of 2004 in Japan, making her the only solo or group artist to reach number 1 four times on the yearly charts. It was the first compilation album to reach number 1 in six years on the yearly charts, and the first compilation album to reach number 1 in twenty-six years by a female artist. Despite its success, the album received very little promotion and contained no new material or photos; moreover, it charted longer on the Oricon Albums chart longer than any other Utada release to date (over 2 years). The album sold over 2.575 million units in Japan, making it the 34th best-selling album ever in the country. A month later, on April 21, she released her only Japanese single in 2004, "Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro," which topped the singles chart for two consecutive weeks and sold 365,000 units by the year's end and was also the main theme song for Casshern, her now ex-husband's directorial debut.
In mid-2004, Utada moved back to New York, and began work on a new recording contract with Island Def Jam Music Group. On October 5, 2004, she released her North American English-language debut album, Exodus, under the name "Utada," which was her new American-given artist title at the Universal Convention. It was released nearly a month earlier, on September 9 in Japan, with a special booklet and housed in a cardboard slipcase. In an MTV interview, Utada said: "I don't think it's the music that I'm concerned about. It's obviously that I look really different and there really aren't any completely Asian people who are popular singers in the U.S. right now."Exodus became Utada's fourth consecutive release to debut at number 1 and boast 500,000 copies in its first-week sales in Japan. In spite of enlisting the help of Timbaland to produce and co-write some songs, her American debut as an Island Records artist was met with indifference by the American market, selling 55,000 units. "Easy Breezy" was released as the lead single in early August 2004, peaking at number 9 Billboard Hot Dance/Club Airplay chart, followed up by "Devil Inside" a month and two weeks later. And Utada became the cover of the Interview magazine June 2005 issue.
"Exodus '04" was released at the end of June 2005 and featured remixes from The Scumfrog, Richard Vission, JJ Flores and Peter Bailey. In the UK, Mercury added another 2 remixes for "You Make Me Want to Be a Man" in the original album Exodus 04, titled "You Make Me Want to Be a Man Bloodshy & Avant Mix" and "You Make Me Want to Be a Man Junior Jack Mix." By the end of the year Utada was voted "Number 1 Favorite Artist of 2004" by Oricon's annual readers poll.
The fourth single from Exodus, "You Make Me Want to Be a Man", was released in October 2005 in the UK. "Devil Inside" became a club smash in the U.S. and topped the Billboard Hot Dance/Club Airplay charts. Both the Exodus album and the "You Make Me Want to Be a Man" single were released in the UK, with different artwork from the USA and Japanese versions.
2005-08: Return to Japan, Ultra Blue and Heart Station:
A year after the international release and promotion of Exodus, Utada moved back to Tokyo and returned to the Japanese music scene. Leading up the release of her fourth album, Ultra Blue, Utada released a string of successful hit singles: "Colors" (number 1), "Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro" (number 1), "Be My Last", (number 1), "Passion" (number 4), and "Keep Tryin'" (number 2). The digital single "This Is Love" was released to promote the album, netting 1,000,000 digital downloads.
Ultra Blue sold 500,317 copies in the first week, lower than that of the previous album, although it still topped the Oricon Daily, Weekly, and Monthly charts. Ultra Blue gave the artist her fifth consecutive chart-topping Japanese album (excluding her English album) to sell in excess of 500,000 copies for a first-week sales. On July 13, Toshiba EMI published a report stating that Ultra Blue had sold over one million copies worldwide and four million digital ringtones already making it one of EMI's 10th best-selling album of the past year. The album, which did not contain much pop music, was met with indifference and did not boost sales, although the album was certified Million by RIAJ for one million shipments. Additionally, it was the highest-selling original studio album by a Japanese female artist in 2006.
Ultra Blue later became available on the iTunes Japan online music store, charting at number 4 on the 2006 yearly download rankings. Two weeks after the release of Ultra Blue, Utada began a nationwide tour titled "Utada United 2006" on June 30, 2006 which ended on September 12, 2006. This was Utada's second concert tour after her debut tour "Bohemian Summer 2000" and five performances at the Nippon Budokan in 2004. Aside from her Japanese work, the tour's set list featured three tracks from her 2004 English-language album, Exodus.
The singles that were released prior to Utada's fifth studio album, Heart Station, were able to reach the Top Five position on the chart, including the number 1 hit "Flavor of Life", which would become the best selling digital single in Japan with over 7,500,000 copies download. Around the same time, Utada said she visited New York to talk with producers and executives at Island/Def Jam about recording a new English album. Later in the year a digital track by American R&B artist Ne-Yo, titled "Do You" from his 2007 album, Because of You featured Utada and was released in Japan on November 21 (the song was later featured on Ne-Yo's "best of" album, Ne-Yo: The Collection, released on September 2, 2009 in Japan and November 2009 in the US).
The year 2007 ended with the single "Flavor of Life" becoming the best seller of 2007 and with Utada being voted "Number 1 Favorite Artist of 2007" by Oricon's annual readers poll, three years after she was last voted number 1 on the poll. She sold 12 million digital ringtones and songs in 2007, the highest of a Japanese artist in one year. The single was featured as the main song in second season of TV drama Hana Yori Dango.
Utada's fifth studio album, Heart Station, was released on March 19, 2008, becoming her fifth consecutive number-one Japanese studio album. Although it had collected the lowest first week sales for Utada's career, with 480,081 copies sold, the sales of this album reached a million on the Oricon charts in January 2009, making it her first Japanese album to do so since her 2004 compilation album. It was given a certification of one million for shipments by the RIAJ. Heart Station became the best-selling digital-format album on the iTunes 2008 yearly album charts in Japan, and was also the highest-selling original studio album by a solo female artist on the Oricon Yearly Chart.
Her song "Prisoner of Love" was used as the theme-song for the highly successful TV drama Last Friends, which was aired in the spring TV season. Although not originally released as a single, after being used in the show, the song was released as a single and it reached number 1 in iTunes and the Chako-Uta charts. It reached number 2 at the Oricon Weekly charts. It won Best Theme Song at the 57th Drama Academy Awards and sold 2.9 million downloads. It marked the fourth successful Utada drama tie-in (following 1999's Majo no Jōken and First Love, 2001's Hero and Can You Keep a Secret and 2007's Hana Yori Dango and Flavor of Life).
On October 20, 2008, her song "Eternally" from her 2001 album Distance was used as the theme for the drama Innocent Love. The song was later released as a digital single.
By the end of the year, Utada was also voted the "Number 1 Favorite Artist of 2008" by Oricon's annual readers poll, making it her second consecutive year, and third time overall, to win the vote; her previous years being 2004 and 2007.
2009-10: Return to America and This Is the One:
On December 16, 2008, information leaked onto the Internet that Utada's next English-language single, titled "Come Back to Me", would be scheduled for airplay release through U.S. Rhythmic/Crossover and Mainstream formats on February 9 and 10, 2009 respectively via Island Records, according to credible American radio news sites FMQB and R&R. The song then was made available for streaming on Island's, All Access' website, and her MySpace Music Page for advanced promotion. Island Records also updated their webpage with information regarding Utada's new single, and included a link to her official Japanese website and MySpace page, both featuring a track preview. Additionally, a number was included that fans could text to join Utada's mobile list to receive future news updates. The new English album, titled This Is the One, was released on March 14, 2009 in Japan and on May 12, 2009 in the United States. On February 23, 2009, Utada announced that she was in studio recording her next Japanese-language single.This Is the One debuted at number 1 in Japan on March 13, 2009, the day it was released in Japan, but became Utada's first album not to top the weekly chart since Precious. On March 30, 2009 she appeared on New York City radio station Z-100 (100.3), the largest pop radio program in the U.S., and granted a live on-air interview on the station's Elvis Duran Morning Show, a noteworthy breakthrough that would lead to a promotional schedule up and through the album's international physical release on May 12. Utada also sang the theme song for the second Evangelion film, Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance. The single was released on June 27, 2009, and is a remix of her previous single, "Beautiful World". The new single is titled Beautiful World -PLANiTb Acoustica Mix-.
On October 14, Utada mentioned that she was writing lyrics that were due on October 15. She also added that some "German magic" would be added to the music. It was revealed that Goetz B, who had previously worked with Utada on her album Ultra Blue was in the process of mixing tracks for her. Most notable was a track called "Show Me Love", which was reported to be released as a Japanese single at a then-unspecified date.
On November 30, 2009, at Studio Coast, Tokyo, Utada sung a duet of Let It Snow with pop singer Mika. Mika posted on his Twitter account about Utada: "Was joined on stage by Hikaru Utada tonight. We sang "let it snow". It was glorious. I love her."
On December 21, 2009, Utada's Dirty Desire remixes were released only on Amazon.com, Zune Marketplace, and the U.S. iTunes Store, in support of This Is the One and her upcoming tour. The tour, Utada: In the Flesh 2010, was her first concert tour outside of Japan and included eight cities in the US and two dates in London, UK. The tickets for the second London performance went on public sale November 13, and reportedly sold out in just 5 hours. In an interview before she kicked off In The Flesh, Utada said she is planning on promoting This Is the One, and her newest single, Dirty Desire. She also expressed she could be planning to do a cover album, or just take a break to get some new ideas.
2010-present: Return to Japan, Single Collection Vol. 2, Wild Life and hiatus:
On August 9, 2010, Utada announced on her personal blog that beginning in 2011, she would go on an indefinite hiatus, citing fatigue since her debut 12 years previously. She also stated a need for rest, to study new things and learn more about the world, as well as see to some personal matters. She said the hiatus would last anywhere from two to five years.
Before her hiatus began, she said that she would go "full throttle" on her artistic activities, and soon after her site was updated, and a new compilation album, Utada Hikaru Single Collection Vol. 2, was announced, with a release date of November 24, 2010. This new album would include all her Japanese singles from Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro to Prisoner of Love on disc one, as well as an extra EP, featuring five new tracks. Later it was announced a DVD containing the promotional video for Goodbye Happiness would be included in all first-press edition pre-orders.
On September 27, 2010, Utada revealed a new single, entitled Hymne à l'amour (Ai no Anthem), which became a commercial tie-in for Pepsi NEX. The song features both French and Japanese lyrics, specifically translated and written by Utada herself. At this time, official Twitter accounts were set up by Utada, her staff, and her father, Teruzane were created to keep fans and the public with up-to-date information.
An announcement was made that Utada would perform a short concert tour titled Wild Life at Yokohama Arena, Yokohama to promote the album, her first Japanese concert since 2006's Utada United.
On October 3, 2010, Utada's official EMI website was updated with the album artwork and final track list for Utada Hikaru Single Collection Vol. 2. First Press editions included a 3-fold paper slip case, along with a Kuma-chang good luck charm, and a lottery slip for fans to have a chance at winning one of 1000 tickets to WILD LIFE (this idea was, however, later scrapped).
On October 15, 2010, it was announced that the anticipated footage from Utada's In The Flesh 2010 tour would be released in the following months, confirmed by both Utada and Teruzane's Twitter accounts, and a physical DVD release would be ousted in favor of a digital-only package with a promise of release before the year's end. On the same day, Teruzane posted on Twitter that the plans for Wild Life were beginning to take shape, as talks were under way and a mock-stage had been created. The show was the first self-produced by Utada, with Teruzane acting as co-producer.
In late October, despite no previous announcements from Utada or any of her staff and management, it was revealed online at Tower Records Japan and several other websites that an English-language 'best of album' titled "Utada the Best" would become available in Japan on the same day as Utada Hikaru Single Collection Vol. 2, November 24. Utada herself reacted to the news, stating "I understand that if it doesn't sell I'm the one who will take the hit, but to be honest, I don't want my fans putting down money for something that my heart isn't in.", and later "The release of 'Utada the best' is entirely against my will. I wish that my fans won't have to buy it. There's no new material in it."
Utada later announced a new single, Goodbye Happiness, which began radio airplay in Japan on November 1, 2010, and Chaku-Uta downloads began on November 3, with its accompanying PV appearing publicly on November 9, 2010. The song was also chosen as the new Recochoku Chaku-Uta TV commercial theme song. She also appeared on a track entitled "London City" with English rapper Devlin on his first studio album, Bud, Sweat and Beers, which was also released on November 1.
On November 8, 2010, EMI Japan announced on its Web site that the company had made a new global recording deal with Utada, also stating that all of her future works regardless of language would be released under one name: Hikaru Utada. This also signalled the retirement of Utada's Western stage name, Utada.
From November 24, 2010, first-week sales for Utada Hikaru Single Collection Vol. 2 were 231,000 units according to Oricon album daily charting. Although replacing Heart Station as her lowest first week sales of any Utada Hikaru album to date, this release marked Utada's seventh consecutive number 1 album (5 original and two best-ofs) since her debut, surpassing KinKi Kids' previous record of six and making her the artist with the most successive consecutive number 1 albums in Oricon chart and Japanese music history (the latter according to her label EMI) since premiering. On April 10, 2011, Utada won the award for "Best Conceptual Video" in the SpaceShowerTV Music Video Awards for the PV for "Goodbye Happiness", which also marked her directorial debut.
Utada held a short, two-concert tour before her hiatus began, titled Wild Life, on December 8 and 9, 2010, performing both dates at Yokohama Arena, Yokohama. The December 8 concert was broadcast in 64 cinemas in Japan; while it was simultaneously broadcast on Ustream, a live video streaming website. Between the two channels set up for the concert on Ustream, they were accessed a total of 925,000 times, with 345,000 unique viewers, which was a global record on Ustream.tv for the highest number of simultaneous accesses of any video, with the previous highest being only 100,000.
Japanese TV station NHK premiered a documentary about Utada on January 15, 2011, entitled Utada Hikaru ~今のわたし~ (Utada Hikaru: Ima no Watashi, Utada Hikaru: What I Am), a documentary featuring studio performances by Utada (Show Me Love (Not a Dream) and Goodbye Happiness), as well as a few clips from the Wild Life performances. It also featured a post-Wild Life interview with J-Wave host Chris Peppler about her decision to go on hiatus as well as what she plans to do, in which she said she wanted to do volunteer work overseas, and also travel. Utada also stated that she would continue writing music during her hiatus. It was later revealed that the documentary would be broadcast internationally, specifically the US on February 12, 2011 and Europe on February 2, 2011, on the NHK channel (TV Japan in America, and JSTV in Europe).
A DVD and Blu-ray release of Wild Life were confirmed and initially set for release on April 6, 2011. However, on March 24, 2011, Utada Tweeted that both the DVD and Blu-ray release of Wild Life had been postponed, due to the earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan damaging the pressing factories. The DVD was released on April 20, 2011, the Blu-ray followed under a month later on 8 May.
On December 7, 2011, Recochoku updated their yearly download and awards chart, with Utada's Utada Hikaru Single Collection Vol. 1 being the second most downloaded album of 2011.
On December 10, 2011, Utada has thanked her fans via her Twitter for her thirteenth Japanese debut anniversary. She posted in Japanese: "Yesterday was the 13th anniversary of my debut! Even though I have been on hiatus for a year already, I received a lot of congratulations, thank you so much "(`(エ)´)ﾉ彡☆ !!"
Despite her hiatus, on November 16, 2012, Utada's YouTube account uploaded a video entitled "桜流し" ("Sakura Nagashi", meaning "Flowing Cherry Blossoms"). The song featured is Utada's newest single. The single was co-written with Paul Carter, and was digitally released on November 17, 2012. A DVD single was released over a month later, December 26, 2012. "Sakura Nagashi" is the theme song from the animation movie Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo.
On December 9, 2013, to celebrate Utada's 15th anniversary since her official debut in Japan, EMI Records released Utada: In The Flesh 2010 tour footage in iTunes and announced a re-release of her debut album First Love, including a special limited edition that contains the original album remastered, instrumentals from the original tracks, unreleased tracks and live footage from Hikaru's first live show, LUV LIVE.
On December 8, 2014, Universal Music Japan released a tribute album entitled Utada Hikaru no Uta. Riding on the promotion from Utada's fifteenth anniversary, the album features cover versions of Utada's back catalogue of songs by different popular artists such as AI, Ayumi Hamasaki, Peabo Bryson, Ringo Shiina, and more. It was released coincidentally on the same day as her debut Japanese single "Automatic/Time Will Tell", which was released sixteen years previously.
On December 26, 2014, Universal Music Japan revealed through media outlet Weekly Bunshun that Utada only has one album left before her contract with the label ends (which is allegedly her original contract with the then-EMI Music Japan) and that her comeback in the music industry is currently in discussion. In addition, she could possibly start working on a new song for the last Neon Genesis Evangelion movie which will be released in late 2015, with a possible album drawing on inspiration from the song.
On September 7, 2002, Utada married Kazuaki Kiriya, a photographer and film director who was fifteen years her senior and who had directed several of her music videos. After four and a half years of marriage, the couple announced their divorce (which became official on March 2, 2007), citing personal changes, different viewpoints on the future of their marriage, and lack of communication due to the nature of their jobs. Utada confirmed she had a boyfriend, who was 8 years her senior, with whom she had begun their relationship in at least September 2009. On January 27, 2010, it was reported that they had ended their relationship, due to the fact they never saw each other, and that she was too busy with her In The Flesh 2010 tour.
On August 22, 2013, Utada's mother, Keiko Fuji, died by apparent suicide by jumping from the thirteenth floor of a 28-floor condominium building in Shinjuku, Tokyo.
On February 3, 2014, through an announcement on her personal site, Utada announced that she was engaged to be wed, asking for her fans and the media to view her personal life from a "respectable distance" as he is not in the entertainment industry. On the same day Kiriya Kazuaki congratulated his ex-wife Utada Hikaru on her marriage. On February 10, 2014 Utada and her fiance Francesco Calliano left a message at official site of Utada explaining how they met each other, his being a bartender in a London hotel, and asking for privacy. They were wed on May 23, 2014.
On her official Web site, Utada cites 15 musicians and composers: Freddie Mercury, Cocteau Twins, Nine Inch Nails, Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Édith Piaf, Chick Corea, the Blue Nile, Björk, Lenny Kravitz, Béla Bartók, Mozart, Jeff Buckley, Yutaka Ozaki, and Hibari Misora as some of her favorite artists, and at another point lists R&B artist Aaliyah, and Mary J. Blige as an inspiration as well.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license