[url id="http://www.mtv.com/music/artist/utada/artist.jhtml"]Utada[/url] isn't your typical American pop star — she's actually a Japanese pop sensation that has been labeled the "Asian Britney Spears" since her 1999 debut LP, First Love, became Japan's biggest-selling album ever. She's conquered the international market and sold over 52 million records. Now, Utada's hoping to add her name to the elusive list of divas that dominate America.
The New York-born singer described herself to MTV recently as "culturally bilingual." See, the 26-year-old is somewhat of a Japanese musical prodigy. Utada's father was an accomplished musician and producer and her mother was a successful Japanese singer. Her parents had her splitting her time between Manhattan and Tokyo while she went to high school and college. Back then, Utada was living a "Hannah Montana"-esque double life: ordinary American college student by day, world-renowned Japanese pop star by night.
Utada's story hasn't been a fairytale, though. Despite being the first Japanese artist to break the Top 20 Albums list on iTunes, she's yet to make it big on American radio airwaves or the Billboard charts. Her last U.S. album, Exodus, released in 2004, failed to resonate with audiences. Utada describes the album as "introverted" and "weird."
"It was interesting and unique [but] how are you supposed to promote that?" she said. Utada isn't trying to appeal to angst-ridden emo kids — she's Japan's Britney, remember? So when it came to her new record, This Is the One, she decided to let loose, go the traditional pop route and make it accessible to the masses.
"This time, I wanted to make a really mainstream album. Making an album like this new one [was] fun. I feel like I stepped out into fresh air," she said. "[We laid] out a plan to make a really good pop record, like good old pop like TLC." Fittingly, her first single, "Come Back to Me," is reminiscent of the smooth, late-'90s pop era.
"I think it's a good reflection as the essence of the album," Utada said of the single. With this album, Utada enlisted the help of hitmakers Stargate and Tricky, producers who have worked with Spears, Madonna, Mariah Carey, Beyoncé and Rihanna. If Utada gets even half the recognition of the aforementioned divas, she'll have to get used to more public attention.
"[It's] a bit scary to think that if the album does take off, I [will] become very famous here," she says. But Utada swears if she does blow up in the American pop industry, she won't let the success go to her head.
"I can become this queen on the throne, with my nails being done, [but] I have consciously avoided going down that path. Watching others and learning — whether it's Britney or a homeless guy on the street ... or a record company CEO; I watch and learn."
Watch out Britney — Utada's coming for your crown.