Ayumi Hamasaki (浜崎 あゆみ) is Japan’s top selling solo and female artist. Since her debut in 1998, she has released over 50 singles and over 15 studio albums, to say nothing of the countless remix collections of her work. Much of her success can be attributed to Ayu’s strong influence over her own image and work, a sharp contrast against the idol-heavy landscape of Japan’s music industry.
Ayu was born 2 October 1978 in Fukuoka, Japan, and was raised by a single mother. She got into modeling as a young girl and eventually left high school to pursue that career, but it wasn’t to last; she was dropped from her agency. She briefly dabbled in acting, but only appeared in a few B-movies and otherwise found little success. She was eventually scouted by the avex producer Max Matsuura, who put her into vocal training and encouraged her to write her own lyrics.
Ayu’s lyrics are a large portion of her success: from the start, she has written all of her songs (with the very rare exception). Her lyrics are incredibly personal and poignant, speaking to something deeper than the average pop hit. Take for example the title track off her first album:
They always said I was a strong child.
They praised me, saying “you must be strong not to cry.”
The more people said things like that,
the more even laughing became agony.
hito o shinjiru koto tte itsu ka ura kirare
hanetsukerareru koto to onaji to omotte ita yo
ano koro sonna chikara doko ni mo nakatta
kitto ironna koto shirisugite'ta
A Song for ××
In the years since, Ayu’s lyrics have reflected her feelings on everything from the world as a whole to more personal subjects as love and loss, and have earned her countless fans around the world. As mentioned above, she is an incredibly prolific artist, releasing an average of one album a year since her debut and an enormous number of singles. She has essentially broken every sales record there is to break in the Japanese market for a solo artist.
Ayu’s influence extends beyond music; she’s frequently appeared on everything from magazine covers to commercials to billboards on the streets of Japan, and her fashion choices have influenced Japanese culture. Ayu tends to change her image completely from one album to the next, if not sooner.
If you’d like to check out Ayu for yourself, there are several easy options available.