Over her career, Ayumi Hamasaki has released quite a few albums, from polished studio albums to remix collections, from mini-albums to best-of collections. Her studio albums are in my opinion the cornerstone of her success; while her singles help to keep her work in the public eye (and help to revamp her image as necessary), her albums provide snapshots of the evolution of her career. No two Ayu albums are quite alike; she has successfully evolved over time and kept her releases new and fresh. There have been both high and low points, but on the whole I believe the success of her albums (both commercially and musically) has been the biggest reason she remains a fixture of Japanese pop music. While other musicians — particularly other female solo artists — have come and gone, Ayu has been consistent. It should come as no surprise, then, that since her first album in 1999, Ayu has released nearly one album a year, and the large majority have topped the charts upon their release.
For me, Ayu’s albums are divided into different periods, which become clear as you venture through her discography. Despite all the differences in her albums — truly, no two are alike — there is one thing that remains constant: quality. If there’s one thing you can say about Ayu, it’s that she consistently puts out great albums. Her commercial success is no fluke. Some albums may be easier for an established fan to like (and some more difficult), but most of them are solid J-Pop albums any fan of the genre can at least appreciate. And that, more than anything else, is proof that her status as queen of J-Pop is well-deserved.
I came to Ayu’s career in the middle; I became a fan in 2007, after Secret and before GUILTY. As such, my perspective on her albums is skewed by how and when I encountered them; it’s different to encounter albums one a time upon their release than it is all at once. Still, each of them have left their mark on me in their own way, and I’ve looked at each album individually.
A caveat: I have no background in music. While this doesn’t stop me from appreciating it, it does limit my knowledge and vocabulary; I don’t have a trained ear and can’t discuss music in more technical terms. What you’ll find instead are the general feelings I have about each album and their impact on Ayu’s overall career. Like the mini-album for which this section is named, these reviews aren’t lengthy, but instead get right to the heart of the matter.
These reviews do include ratings on a scale of 1 to 5, but please keep in mind that these ratings are meant only as a point of reference and to scale these albums against one another. A star marks a personal favorite track.
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