because I'll keep screaming until you understand:
I've been here, here, here forever.
chanto kiite'te tsutawaru made
sakebitsudzukete miru kara
watashi wa zutto koko ni koko ni koko ni iru no
With these words, I am... opens. Right away, you know this is something new for Ayu. None of her previous albums opened with a vocal track. Little do you know it’s not just different, it’s far and away her best album.
Maybe it’s the songs, a number of which mark Ayu’s debut as a composer. Maybe it’s the fact that this is clearly the work of an artist at the peak of her popularity. Maybe it’s the sheer power of emotions in her lyrics. Whatever it is, I am... is an album unlike any other in Ayu’s discography. It is, simply put, a masterpiece.
I admit I may have a certain amount of bias. I am... was the first of Ayu’s albums I purchased a physical copy of, as it was unavailable at the iTunes music store at the time (the place I got the rest of her music). So I remember the experience of discovering I am... much more clearly than her older albums, and how blown away I was by it. Personal bias aside, though, I do think this is the best album Ayu has ever released, and I doubt this will change any time soon. The songs flow together perfectly, an example of J-Pop at its finest. Every song is the album is good if not great, and listening to it never gets old. Indeed, the album was released at the start of 2002, and here I am writing about it in 2016.
More than just being fantastic music, I am... marks a turning point in Ayu’s career. Before, she had written intensely personal lyrics, but she was beginning to realize her position and what she could do with it. The message of the album was peace, in response to the 9/11 attacks:
The planned album cover, an element Hamasaki considers crucial to conveying her message, was also tossed. "I knew it wasn't the time for gaudiness, for elaborate sets and costumes," she says. "It sounds odd coming from me, but I realize what I say and how I look has a great impact." She decided instead on portraying herself as a sort of peace muse, standing in a desert clad only in vines, a white dove perched on her shoulder.
— TIME magazine, March 2002
I am... is the album I consider Ayu’s best, and in my opinion the title is well-deserved. Were it the only thing she had ever released, this would still be true. I am... is more than one of a dozen albums, it is the album that defines her career.