There comes a point in all artist fandoms for me that I discover their music videos (called PVs — promotional videos — in Japan). In the days before YouTube (there was a time before YouTube, really!) I would discover an artist’s music first, and their videos much later; these days I tend to watch a couple videos and decide if I like their music. But with Ayu, it was long enough ago that I had to put in more work to actually find her videos. It wasn’t until quite recently that her videos were made widely available on YouTube, and even then most are cut short. For the most part, if I wanted to watch a video, I had to buy the album it was on or hunt it down online.
If I recall correctly, the first Ayu PV I watched was "ourselves," as I loved the song and couldn’t wait to see the video for it. In hindsight it was not the best PV to start with; I was weirded out and didn’t understand what exactly I was watching. It was quite a while before I really started to watch all of the promotional videos Ayu had released over the years.
Screencaps from the "ourselves" video
I’m not exactly sure how much of what’s shown in Ayu’s PVs in is her direction; she is said to exert a great deal of control over her image, but I’m not sure how far that extends to her PVs. I assume the PV director has a fair say in the final result, and there are definite differences between the work of the directors who have worked with Ayu over her career.
As with Ayu’s songs, there are some PVs I prefer over others; there are certainly some I’d call my favorites. And then there are some that leave me staring blankly at the screen, mouth open, wondering what the hell I just watched. Recently there seem to have been a great deal more of the latter in Ayu’s PVs, and not in the good kind of wide-eyed shock. As I don’t know who’s really behind the making of her PVs, I can’t say who’s at fault, but I do feel they’re losing their touch, to the point that I’ve stopped watching many of her recent videos. As a whole, the PVs of Ayu’s early career are simply a lot better than those of the past few years.
There are plenty of good, interesting PVs in Ayu’s filmography, but I think they’ve gone from thought-provoking to downright bizarre. Case in point: “Return Road.” Certainly a visually interesting PV... and one that doesn’t at all match the lyrics. There may be a greater meaning present; all I know is it went straight over my head. See also “ANGEL'S SONG,” in which Ayu actually turns into a werewolf halfway through a bank robbery. I don’t. I don’t even know.
Screencaps from the "ANGEL'S SONG" video
But, as I said, there are still a large number of very good PVs Ayu has made. A number of them are commentaries on Ayu herself (“alterna,” “evolution,” “Don't look back,” “Dearest,” “ourselves”). Her summer and winter PVs tend to run together for me, as the vast majority depict fun in the sun and love in winter, respectively. There are also a number of PVs that tell a story, such as “vogue/Far away/SEASONS,” “Endless sorrow,” and “glitter/fated.” Some simply feature Ayu singing the song against a backdrop, whether a single shot throughout ("Daybreak," "HEAVEN") or a montage of fantastical or dark imagery ("forgiveness," "is this LOVE?"). And, of course, there are those that no words can explain ("1 LOVE," "Ladies Night").
All told, I enjoy the wide range of PVs Ayu has released. Naturally, since she has such a range available, some will be better than others, and different people will prefer different ones. My personal favorite is "alterna," which I can watch over and over and still be utterly fascinated by. In general, many of my favorite songs have my favorite PVs. There are some that I like the PV for even though I’m not that big on the song, and some of my favorite songs have very strange PVs. When it comes down to it, I think it’s simply a matter of taste.