About to Pop: Utada
Why She's About to Pop: Hikaru Utada, known simply as Utada, is the biggest pop star you've never heard of. Born and raised in Manhattan, the 26-year-old came from trained musical parents and had penned her first song by age 11. Before graduating from junior high school, the young talent had signed a recording contract with EMI. She later moved to Tokyo and released her debut album, 'First Love,' which remains the country's biggest selling album of all time. In the past ten years, the massively popular singer, songwriter and producer has had 12 No. 1 hits, holds the record for largest first-week sales in Japanese music history for her 2001 album, 'Distance,' which sold 3 million copies, and has sold over 52 million albums worldwide. Although she has recorded two English albums in the past, it is with her new album, 'This Is the One' (produced by Stargate and Tricky) that Utada is destined to bridge her Japanese success with her U.S. fanbase.
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Eight Questions with Utada:
You enlisted superstar producers including Stargate and Tricky to help produce your latest album. How did that come about and what did they bring to your music?
I usually do my own track-making/arranging, but for this album, by leaving most of that up to the producers, I was able to focus more on the bare songwriting and singing, which was fun. I really appreciated the fact that both Stargate and Tricky respected my songwriting, and that we shared the same taste in music like Prince, and '80s stuff. I seem to have the musical taste of a late-30's male. They certainly added a mainstream U.S. feel to my songs.
You're an alumna of Columbia University. What did you study there, and how was college life for you?
I quit after one semester. Does that speak for itself? University wasn't as challenging or interesting as I'd hoped -- it seemed like an extension of high school. I also had weird fans and paparazzi stalking me on campus and a few times I couldn't go home because Japanese tour buses were parked outside the gates. It was weird. I would love to return to Columbia University, when I am an old woman, to study biochemistry or Buddhism.
Who would you say is your biggest influence as an artist?
I never know how to answer that question. I've never wanted to be like any other artist. My parents told me they were always playing the Beatles and John Lennon stuff when I was a baby. I listened to a lot of stuff when I was a kid from 'The Little Mermaid' to Metallica ('The Black Album'), and a lot of Mozart.
Which song on 'This Is the One' is your favorite, and why?
My favorite is 'Me Muero.' It's both funny and serious, cute and dark, cool and soulful -- it's very me. It's a good, honest song that also happens to be funky.
So far, have you noticed any major differences between the Japanese and American music industries?
You know what? They aren't that different. They've both grown a little too big, and there's too much music coming out every darn week.
What is your favorite city to play, and why?
I love playing in the cold, northern regions of Japan. The locals are generally reserved and kind of quiet, but when the show begins they go crazy, and seeing all their hidden passion explode makes me feel passionate, too.
You blog regularly on your official Website. How important is that kind of fan interaction to you?
Ever so important! I rarely write about my music or work, either -- I just write ridiculous, obscure messages about weird socks, making miso soup for the first time, my huge teddy bear Kuma, and things like that. It's person-to-person. I actually feel very flattered when people tell me they're not especially fans of my music but they love to check my blog, and like my character. I think that's how it should be. I like to let my music do all the talking about my music.
You've had multiple songs included in video games. Are you a gamer yourself?
Yes, my game of choice is Tetris. I also love the Adventure of Toruneko series.
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