Scans by iloveayu.com
Album 『(miss)understood』 Release
Hamasaki Ayumi + 『(miss)understood』 = Misunderstood!?
The outline of planes taking off and landing in the far-off distance, the gentle flow of the stream nearby, and the wide leaden sky overhead… On that day in November, full of signs of the coming winter, our subject took decisive action. After one year, with her new work, Hamasaki Ayumi. In order to sound out her new self, we present this 20-page special!
New album, “(miss)understood”. What kind of image surfaced in ayu’s mind while she was making this album? What stance did she take, and how did she approach the project? Now that the work is completed, she reveals the production process.
One single song can have many different facets, just like how we humans are. (laugh)
The title for the album this time, “(miss)understood”, has quite a deep meaning behind it.
“The “miss” does not mean “mistake” the way it does in misunderstood, but its a “miss” similar to “mister” and “missus”. That’s why, “(miss)understood” can stand for both “misunderstood”, as well as “a girl who understands”.”
So there is a double meaning.
“Yes. Those “misunderstood” scenarios which are recognized as “misunderstandings”, often happen in real life. As humans, everyone has had misunderstandings, right? There are also probably times when a person himself is being misunderstood. No matter how high we wish to go, we will always think that the present is the boundary. No matter how much we trust someone, we will still be afraid to let that person come too close to us. And though we understand all of this, we are still willing to accept the fact that the world is full of misunderstandings. That’s human nature. That’s why, though there exists many different meanings of the word for me, I find it alright for everyone to find the meaning which is most convenient for them, and define it for themselves.”
What you said about “understanding” and “misunderstanding” is true. But when I listened to the album, I thought that most of the songs linked together very well.
“It just happened somehow, even though I didn’t specially decide on a theme. At a glance, there are quite a few songs which are about “the love between you and me”. But, actually, rather than a song which is sung by me, they are more like songs in which you are the protagonist, singing to me. I don’t know why, but many songs came out this way.”
Yes yes. That’s why, even though it’s a love song, after listening more closely, I wondered if the song is really talking about something else entirely. For example, “fairyland”. At first, it’s a feeling of happiness just listening to the song, and one gets a cute and glittery feeling. But after listening to it many times, one gets the feeling that there is something dark behind the song, something like the dark side of human nature. With such a muddled thing mixed into the song, it is not just about the shine anymore. It becomes a work that constantly reminds you of the shadow behind your back.
“This album has 16 songs altogether, including 2 instrumental tracks. Even the relatively up-tempo songs talk about rather surreal themes, making the song content very heavy and dark. I didn’t realize this at all till I put the entire album together. Because of this, I had a hard time trying to decide the sequence of the songs. (laugh) But, if I looked at the lyrics booklet while listening to the songs, I could hear them being sung by a cute girl, a girl who is worrying over love. Thus I was able to listen to them with a lighter heart, sort of like listening to background music flowing softly out of a room. Whenever I am thinking of many different things, or when I am looking to find myself, just looking at my lyrics booklet while listening to the songs really helps me to see the other side of things. Meaning: matching perfectly with every kind of situation, one single song can have many different facets, just like how we humans are. (laugh)”
(laugh) But that is ultimately because it is already present in our subconscious minds. It will show itself even if we try to lock it in.
“Yep, I think so too.”
Quote: “I find it alright for everyone to find the meaning which is most convenient for them, and define it for themselves.”
Quote: “Every song definitely carries a message from me. That’s why, if you can pick up that message, if it makes you think about things, I will be really happy.”
It was the same feeling during the “MY STORY” era, but in the lyrical world, the number of instances when lyrics probe into the deeper nature of humans is steadily increasing too, right?
“That’s true. In other words, even though this album has been said to have a heavier feel than, say, “Duty” or “I am…”, I feel that I’ve become unable to say things straight anymore. Dark songs are still dark, sad, and quiet, but recently I’ve felt that it’s even more sorrowful to smile when you are sad. Even though the traditional idea is that sadness will lead to tears, most people nowadays don’t cry anymore. That’s why, it is most painful to watch those who are in real sorrow smile. Maybe my songs have also picked up this quality of not being what it seems on the surface, after I realized this.”
Next question. Though you said that it’s unconscious, did this thought just surface one day by itself? It was probably because of these times we’re in too, right?
“I think so. I’m sure it’s this era now which makes me feel this way. To gather up speed and become super popular, that’s the norm now. Because I don’t watch TV much, I’m not sure what it’s like now, but before this, there was this incident about the radish, wasn’t there?”
Yes, there was. (laugh) A radish which grew up from the cracks in the asphalt, and treated like a hero.
(Misa’s note: probably a TV CM)
“That’s probably it. It was on TV every single day for some time. It wasn’t awesome, but that radish became so popular. (laugh) But it’ll probably be forgotten soon with amazing speed, like all things. Just as if nothing had happened, and everything will settle down quietly again. Everything’s like this nowadays. For example, when you fall in love with something, from the time you start liking it, you’ll spend all your time and energy pursuing it with all your spirit, concentrating on it totally. And when its time is over, you’ll withdraw from it, or discard it completely. That’s actually very scary when you think about it.”
I agree. It’s as if everyone has caught some disease.
“That’s right. Just like when you see that something, you start to reflect it in yourself. For me, when something seems to me happy or sad, it will be reflected in my own mood, even though I may not be thinking of that something. And while people worry about whether this will become another “radish” incident, they are also enjoying the fad. Everyone thinks that everyone else feels the way they do. If that’s not the case, then I feel that this speed of liking-then-forgetting won’t even exist in the first place.”
I think everyone is just going with the flow.
“Just like in the title track “(miss)understood”, “these people who seem so kind, probably just wish to find something out from you”. And after that, “at the back of those gentle eyes, are hidden knives of curiosity” at the song’s climax. Somehow, I’ve started seeing everything in this light. But while that is probably a misunderstanding on my part, it is also probably an understanding of the true situation around us, even if we don’t realize or understand it. Therefore, my ideas of “it’s not that far from the truth” are probably wrong. That’s why, when nothing in the world is right, this era seems like a lie, which makes me both sad and fearful.”
That’s why we’re slowly losing sight of the things which we hold precious and dear. Listening to this album with this thought in mind, I feel like I’m getting a part of myself back, and really getting to understand what it is that is precious to me. That’s the message I’m getting from the album.
“Probably, because everyone understands what is really precious and essential to them. It’s not that we’re losing sight of these things. Rather, it’s because we are unable to honestly declare what it is that’s precious to us. I think it’s hard to step out and make yourself understood. Even if you could do it, you can’t say that it will make your life easier. But even if life gets tough, the fact that you have stepped out is something which will remain with you. And that is something which is important.”
Those people who dare to step out and speak out are really brave. I’ve been hearing this strength come from Hamasaki-san’s songs lately, telling us to take control of our own lives and live with strength. That’s the message I get from your songs.
“I totally didn’t realize that either, but I’ve been singing about it lots recently, haven’t I? To live like you want to live, I’m probably singing it to myself too. That’s probably why I’ve been singing about it, with this determination.”
With this determination, what are the things which Hamasaki Ayumi think are essential to her from now on?
“What’s essential… Probably the ability to slowly widen the boundaries of my freedom, so that I’ll be able to fly as if I have wings. There’s no use in having wings if you keep them closed. But while you come to understand things, having the confidence to handle the responsibilities that come along with it are the first signs of freedom. Whenever you do something that you like, there will be many consequences, both good and bad. But if you run away from all responsibility, that is not freedom, but selfishness instead. So, I wish to gain more freedom. Moreover, the idea of freedom transcends our everyday lives, so we need to revise that determination everyday. And when we do so, the responsibilities which come along with it will increase too. That’s probably why I wish for strength, though I think I’m already actually stronger than what I was in the past.”
Thinking that way, I guess what you have most firmly in your mind would emerge in your songs naturally, wouldn’t it?
“It would. That’s why songs are real, even if some of the situations which I wrote about in those songs are fictional. Because life is easier to understand if we compare it to love and romance!”
The songs would be easier to receive for listeners, too. Anyway, every song of yours holds a message. That’s why listening to Hamasaki-san’s songs always makes one think about things. Just like what you said earlier, even if listening to your songs as BGM, one is bound to pick up some message. That’s the feeling I get.
“That’s why, it’s alright with me if you wish to think a song is cute, or interesting, but I hope that that will not be the only thought that comes to your mind. That’s why this album, “(miss)understood” exists. Every song definitely carries a message from me, no matter what kind of riddles there are, or how I hide and cover it up. That’s why, if you can pick up that message, and if it makes you think about things, I will be really happy.”
Quote: “About misunderstanding, and understanding. This is a song which spans both viewpoints, that’s why the video is that way too. Because the video’s theme is “sorrow”…”
To summarise, the moment I heard the demo, I wanted to sing! “I want to sing now!” That’s the feeling of this song. I think it’s something new. However, there aren’t many ways that you can make an impact. Like, “Ah, that’s ayu’s new work”. Hmm, will it generate this reaction? I don’t think so, it’s more like “Eh? This!?” Therefore, though I wonder about how everyone will react to this song, there is no need to feel uneasy. Because I believe that I can get the message across.
After the wonderful sense of accomplishment I felt with “MY STORY”, I thought about what I wanted to do next. Then, the moment I received the demo tape for this song and listened to it, “That’s it!” I actually had other songs which I’ve already finished, but I changed all my plans. (laugh) Because it was the first song which came after “MY STORY” that really struck me, I managed to write out lyrics at top speed.
A glimpse of the conversations between guileless girls. And even though it doesn’t really reflect the true nature of women, I think that as you get closer and closer to the end, the real character starts to come out. But, of course, if you listen to it thinking that it is a mere song sung by cute girls, it probably won’t be as interesting for you. Even during lives, this song gives an awesome climatic feel, and that is something to look forward to.
is this LOVE?
Coming straight from the heart, a song that begins really softly with many details, then explodes with drama, there is no hesitation here. When I first listened to it, I could imagine myself singing it. And even though I really love Yo-chan’s guitar playing here, because I had to change costumes at that point during a-nation, I could never watch him. I wish I could watch from the audience seats, just once. (laugh)
For my songs, even though I use the word “I”, it does not always reflect my own feelings and ideas. From my perspective, it is still “me” in some respect. “(miss)understood” is just like what its title suggests, about misunderstanding, or understanding. This is a song which spans both viewpoints, and I think that even just reading the lyrics, it will still be interesting.
This is a song with a unique melody that fully showcases the charm of CMJK in its arrangement. When one really listens to it again, one will understand the freedom and frankness with which the song was made. Like what the lyrics read, whether you do something or not, the end result will be criticized. Therefore, you feel that “what’s the use!” (laugh) Whatever you do, someone is bound to say something, so just do things the way you want to.
In The Corner
I’ve always wanted to write a song that has a totally disinterested feel. A song that doesn’t seek to appeal, nor sadden, but seems to be completely emotionless. I wanted to sing such a totally indifferent song. Something that won’t cause any excitement, something indifferent right to the end, like a monologue. That’s why I lowered the song’s key. It’s like a song with a stylish but indifferent background music, with deep lyrics.
Though the title suggests a person who has commited a sin, it is actually not that kind of sin which is related to the law. Humans sin every single day, small trivial sins. So this is a song that talks deeply about one’s own sins, and how to face them.
This song too. I wanted to sing it so much once I heard the demo. However, it is not a song which has a hidden strength. Rather than a single person singing with loneliness, it has the feeling of everyone shouting together for something unseen. For that, I had a group of people, ranging from elementary school children to those in their 50s, as chorus together with me. I felt that it was really cool to have such a considerable number of people singing together. This was definitely CMJK-san’s masterpiece.
This song is often said to be different from usual, in terms of my singing style, but in a good way. Everyone liked the strong feelings they felt from the song. However, I never had any intention of changing my vocal style. That’s why I think those feelings were aroused by the power of the melody or lyrics instead. It actually has the feeling of one who is thinking while she’s singing. So in the end, this became a super powerful ballad.
Even though Kazu-bou (Kazuhito Kikuchi) and I took a long time in creating this song, we were always wondering “so when does the song’s climax start?” When we thought a part was the climax, it turned out that it wasn’t, and we kept feeling that the climax would come after. Both of us found this predicament really interesting. Although there are many times when I’ll just use the melody from a demo and change the arrangement totally, for this song, I chose to keep to the original demo as much as possible.
During production, I was always changing some parts of the song by myself. With the feeling of the light shining on me, aah, I felt like I was moving towards a new place. At first glance, it seems like the usual glittery, shiny song, but it’s not just that. I loved the line which said “we are now at the closest place to forever”, maybe it was because that was what I was feeling at the moment itself.
Everybody just wants to make everyday beautiful and wonderful, but how should you go about achieving that? Isn’t that what everyone thinks about constantly? This song is one which sets you a question: “Well then, what is a beautiful and wonderful day like for you?” Deep down, you already know the answer, right? It is just difficult to take the steps necessary to fulfill it. This is a song that wants to know how you feel about this.
“It’s such a pretty and cute song, I want to sing it!” Aside from that, it feels like a song which you will whisper to the most important person, in a voice so soft that no one else can hear it. It has the unique style of a song from GEO of SWEETBOX, and the structure of the song is very interesting too. It makes the listener question “Hmm, has the song ended?” “Hmm, is this the climax here?” (laugh) It is really a very addictive piece.
ABOUT NY & HAWAII
During the summer of 2005, the PV for super popular hit number “fairyland” was filmed in Hawaii. Then, the just-released “Bold&Delicious/Pride” had their PVs filmed in New York. With these, ayu has expanded her production process out of Japan. Presenting her thoughts about crossing the ocean to visit these 2 places, and experiences about the production process over there.
We were all so overwhelmed by the scale of things, that we felt it wasn’t the time or place to be complaining about lack of sleep and tiredness!
“fairyland”‘s video clip, which was filmed in Hawaii, was done on a massive scale.
“That was really awesome~ Really really awesome. Even so, I didn’t get to sleep for 3 whole days. I think that to still be able to move after no rest for so long was an awesome experience as a human.”
To be fine even after going 3 days without sleep, everyone’s spirits must be really high then?
“Somehow, we were all so overwhelmed by the scale of things, that we felt it wasn’t the time or place to be complaining about lack of sleep and tiredness. And even though I was in the PV myself, it also felt like I was a spectator. To be able to witness a scene completed first-hand is a really luxurious feeling. And because it’s really interesting seeing these things from different angles, sleeping felt like a waste of time. (laugh) It’s like, this is the only time you’ll be able to do this in your life, so I just had to try it. (laugh)”
That image is definitely about light and darkness, eh? While you were immersed in happiness, things started to burn. Hamasaki-san, you seemed to be personally affected on all fronts by that scene. That’s why it probably represents your personal worldview?
“That’s right. It’s constantly about light and darkness, and towards the end, what is equivalent to beauty that is always present within me. Why do beautiful things never last forever? The moment of beauty lasts all the way till the end, and the sorrow of its loss is strong. Sometimes, because it was so beautiful, one feels one’s heart beat fast, and saying words will just destroy the moment. There is that danger. That is why beautiful things make people feel somewhat sad, and fearful. It’ll be great if beauty can last forever.”
“fairyland” illustrated that point on a massive scale. And though totally differing in content, the scale of “Bold&Delicious” is equally large. In that PV, there were moments which reflected your true nature, and those moments are really rare, aren’t they?
“There’s a very clear distinction between onscreen and offscreen. The onscreen “Hamasaki Ayumi” whom the world sees is that one with the big eyes, right? (laugh)
There are scenes of me like this, and scenes which are not. This mixture of onscreen and offscreen personalities was very interesting.”
So it’s like a presentation of a collage between onscreen and offscreen personalities. Because I’ve always watched your works, I have this query. For example, when you are in your onscreen mode as “Hamasaki Ayumi” during “Bold&Delicious”, or in any other PVs, you have to enter into that PV’s world, right? Even if you are actually happy, or actually sad, you manage to put on a specific facade to fit the PV perfectly. I’ve always admired you for that.
“When I film a PV, I always think deeply about the subject matter. And as new ideas surface, we discuss them throughout production. But in the end, I decide on what I want to do through my “inner director”, and draw the idea out. Then I think about how that drawing is able to bring me closer to what I have in mind.”
So the final judge is your “inner director”?
“Yes. That’s why it’s really rough material. For example, sorrow; there are many different kinds of sorrow, right? Amidst that, I use my “inner director” to choose. Am I looking for a heartbreaking sort of sorrow, or am I looking for a warmer sort of sorrow? I go all the way into the details, in order to come close to the drawing I have in my mind. That’s why I personally look forward to the completion of my music videos, because I was able to convey the direction I felt at that time and be understood.”
So you really do go into the details for each and every PV when producing them.
“Even during the production of “Bold&Delicious”; when it was finished, I kept hearing that the staff who worked on the PV had many questions about me. For example, I smiled during filming while lip-syncing to the audio. Then, I had the same smile on my face when I was talking with the staff between filming times. I felt that people were questioning “which is ayu’s real smile?”, or “which smile is the one that shows that ayu is really enjoying herself?” And even “she’s wearing such beautiful clothes, and such beautiful jewelry, and have people making up her hair and face beautifully. Plus, she’s in the spotlight all the time. But, do I really envy this girl?”"
But even when not in the spotlight, the real ayu probably smiles and laughs with her staff, right?
“Yep. Because it feels really good to do that, we could work through even the sorrowful PVs.”
I see. That’s very surreal.
“”Bold&Delicious” is super high and exciting, and the assertive singing is cool too. But if you can sense the sorrow behind it, then I’ll be glad. That’s why the PV is like this too, because it’s theme is “sorrow”. It is the same with those questions about my smile. No one may wish to know why, or try to understand. It is not compulsory for you to be curious. You can catch a glimpse of that sorrow, and receive it passively from the sidelines. There is probably a meaningless distance between your hand, which receives, and my hand, which gives. At a glance, even in a video which apparently holds no meaning, there is surely a message hidden inside. If you can realize that while watching it, I’m sure you will find it very interesting.”
As per usual, ayu was the first to usher in 2005 during her Countdown Live at Yoyogi National Gymnasium. Since then, a year has swiftly passed by. Like a sort of biography, ayu recalls what 2005 was like for her.
When I injured myself for no good reason, I just thought it interesting and laughed it off.
2005 was really an energetic year, wasn’t it?
“Yes. It was a year with many happenings. There was no time to even say “I’m tired”, and it felt like I was facing up to new things all the time. (laugh) Of course, I had my own expectations of myself, and there were times when I wondered “Why do these kinds of things have to happen now?” However, expectations remained expectations in the end, and the instances where I met or surpassed them were few. Unexpected things were the norm, instead. That’s why, even though I couldn’t rely on my feelings, I enjoyed relying totally on my temperament. That was probably my 2005.”
You held firmly onto your courage?
“Yes. Even though accidents occurred, they were so trivial so I just laughed them off. (laugh) For example, when I injured myself for no good reason, I just thought it interesting and laughed it off.”
That alone probably relieved some pressure off of your emotions. But because of that, no matter how much energy you put into your activities, there probably were lots of things you couldn’t do.
“Yep. I slowly saw how I couldn’t do some things which I planned to do. But I think the good people and things around me probably helped me accept everything about myself and move forward. That’s why, even when I thought something was unachievable, I still always managed to achieve it in the end. But that is definitely not something which I could have done if I was alone. The people around me gave me the support and strength, and I am grateful for everything that those people have done for me.”
The staff probably felt the same way about you too. But the fans too, their voices are also one factor which lent you support, right? For this year’s a-nation, you only missed the Hokkaido show because of poor health. But after that, you still went down to Hokkaido to do a public recording. Was that because the fans’ voices gave you support, and you felt that you had to give them a reply, no matter how small?
“There were probably many many people who have worked or studied hard for many months, just for that opportunity to show their support on that day. Like how kids will think “I’ll work hard to finish my homework, then I’ll be free to go that day!” After I thought about it that way, I felt really sorry. It’s just not enough to say “I’ll see you next year!”, right? After I got better, I wanted to go see them and show them that I’m well. Because there were surely people who worried, so to ease their minds, I felt that I had to do something. That was what it was like.”
The fans really treasure you, don’t they?
“I’m always thinking about how I can show my sincere thanks to everyone. Yet, no matter how much I wish to give my thanks, I’m not an individual anymore. “ayu” has sort of become like a group name. That’s why, while I can’t do things at my own will and whim anymore, I still wish to give my gratitude, in any limited way I can. That’s what I always feel.”
And that moved you to action. But that was probably quite difficult to achieve, what with your busy schedule.
“Yep. That’s why I think the people around me who made my wish to go come true were truly wonderful. Then, when I first mentioned that I wished to go, the power and energy that everyone had was amazing too. They are really such a blessing to have.”
By the way, the PV filming and recordings for “Bold&Delicious”, the last single for 2005, were all done in New York. Did you meet with any vocal problems there?
“The sounds there were different, of course, but I wanted to integrate them into my own sound. Plus, I’ve plunged headfirst into unknown territory, and while I compromised as I went along, I chiefly had to adapt myself to every situation which came along. What was I thinking, doing there? When I’ve understood this, how should I go about doing things? I was really interested in that place…”
So New York stimulated and influenced you to change the style of your songs?
“Yep. Many people have told me how much it’s changed. Even the staff present here.”
That powerful energy which you showed in “Bold&Delicious” while driving down that street totally reflects that change.
“That’s right. I think so too. Like something completely different was born. Because humans are sensitive to all these subtle differences. For such a thing to be born, I felt that doing the recording in New York was the right step to take.”
With Countdown Live at National Yoyogi Gymnasium on New Year’s night, then “(miss)understood” album release on New Year’s Day, ayu opens the door to the new year. What kind of visions does ayu have in her head for the year 2006?
“To be honest and frank about my own feelings. That is not something which is limited to this new year, nor does it mean that I’m starting afresh, but it is something which I’ve always wished to be. Because nobody can change in just one year.”