Ayumi Hamasaki XXday-24hours
Her first album, released on 1 January 1999, charted at No.1! And continuing to ride on top, it broke the million sales mark. Hamasaki Ayumi has achieved brilliant results, and here we feature her for the first time on GP’s cover, with a special story!! This special contains shots taken of her within 1 day = 24 hours. Together with a super long interview covering her life from a child up till the ayu now, we bring to you 14 colour pages of ayu, 24 hours x 20 years.
After her debut with “poker face”, Hamasaki Ayumi released 5 singles, each just 2 months after the previous one, a refreshing dash through 1998 without a single complaint. Her 1999 began with the release of her first album “A Song for XX” on New Year’s Day. A great work with 16 tracks. Of course, all the lyrics were penned by Hamasaki Ayumi herself. This album has topped the album charts with its release, like an omen of good things to come.
On the inner sleeve of the album, there was this message.
“Since she was born 20 years ago, she has borne numerous different faces. Here is a record of the naked Ayu.”
In this interview, she talked about the extremely real “naked Ayu” reflected in that phrase, in the words of a 20-year-old.
How were you like as a child?
“I never talked. I know I’m still not a talkative person now, but I was a really quiet child. Even when someone called out “good morning” to me, I’d look down, blush scarlet, and just nod in return. If I was blushing really hard, I’d just turn around and backface the person. Adults must have found me a very disagreeable child (laugh)”
How about in school?
“When everyone was laughing about something, I felt the need to laugh along too, even if I didn’t find anything funny. I did everything I could to fit in. It was really exhausting”
Did you have any friends?
“I only learnt about true friendship in middle school. We would skip class and gather somewhere and talk about ridiculous things, and it was fun. But I wasn’t a delinquent, even though I didn’t take things seriously either. (laugh) I lived in a real small town, where there were no places like Shibuya. The only way to be fashionable was to alter our school uniforms, and that’s what we used our pocket money on. (laugh) It seems really lame now, but we did things like ripping out the middle stripe of the 3 stripes on our uniforms. (laugh) I think that we did it to add some appeal to ourselves. Even now, I don’t know what the adults thought of us”
Probably that you were all so cute.
“I was often late, and it made me happy when everyone would be worried and ask “why isn’t she here yet?””
Were you lonely?
As many already know, Hamasaki Ayumi took over the job of DJ for “All Night Nippon” for 1 day at the end of last year. Then, she played songs from “A Song for XX” and talked about her past experiences. She spoke honestly about how her parents had divorced when she was young, how she did not remember her father’s face, how her Mummy raised her as a single woman, as well as how she had lived. It felt like a natural response, as if to let everyone who had supported her know that Hamasaki Ayumi is doing thus well now. When asked about why she shared so much about herself, her reply was that “everyone may be shocked when ayu says that she has never felt that her own life deserved sympathy, because that was how it was. So she’s not speaking because she wants pity, nor does she want people to tell her to “hang on”.” So saying, she gave a cheerful smile.
How was your Mummy like?
“We grew up together, and she taught ayu lots of things and we were good friends, but I was often troubled over whether I wanted her to be more like a real Mummy or not. Whenever we went shopping, we often competed to see who could look prettier, and it was really hard work when we took photos together. I often took lots of photos, but Mummy would look at them and say “Ew!” and throw them away. (laugh) I guess we were like sisters”
Have you ever felt sad about your family background?
“When kids are in elementary school, they like to make comparisons, so I probably had been sad. For example, my parents never turned up for Sports Carnival events. But that was alright. I never felt genuinely hurt or frustrated, because I felt that that’s how it was. In contrast, I feel grateful for that now. I mean, ayu can be here only because of Mummy”
So, what happened after your enjoyable middle school life?
“I was scouted in Fukuoka, and went on to a high school in Tokyo. At that time, I wanted to become independent soon, so I could do whatever I wanted. I wanted to earn my own wages, and use that to pay my own rent and buy my own food. However, that wasn’t possible since I only had a part-time job.”
What were your honest feelings when you came to Tokyo?
“I could not fit in with the adults around me, so I felt really exhausted in more ways than one. I also felt that Tokyo was a scary place. (laugh) I can’t remember how many times I thought about returning home after I finished a particular assignment. However, I pictured everyone talking about how “Hamasaki could not make it afterall” if I had really gone home, and that felt horrible. I never wanted anyone to say that about me, so I stayed on. Either way, it would have been fine with me even if I had gone on to something other than the entertainment industry. Just finding something I could do, and to return home knowing that I was capable of something, was enough. Even if people laughed at me, it’d be alright as long as I knew I had something in me”
It was then that Hamasaki-san met with your current producer, right?
“If he had come even half a year later, I would have returned home already. I was nervous about becoming a singer, and felt that I couldn’t do it, and that it would be boring. I would have gone home to work, or to become someone’s wife (laugh)”
When asked to become a singer, Hamasaki Ayumi was 16 years old. Even when she went to karaoke with friends, she never sang, and was happy just listening along while hitting the tambourine, so it probably came as a shock to her. “The lessons were boring and tiring, and all I thought about was how to skip them. Besides, having to project my voice was tiring (laugh),” Hamasaki recalled her thoughts at that time with a bitter smile. Without a love for singing, her producer suggested for her to “write your own lyrics” as a way to stimulate her interest.
What if you had not started on writing lyrics?
“I might have given up. If my only task was to sing, I probably would not have found any meaning in it. But once I started writing, the words which ayu sang now all came from ayu herself, and that gave me satisfaction. During middle school, I was how I was because I wanted people to notice my existence, and finally, I’ve now found a way for people to really look at me. Either way, I really enjoyed writing lyrics, because it felt like I was writing letters to everyone in this world, even if it was a one-way communication”
How did you feel when your 1st album “A Song for XX” finally took shape?
“I felt that this one woman known as Hamasaki Ayumi has finally taken shape, not as an idol or anything else, but as a person, with all the good and all the bad”
A compilation of a 20 year old?
“I had never really wanted to conceal any part of myself, but there were times when I denied my past, or concealed some part of it, and I felt embarrassed that I was trying to make myself seem better. I didn’t want to continue living like that, because that would have made my career something of which everyone would make a fuss over, praising everything that I did. Well, that day would come anyway, (laugh), and I didn’t want to leave it till then to unveil my past, so I had no choice but to write it all down in this album. I know that it has become more of a monologue, but everyone can only have one 1st album in their lives, so I guess everyone would forgive me for that (laugh)”
The album gave a strong feel of you speaking out to someone. Did your approach to music change along the way?
“Listening to it now, debut song “poker face” somehow reflects a really narrow perspective, only about a 30degree field of vision. (laugh) However, the rest of the songs would come together to give a full 360degree view. It’s like a reflection of my life since debut”
Writing lyrics probably helped you to confirm who you really are.
“This self that I am, there’s only one of me in this world. They say that in this world, there are probably 3 other people out there who really resemble you, but that’s only on the surface. In truth, everyone is their own person, noone is like anyone else. And there are things which only you can do, which only you can become. That’s why I have grown to like people, and to realize that people cannot live alone”
You said that there’s still lots of things you want to say, even after you’ve finished the album.
“I really thought so back then. However, during February, when I needed to pen down lyrics for the new song, I had so much difficulty. (laugh) It was really hard, my mind was a total blank. Maybe it was because I told myself not to think, so my mind was really blank. Then, when I told my mind that I needed to write something now, my paper still remained blank. (laugh) I thought, wrote and threw away countless drafts for the longest time”
With that, she went through a series of sleepless nights, and even came up with a plan to escape from Tokyo. Then, a handsome(!) female friend shouted at her, telling her to “stop fooling around and write!”. She brought Hamasaki for a drive, where she finally managed to get a sound sleep. When she awoke, the first thing she saw was a snowy landscape. “You said you wanted to see the snow, right?” the friend told her. Just then, the car fell into a ditch, and Hamasaki had to get out and start hitchhiking. The work that was birthed from this extraordinary event was 6th single “WHATEVER”. The first track, named “Version M”, was a surprise with its eurobeat dance arrangement.
Did you just decide to go with that?
“ayu’s typical choice would have been track 2’s “Version J”. People would have been expecting something like that, and probably went “Eh?” when “M” comes on first. My producer also felt that it would be interesting that way. Was that mean of us? Well, it was the first release of the year, so I guess it was alright to be a little playful. It would have been scary to imagine ayu dancing to that (laugh)”
I’ve heard rumours about how you’ll be releasing singles at a super fast pace in 1999 too.
“That’s not a rumour. We’ll really be doing that. (laugh) No, we’ll be it even faster than how we did in 1998. There are lots of things I want to do. The dance track this time was really fun, and the next song might be a super ballad, or even a reggae song. What’s important is that whatever I do, people would say that “that’s ayu”. That’s how I want to continue creating my works”
There’ll be a secret live held in May too, right?
“I want to gather all the people who just wish to listen to ayu’s music in a small venue, so that everyone can see my face. A tour can come after that”