Original article [here].
Bravery without regrets
Japan has always had a sort of intimidating charm. Whether it’s the refined attitudes of its citizens, its design and art, its wines and cuisines, or its technology, all are equally worthy of awe. Similarly, Japan’s fashion and culture often sweeps Asia and the world. For the first time, we had the unforgettable experience of working with a Japanese celebrity, the queen Hamasaki Ayumi, on this issue’s cover, and it was truly an exciting show. In order to portray Ayumi’s multifaceted music, fashion sense and personality, creative director Alvin Goh specially created 8 unique and vibrant styles for her.
Hamasaki Ayumi’s name alone evokes the image of an everchanging style, as well as of lyrical talent one level above all others. All the lyrics from her first album were penned by herself, and paired with a bold style, left a deep impression. Since her first single released in 1998, she has released an album on a near annual basis. Currently, she has released 14 albums and over 50 singles, as well as countless remix albums and best-of collections.
Ever since she came onto the musical scene with single “poker face” in 1998, Hamasaki Ayumi has been writing her own lyrics, as well as composing and arranging a few pieces. With her everchanging style, she worked hard to make a name for herself in the entertainment business. She soon received opportunities to appear on fashion magazines and various TV programmes, which she took up on top of a hectic release schedule. Shortly after her debut, her work received its just recognition, and her influence grew until she became the face of Japanese pop culture and music.
Unlike many “kawaii” female singers, Hamasaki Ayumi’s songs focus on her life experiences. Out of all the things she does, such as singing, writing lyrics, filming, concerts and more, it is composing which she loves the most, though it is also the one which brings her the most “pain”. Her songs include musical influences from many cultures, including psychedelic trance, continental dance, ancient Chinese tunes and Western-style classical music.
“If I had to pick a favourite aspect of my job, I’ll pick composing. I love the process of composition and all the preparation work that has to be put in. Composing is sometimes like a relationship, or a test of the emotions. Even though there may be feelings of frustration and pain, the product is always beautiful and right.”
While debuting at a young age brought her much stress, it also allowed the determined and brave Ayumi to understand the importance of willpower and perseverance early on.
“I learnt how to be brave when singing and performing. The first time I stood on stage as “Hamasaki Ayumi” was for a huge concert which took up much manpower and effort, but there was so much that I didn’t know. However, that experience taught me the type of mindset I should be having, the amount of spirit I should have to face up to the task. I believe this was a precious lesson I learnt during my youth, and all these life experiences were reflected in my songs. I feel that as everyone listens to my songs and reads the lyrics, they can easily tell that I feel no regrets for my life. That’s what I truly believe.”
As a star admired by millions, it is not unusual for her to encounter various obstacles in both her work and private life. For Hamasaki Ayumi, the ability to balance that in terms of lyric writing is an art. She shares that the most difficult songs to write are the theme songs for movies and TV dramas. When she writes lyrics, she usually writes from her own personal experiences from her own perspective. However, it is a challenge when she has to imagine herself living another person’s story, feeling their desires and understanding their background.
“I respect other artistes and love collaborations. However, I also like to challenge myself.”
“All artistes are probably perfectionists. In terms of live concerts, I have never truly felt satisfied with my work, nor do I feel that I should. I feel that feeling “unsatisfied” is very important to performers, because it gives them the desire and space to achieve more. The meaning behind taking up a challenge is to face a higher goal and progress towards one’s ideal. There is always something small which prevents me from feeling completely satisfied with my singing and performance. So how can I overcome these challenges? I just have to continue progressing and moving forward. If I stop and give up, it’ll be the end of the journey. I can’t allow myself to think or worry too much. Instead, I should trust my instincts.”
Many people imagine that a singer or celebrity loves the moment when they stand on stage and shine bright in the eyes of millions. However, Ayumi feels that the completion of every show, programme or tour brings the next set of challenges, and also a sense of loneliness.
“I feel true happiness when I’ve finished a recording session, but to accomplish that, I need to put in weeks of effort and throw my whole self into it. Sweating in that tiny booth, I’ll stand on the same spot and record till I’m satisfied, sometimes until my feet go numb. After countless trials, mistakes and corrections, I’ll finally finish recording. At that point, I can sense new music about to be born, as repayment to all my fans’ support and encouragement, and I experience utmost joy. Therefore, I feel most satisfied in that moment when I step out of the recording booth.”
In her 15 years, her career has been likened to “a rollercoaster ride”. She feels that it’s an accurate description, because similar to riding on a rollercoaster, one never knows what is going to happen next, whether the next turn will bring you up on down. Like real life, her career has experienced both the good and the bad. 15 years ago, when she decided to board this rollercoaster, she did not know what was waiting for her. However, she was determined to hold on till the end. Even today, she is still there, striving and progressing.
In truth, she has experienced a whole lot of emotions and memories in these 15 years: happy, fun, troubling, and touching episodes…
“It’s really impossible to recount all my thoughts about work and life in the past 15 years in just one interview. (laugh) It’s also impossible to summarize all these emotions into a few words. All my memories hold special meaning for me, and all experiences, even the bad ones, have shaped my music and my career.”
When she first debuted, Hamasaki Ayumi was just a child, and she was easily swayed by everything that was happening.
“Let’s talk about something recent, like this cover photoshoot with Harper’s Bazaar. The end result is really beautiful and captivating. My whole troupe, including the staff and creative director Alvin have done exceptionally well. Everyone shared their opinions, came up with creative ideas, all for the sake of this important assignment. At the same time, it was all for my sake that this group of elite professionals are gathered together, and the thought of that really moves me.”
“I’d also like to take this chance to wish Harper’s Bazaar a happy 25th Anniversary! I feel honoured to grace the cover of such an excellent fashion magazine! The camera angles they’ve chosen are all so exceptional, beautiful and elegant. I’m really grateful to all the Hong Kong staff who travelled to Japan just for this shoot!”
MYSELF & MY MUSIC
Hamasaki Ayumi’s music has been described as “revolutionary”. We heard her views about this.
“In truth, I never planned to revolutionize anything, nor did I work to create things to be popular or fashionable. I’ve always been doing things the same way in these past 15 years, which is to use my personal experience to create music. I believe that I’m very lucky to be able to touch fans’ hearts through music, to create a bond between us. I feel honoured to be named as a “revolutionary”.”
Of all the albums she had released, it was hard for her to pick out a favourite. But if she had to choose, she would pick 8th album “Secret”, released in 2006, or 1st album “A Song for XX”. The reason was that her debut album was a totally new experience for her, and having to sing, write, and create MVs on her own was exhilarating.
When we asked her if she had any passions aside from music, she paused for a moment before replying “No”.
“I don’t know how I should answer this question, but nothing can compare to music. It holds the highest position in my heart, and nothing else can move me so much, or bring me such joy. However, if I really had to pick, I’ll choose gourmet. I enjoy good food and wine. However, music still holds top position.”
Photographs by ND Chow
Creative direction by Alvin Go h@ c-DNA.com
Styling by Alvin Goh @ c-DNA.com
Hair: Yoshiyuki Sukegawa @ Allure
Makeup: Ryuji Nozaki @ Ryuji
Eyelash: Yuki Takano @ Bonito
Manicure: Aiko @ esNAIL
Assistant: Taro Washio & Naoki Tamenaga
Styling assistant: Kei Ito @ abfab
Interview: Takako Tsuriya
Guest model: Ayumi Hamasaki
Special thanks to Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Marunouchi and lino Hiroo Studio