Although Ayumi Hamasaki’s 15th studio album, currently untitled as of this date, won’t be released until July, several previews have already been released, including the digital single “Hello new me,” the dub version of “Terminal” (produced by mega-trance mastermind Armin van Buuren), “Angel,” “What is forever love,” “NOW & 4EVA,” and “Lelio.” Based on the list of producers alone, including RedOne and Fedde Le Grand, the album is touting itself under the massive umbrella term “EDM,” perhaps in a bid to update Hamasaki’s typical sound, and step as far away from her last three albums as possible. This isn’t entirely new musical ground for Hamasaki, at least in terms of original material; remixes aside, 2009’s NEXT LEVEL was heavily influenced by electronic dance music and back in 2002, she collaborated with famed trance producer Ferry Corsten on “connected.”
What remains to be seen is just how much of this album is really a “new me” and how much of it is the same Hamasaki cocktail we’ve come to know and occasionally crave. What you’ve expected for the last ten years: pop/rock songs, heavy on the guitars, poppy ballads, drama, tragedy, grand-scales, heavy-handed declarations, specific references to who-knows-what events, personal revelations — but only behind an I know something you don’t know smile — and a handful of extraordinary risk takers, the few songs penned by new or unknowns that leave us wondering why someone didn’t push Hamasaki further into that vast territory of the au courant. Here are the missing variables: Is Hamasaki sabotaging herself by insisting on more of the same? Has she lost her touch for recognizing moving and exciting material? Is she resting on her “brand”? Does she seriously think “Hello new me” is anything new at all? Are the intriguing songs like “Lelio” just luring us into believing there is something of relevance here, or are they just echoes of a trendy genre, desperate to sit at the cool table? Maybe more than correcting the musical missteps of the recent past, there’s clearly a desire to correct the mistakes of the present.
The music video goes like this: A blonde, overweight girl with big glasses sits in her bedroom, taping a picture of herself onto another picture with a good-looking, fit, muscular man she has a crush on. She leaps up with determination, goes outside, and starts running. This profile shot of the girl running extends almost throughout the rest of the video, interspersed with an animated version of the girl swimming and/or doing anything else they didn’t have the budget to accomplish with live action. The girl stays the same size throughout her many days and nights of running, only stopping towards the end to get a haircut and go shopping for dresses (there is a scene where she dances a little, and another where she’s gnawing a chicken leg while running because overweight people just can’t stop, can they?). She runs into a park and sees the man from the photo, but he ignores her. She trips, and when she gets up, she’s Ayumi Hamasaki wearing a short, revealing pink dress. The guys sees her and immediately takes notice, amazed at her beauty. Ayumi makes girlish hand gestures, touches her face, winks, saunters over, and they walk off into the sunset together happily ever after. This is not irony, or satire. This is the actual music video for “Feel the love,” the Tetsuya Komuro-penned single released late last year.
In short, the video encourages changing the most fundamental things about yourself to be noticed by a man, the idea that a man will only accept you if you are thin and beautiful enough, a preoccupation with unnatural or unrealistic standards of beauty, and the willful acceptance that you are inferior and unworthy as you are.
A few weeks later, the “full version” of this promotional video was released. Hamasaki herself addressed fans’ concerns over the video by tweeting: “Of course I will listen all my loBely’s [sic] opinions anytime. But thing is that you all haven’t seen the real ending yet. Don’t worry ;)”. The “real ending” consisted of a four second epilogue where Hamasaki turns back into the overweight blonde girl mid-hug while the guy looks at her in disbelief, confusion, and possibly horror. Now, this obviously does not change or make any apologies for the rest of the video, including the part where the girl tries to run on a treadmill and falls on her face — presumably, because fat people are just really funny when they try to exercise. Even the most apologetic fans have to see this as mean-spirited, particularly after a video like “how beautiful you are” where people of all races, ages, genders, sizes, and sexual orientations are portrayed positively. Not every pop song or music video has to be a Statement piece, but when you are making one, your statement probably shouldn’t be: lose weight and all your dreams will come true. There is a way to promote health and fitness without using shame, portraying overweight women as caricatures, or using the attention of men as an incentive for weight loss. From Brown University’s Health Education web site:
“Then there’s the issue of romance. Media messages, particularly those from advertising, strongly emphasize the role of appearance in romantic success. “Getting” the guy or the girl is reduced to possessing a stereotypical set of physical attributes, with no appreciation for personality, background, values, or beliefs.”
In The New Soft War on Women: How the Myth of Female Ascendance is Hurting Women, Men-And Our Economy, Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett emphasize that “[t]he message to women and girls in all media is that their appearance should be, above all, tailored to the “the male gaze.” You exist at all times in a world where men are looking at you, and you must please them” (140).
Needless to say, the promotional video garnered a lot of mixed to negative reactions from fans after its release. Here are some reactions from fans on the Ayumi Hamasaki Sekai forum who weren’t really feeling the love:
“Dont know if it was funny or absolutely cheap and ridiculous” (Mirrocle Monster)
“Am I the only one who didn’t get the ending? When it finally seemed to me the girl accepted her body-shape…? What was that, if you run a lot and cur [sic] your hair you turn Japanese?” (Gustavopc)
“The main message is: Unless you change your body (and maybe your race), you’re a crap and the boy will run away from you” (Elednist)
“In my opinion, encouraging someone to change their appearance for someone they like under the guise of “working hard for something” is unhealthy and wrong.” (Becky)
“I don’t think they wanted the PV to look offensive but it can totally be seen as such.” (Maemi)
These comments were accompanied by several positive responses arguing that the music video is merely an encouragement to stay focused and work hard towards a goal. Working hard at what you want is a good principle to follow, but again, equating weight loss with success at anything other than weight loss, is a dangerous precedent. Reflecting on all her years of trying to lose weight, comedian and activist Margaret Cho remarked, “There were whole years that I missed. Those were the loneliest times of my life when I had the least amount of love. I just thought if I could get to a certain weight, then I could be alive. But that is a counterproductive idea. Like why can’t you just be alive now? … It took almost half my life to get there.”
Perhaps reacting to the negativity around the video, especially from girls who see her as a role model, Hamasaki is creating brand-new music videos for both “Feel the love” and “Merry-go-round” (why both is a bit of a mystery — the latter’s most egregious sin was being boring). Whether or not the damage can be repaired, it’s obvious Hamasaki is gauging feedback and using it to tailor an album that’s more satisfying for both its viewers and listeners, though perhaps at the expense of genuine creativity, change, or even insight.
But the fat girl is happy with herself even though he doesn’t like her…
Brilliant! Sharing this article on twitter! By the way, I read somewhere that the ‘new’ “Feel the love” PV will be an Ayupan x Bloody Bunny animation or something like that… I don’t have high hopes that the new version will amend the message of the first… Oh, and I read on Tumblr you wrote another essay on this subject when the single was released? I’d love to read that one as well =)
The essay I was referring to on tumblr was this one. Sorry for the confusion!
“Fat-shaming” IS the status quo in Asian cultures. This article assumes that the entire world operates like Tumblr and liberal academia… which it doesn’t. Productive civilizations don’t obsess over this intersectionality shit. They’re too busy, you know, actually being productive—whether it’d be studying a rigorous field (STEM) that emphasizes hard-work and determination in order to get ahead in the world, or assuming the “role” of caretaker in a family unit (which would involve preparing healthy meals for themselves as well as their children/spouses, which is obviously something Western cultures know NOTHING about because everybody is FAT and dying of HEART DISEASE). But if you choose to view the world through this lens of “intersectionality” and with a victim mentality, literally waiting for “problematic” shit to appear in pop culture and rushing to blog about it, you are all ultimately going to become very bitter, miserable individuals in old age.
I’ve wondered whether, given that she turns into Ayu (even if you’re going to want Ayu in her music video), the video was actually about Ayu herself. The whole real me/stage me thing or some such. Obviously if that was so they picked a really bad way of showing it, and it is incredibly awkward, but I do think it was meant to be positive. I wondered if it’s supposed to be more about the guy (with or without it being about Ayu), as in ‘these silly people who don’t like you for who you are, how easily fooled they are, joke’s on them’. The guy is definitely portrayed in a bad light.
The fact it was uploaded as a short version first, with that fact included in the title from the start, shows that they had it all planned – they knew what was posted was cringe-worthy, and they wanted us all to think on it, to be shocked by it. And yes, maybe also drawn to talk about it for free advertisement (which is very sad, I have to say, given how they left it). Almost all her videos have meanings and I don’t think this is an exception – they just obviously didn’t think any further than what their own reactions were. They needed to show it to a fair few people before making it public. It’s good they’re making a new one.
I expect the changing of both songs’ music videos is because they want to wipe the slate clean and start again. If there is a positive meaning in the video, then that everyone took it badly must not feel good, and is of course not good publicity.
Thanks for the comment! I just want to add that if the girl is supposed to be a form of Ayu herself, or if the video is focused mainly on how negative the guy is for judging her without knowing her, I think it still fails by not showing us anything about the girl apart from her desire to lose weight/exercise. We literally learn nothing about this girl, which forces the viewer to judge her as well. The few snippets we see aside from the running sequences are supposed to be “funny” when they’re really just mean-spirited (i.e., eating a chicken leg while running, falling on a treadmill). In this way, we never learn anything about her outside of a) exercising, b) crush on a guy. The guy only appears for a few seconds, and all we really get from him is some facial expressions. If it was meant to be ironic, or meant to have the viewer examine preconceived notions, then I think it failed in every way, from how the girl is portrayed to the viewer, to how she is literally filmed by the camera.