This week, Ayumi Hamasaki is celebrating 25 years since her major label debut single, “poker face.” In those 25 years, Ayumi has released 18 original studio albums amid a plethora of singles, EPs, and remixes on mini-CD, CD, USB, vinyl record, PLAYBUTTON, and streaming. She has been featured on numerous magazines covers, hosted her own talk show, toured extensively throughout Japan and Asia, released a line of clothing, posed for high-concept photo books, collaborated with Hello Kitty, explored the repercussions of fame and celebrity in several music videos, and even fit in some time to sight-see and meet with fans in far-flung places around the world.
There is no way anyone could do Ayumi’s career justice in the space of one article, but there is one important idea that stuck out to me during this anniversary celebration: without the hard work of passionate fans and enthusiasts who spend countless hours transliterating lyrics, translating interviews, uploading videos, cross-posting news, and sharing trivia, many of us outside of Japan would never have gotten to know and love a phenomenal artist and entertainer like Ayumi Hamasaki. These unsung heroes do what they do out of sheer love and for fellow fans, often for free on their own time, and they deserve all of our gratitude and recognition.
There have been many prominent fans that I can remember during my time as an Ayu fan — everybody from HCE who used to run the Hamasaki Republic web site and forums, to the twitter/tumblr account of ayu-vogue.net who has been hard at work sharing essential updates for as long as I can remember. One of the most important figures that has stood out to me and many of you in the Ayumi Hamasaki fandom community is Delirium Zer0.
I first got to know Zer0 through her thoughtful posts on the Ayumi Hamasaki Sekai forums many, many years ago, as well as through the translations and other articles that she wrote about Ayu on her own web site. She was also co-host, along with Loki, Jaylee, and Erin, of the highly entertaining podcast Gaijin Kanpai, which is where I first got the chance to speak with her about the overseas J-pop community. I contacted Zer0 in the hopes of doing something really special for Ayumi’s 25th anniversary: picking her brain on as much of Ayu’s career that one could possibly squeeze into anything less than book-length (I could have easily asked another thirty — or hundred — questions!), as well as discussing how the Ayu fandom, especially on the Internet, has changed since its inception. From shrines and web rings, to Panasonic commercials, minuscule liner notes of a CD booklet to alternate vocal takes, Zer0 is an absolute expert on everything Ayu, and I was floored with how extremely generous with her time and knowledge she was. We talked about everything from favorite albums and concert tours, to how Tetsuya Komuro has contributed to Ayu’s soundscape, to some of the really cool and rare pieces in her Ayu collection. I hope you all enjoy reading this as much as I did — I promise you will walk away learning something new and really cool here.
This year, let’s celebrate both 25 years of Ayu’s amazing career, as well as the creators and curators, YouTubers and bloggers, forum-lurkers, digital archivists, present and future friends, and everyone in between, who make experiencing our passions together so fun and leave behind valuable artifacts for everyone researching and seeking information to come.
Once again, a big thank you to Zer0 for everything that she has contributed to the fan community over the years and taking the time to share her thoughts on everything Ayu! Without further ado, let’s take a look back at 25 years of music and fandom. (My words appear in bold.)
appears: A lot of readers will recognize you from your work with the podcast Gaijin Kanpai and/or related work covering all manner of J-pop and J-rock history. I certainly remember you first as a presence on the AHS (Ayumi Hamasaki Sekai) Forums from decades ago, as a prolific poster and contributor. I also remember several web sites you created that covered song-by-song lyric translations and analyses of Ayumi’s work. But for those just getting to know you, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself, and when and how you first got into Japanese pop music?
Zer0: Well, the name on my birth certificate is “Lauren,” but online I’ve been called “Delirium Zer0” or some variation of it since I was about 15, and it feels more like my actual name! Most folks online call me Zero, but in the Ayu fandom y’all have always latched on to Deli! :D I’ve also done some lengthy question-answering about J-music on Reddit under the username zer0buscus, and occasionally I’ll dip into Quora to answer something about J-pop history or the J-pop industry. I’m active on twitter as @deliriumzer0, where I’ve exchanged messages with J-pop producers and critics with increasing frequency, which is fun!
I first joined the Ayu fandom as a member of the Ayudesign forum because I wanted to help Kurayami, the webmaster, with a new design he was working on for the splash page at the time. I think my next big Ayu web presence then was ClubAYU.com, where I helped Censations with the graphics and later posted news full-time when his own interest waned a bit. My first major project, though, was working on the database at ayu-mi-x.com with Yaten. The scans we did for that site still circulate the web even now, 20 years later, which is wild to me.
My interest in J-music culminated gradually over many, MANY years, probably starting with the music from the first two Sonic the Hedgehog games. My sister and I would harmonize along to Masato Nakamura’s melodies, making up stupid lyrics, not realizing the guy had a whole band on the other side of the planet! The ending theme for Sonic 2 was a particular favorite of mine, so imagine my delight when I learned it was a proper SONG on one of Dreams Come True’s albums! Anyway, between those early 90s gaming days and spring 2000, I’d slowly learned that I really liked non-English music (thank you Anggun and Faye Wong), and that Japanese melodies in particular seemed to hit me with ALL the feels.
How did you get into Ayumi Hamasaki’s music, and how long have you been a fan? Is there something specific about her or her music that drew you in?
My sister was on this old website called Scour that did exactly what its name implied, it was a search engine just for binary files that were available on any publicly-accessible http servers. A lot of people in 2000 still just uploaded things to the web, not bothering to create actual sites or pages, just to share and store files, if they had the web space and bandwidth available to do so. This site would let you search the metadata of music and video files really easily. Anyway, she was searching for MP3s by entirely different artists who were a bit obscure and hard to find music by, like Coco Lee and Milla Jovovich (whose debut album is surprisingly wonderful, by the way). She came across something called “track07.mp3” and gave it a download to see what it was, but didn’t recognize it. The id3 tag said it was a song called “TO BE” by Ayumi Hamasaki. We were both completely addicted. The melody was lovely, her voice was so cute, and looking up photos and lyric translations, she pulled me in so much! We found some websites that distributed new J-pop releases and I ended up hearing “vogue,” “Far away,” and some of the remixes on ayu-mi-x II as well as a few more tracks from LOVEppears. It was really the fact that ONE artist did “TO BE,” “Far away,” “monochrome,” and HΛL’s mix of “vogue” that made me go “Okay, this person is versatile as heck and there are NO misses here. I’m officially a fan. This is my life now.”
Do you remember the first song/album that you heard? What about the first CD that you ever purchased?
First song was detailed above. The first CDs I owned were all gifts I got for Christmas in late 2000: AUDIENCE and ayu-mi-x II version Acoustic Orchestra. LOVEppears sadly arrived a bit too late for Christmas morning, but it was in the same order apparently, it was just back-ordered a bit. The particular shine and gloss on the AUDIENCE disc, and the clear silvery-blue feeling of the LOVEppears packaging are things I will not soon forget. (Not to mention, “immature” and “too late” sounded different than I’d remembered because I’d only heard the single versions without realizing it, and they were so much better here!) In spring 2001 I finally bought some Ayu items with my own money, and I don’t remember everything in the order but I do know it included Far away, SEASONS, and the VCD of A Clips. And then Endless sorrow was the first new release I bought as soon as it came out.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the fandom, or where can people find the work that you are most proud of?
Honestly I think most of the work that’s still findable right now is some of the ayu-mi-x scans being reposted on the Music Pixels blog, and I also wrote a lot of the text on the VERY out-of-date Ayumi Hamasaki wiki at ayumihamasaki.fandom.com. Luckily I still have a lot of my translations and writing handy, and I’ve been doing a ton of scanning! I’ve been trying to find time to relaunch my own Ayu site, so stay tuned for that — everything I’ve done that I’m proud of, I wanna get it all available there in one place.
Is there any aspect of Ayu’s career that you feel you geek out over the most?
There is not just one thing, I go through phases. Sometimes it’s about the music, and I pick apart the mixing or arrangement choices in her songs. Sometimes I revisit mine and other people’s lyrics translations because I’ll realize I know the PERFECT way to translate something complicated in her lyrics. Sometimes it’s all about her visuals and fonts and cover art, or maybe it’s her costumes and fashion. Other times it’s about her career history and old versions of fan sites, her official site, and the history of her fan club. Sometimes I have moments where I want as much detail about her pre-avex career as possible. Sometimes I obsess over concert merchandise, or extremely limited giveaway items from CM campaigns, or exactly how to obtain rare releases, or what was a TeamAyu bonus… The great thing about Ayu is that there’s so much to her career that when one part of it loses its luster, there’s always something else to care about that you never thought of before!
A lot of Ayumi fans have amazing collections that consist of any and everything from box sets, to vinyl records, to concert goods like T-shirts, key chains, ayupan figurines, etc. What item(s) in your collection do you love the most?
There are so many! For one thing, Ayu simply has some really great merch. Honestly the camo storage box she sold during one of the TROUBLE tours is awesome, for example. As an adult I’ve come to love practical merch like that rather than T-shirts and posters. I don’t have enough wall or drawer space for any more posters and T-shirts, but give me home organizational goods ALL DAY. Storage boxes, cord wraps, phone stands, binders, pencil cases. And I love the hand dust mop with Papiko on it SO MUCH. I do actually use it, which… is not great for preservation, but I took photos so it’s fine. XD
And I really like that she gave us socks! I WANT MORE AYU SOCKS! lol
Some stuff I’m just proud I got a good deal on, like the “poker face” promo flyer I got for $10 when it was going for more than a hundred usually (thanks to the seller for putting a typo in the auction name, lol).
Other stuff was really hard to get at the time, like when I got my A MODEL phone you still couldn’t send batteries from Japan through the mail, so there’s no battery in it. Now, of course, you CAN send a battery, so it’s a bit frustrating to have an A MODEL I can’t turn on, but I was really proud I got it. Also, the person who sold it included a tabletop display for the phone (which typically held a non-functioning mock-up phone), which sometimes pops up on its own for auction, but it’s not usually cheap! So getting it as a freebie was really nice.
One item I just love for my own reasons is the pair of 20th anniversary Converse sneakers. Ayu has yet to release any shoes that I actually think look good (I never got the FTL Vans, and I only minorly regret that), but the Converse ones at least have my beloved leopard print. And they were not easy to find, either!
What item has the most sentimental value for you?
What’s funny is the two most sentimental items for me are both NOT official merch! One is my ARENA TOUR 2009 pink dress ayupan figure. Since it wasn’t genuine, I let my kid play with it when they were little, and one day they were a bit overzealous with it and the head came off. It’s been super glued back on since, and my kid was much gentler with it lol.
The other is a camo T-shirt I bought from an army surplus store and painted a big white “A” logo on it. I wore it to Anime Expo 2002, doing a “UNITE” cosplay. Puffy Amiyumi were at the con and when I met them their handler ID’d the cosplay and looked delighted that I knew who Ayu was (as most Japanese people probably would have in 2002, tbh). Socially awkward wreck that I am, I nervously insisted I loved Puffy too! XD (Fun fact: I sang a Do As Infinity song in the first round of the karaoke contest that year and did not proceed to round 2. The eventual contest winner, who ALSO sang Do As Infinity in round 1, went on to get a contract and was known as HIMEKA. I was bitter for years. XD)
What item in your collection is the most rare, or that you think most people would be surprised to see or even know exists?
I feel like maybe the most rare thing is probably the Tu-Ka nail set, which there were 500 of. (There’s a phone holster from the same campaign that’s on its way to me as I type this.) It’s packed in an absolutely lovely case that I’ve always found unique.
One thing that might be really rare is the black lanyard with Ayu’s name in pink Helvetica bold font, which I think might be a promo item for the A Song for XX release, but I’m honestly still not sure.
I got a really good deal on a set of Ayu vinyls once, and it included the “WHATEVER -version M-” vinyl, which is a rare one.
And I don’t know how rare the “WHATEVER” single poster is, but I do know posters for Ayu’s 8cm singles tend to go for a LOT of money and not come up very often, so that’s another thing I’m really proud of having.
I think there are a lot of things that fans might not know exist.
What is a “Holy Grail” item missing from your collection that you would love to have? Any that you regret passing up?
In 2002, if you bought STADIUM TOUR 2002 merch from the official avex Rakuten store, you had a chance to win a flag from the STADIUM TOUR stage. Only one person could win it. Someone did win it, and that winner apparently gave it to a friend of theirs, and that friend put it up on Mercari for about $1500 awhile back. I couldn’t afford that so I passed it up, and the listing went away. But then… it came back, the price slightly lowered. And then I saw it go away and come back AGAIN. And I am not even kidding, as I type this, that flag is on Mercari Japan for about a thousand bucks. I am WRESTLING with it. I want it SO BADLY. But I really don’t think I can swing that price! XD
Ayumi has graced the cover of dozens upon dozens of magazines. Do you have any magazine covers/photo shoots that are your favorite?
I will say though, the GIRLPOP July 2000 shoot, where she’s wearing the same outfit in two different colors and the ayu in black is holding a book and the ayu in pink looks like she’s in a storybook, and on the cover she’s holding eyeglasses with the wallpaper pattern behind her on the lenses… I adore that shoot. It’s just so symbolic and the storytelling is really good. Photos from that shoot were sort of EVERYWHERE at the time, too, so it’s really iconic and nostalgic for me.
Ayumi has now released 18 original studio albums next to dozens and dozens of singles, EPs, remix albums, and greatest hits collections. She was recently named the female artist with the most albums in the Top Ten of the Oricon Chart at 54. Which albums, remix albums included, are in your top five?
5. Rock’n’Roll Circus
1. I am…
This was surprisingly easy. Although 3, 2, and 1 do shift around quite a bit, 4 and 5 are pretty steady for me.
I think we can acknowledge that any career as long as Ayu’s will inevitably have setbacks and missteps. Which albums, including remix albums, are in your bottom five, or the ones that you re-listen to/reach for the least, and why?
- 1. LOVE again. This is a pretty easy least favorite album for me. Primarily because of the ballads. It’s not that I’m anti-ballad, but I am very picky about ballads, and some of the ones here are the most stock, derivative ones in her discography, and I do often confuse a lot of the slow tracks here with others across her discography. Also I’m STILL bitter about how many tracks came over from the LOVE and again singles (which I will always call singles because avex marketing them as mini-albums was a bold-faced lie).
- 2. TROUBLE. Mostly just because “W” is the only track I’m ever in the mood to return to. “The way I am” is pretty good but tbh the acapella version from LINE LIVE spoiled me, it was really impressive and I almost never listen to the CD version! XD “aeternal” is slowly growing on me but it certainly didn’t wow me, and “We are the QUEENS” is really only good for the novelty value (I cannot separate it from the very fun but very ridiculous Clash of Queens campaign! lol). I know I’ll get things thrown at me for how “WORDS” does nothing for me, but-
- 3. LOVE Classics. Oh dear. What a clever concept, but only 2 or 3 of the tracks really felt like good matches with their classical pieces. Honestly just so disappointing after A Classical was kind of weak and I was hoping this would step things up a bit.
- 4. A Classical. It’s not that this one is bad, far from it, but the track list was the same set of tracks we’d already been getting Acoustic Orchestra and strings-focused live versions of for ages, so it contributed very little. I do have a few tracks I listen to occasionally, but not very many. (As I recall, Ayu used “favorite song” fan votes for the track list for this, but we didn’t realize what we were voting for so I don’t think it was really fair. XD)
- 5. ayu-mi-x 7 presents ayu-ro mix 4. By ayu-ro mix 3 the SUPER EUROBEAT tracks were starting to lose their teeth (that “Voyage” remix was… inexcusable), so I wasn’t really shocked when this album, outside of 1 or 2 tracks, was a demonstrable weakening of the Eurobeat spirit that made the genre so fun in the early 2000s. It’s like SEB was trying so hard to be inoffensive here, it falls really flat. Not to mention the re-remixing of tracks that already got the Eurobeat treatment. Why is this “Boys & Girls” remix even here??? Why would you revisit a track that was done so much better (TWICE!) 11 years earlier? And there was a one-off “INSPIRE” remix released on a random compilation years earlier that was MUCH better than the one here. And why, on the “Startin'” remix, is there almost NO BASS compared to the rest of the album?!?! (The “Sunrise” remix is pretty great though, honestly, like that’s not a song I’m crazy about but this remix is nice and eurobeaty and I do like it.)
In Ayu’s long career she has cycled through several looks and styles, both in her physical appearance and in her music. What is your favorite Ayu “era” and why?
2001, 2001, 2001. I wasn’t a fan of the A BEST-era hair, admittedly, but being a fan that year was so amazing that I don’t even care. It was the year of Ayu Hype, honestly, probably for all of us:
- The relaunch of the Ayumi Hamasaki Online Fanclub into “TeamAyu” was officially complete, and we started getting the TA magazine.
- All Ayu’s awards, whether for fashion or music or being Barbie in human form lol.
- The I am… singles era felt like it really officially kicked off with the hype for “evolution,” which started when she sang it at CDL and then we endured the long month of waiting for the CD to come out.
- “UNITE!” got announced with a few very different remix names (which seem to have been the remixes’ original names, based on the promo cassette that’s out there), and the remixes all use a different vocal track from the final song, which I STILL find fascinating even now 22 years later. [Editor’s Note: What?? I never noticed know this!]
- That year the internet reached a point where file sharing was particularly easy so sharing files for hype was more common and much easier than in 1999 or 2000, and there was more international overlap and more industry insiders sharing early MP3s so we were getting more news, info, and early-leaked MP3s than we had in the past. (Anyone remember Audiogalaxy? Or when Myspace was a file storage locker rather than a social media site?? Ah, nostalgia!)
- VCD-quality MPG files were easier to come across so I was seeing more Ayu videos than I’d ever been able to before (like one fan site just had all of “A Film for XX” up for download. AMAZING).
- Big name Ayu fans were starting to become a thing thanks to folks sharing files and screenshots and videos and news.
- ALL THE DOME TOUR HYPE, omg we spent all year waiting for the proper home video release based on the photos and news reports and stuff.
- I will never forget the sheer NUMBER of New Album rumors that started to appear as early as July.
- Ayu’s fashion at the time was just accessible enough to be absolutely iconic. Whether it was the leopard stuff still carrying over from Duty, or the camo seen in DOME TOUR, or the nail art in EVERYTHING she was doing, or the clusters of pin-badges on one side of her shirts seen in magazines, she was doing stuff we could copy or be inspired by WAY more easily than a lot of the simpler high-fashion or expensive streetwear she’s been wearing over the last while. (I was able to just BUY the rhinestoned bandanas she wore in the “Dearest” video. They were just there at Hot Topic. Right at the mall. For normal people.)
- OH and the mock-Vuitton pattern seen on the re-issued singles. So cool, I’m so glad she’s been using it again haha.
- OH WAIT the re-issue singles! We finally got some of the remixes from the ayu-mi-x box set on CD thanks to those, that was a big deal!
- Oh and all the CM campaigns! So many of her CM eras were active for all or part of 2001, from Morinaga Hi-Chew to Takanoyuri Beauty Clinic to Tu-Ka to Kose Visee to Kirin Supli, and at the very end of the year we got the beginning of her legendary run with Panasonic.
So yeah this was a big year. Granted, it was my first FULL year as an Ayu fan, so I may be biased. But honestly if I could relive those days, I absolutely would. (If only to save some of the files that were shared since they’re quite possibly lost now, d’oh!)
Ayumi is well-known and rightly acknowledged for the honesty and sincerity of her lyrics. Do you have any favorite Ayu lyrics?
So many. SO, SO MANY. It’s very hard for me to pick, so what I’ll do here is talk about the lyrics on Party Queen.
I’m really, really sad that the album had so many crappy mixing and production choices, and they were bad (and Timmy’s English rap bits in “NaNaNa” are… very not good lyrically, but we’ll brush that aside for now). The stuff wrong with that album really distracted from how amazing Ayu’s lyrics are, and I think the album’s poor reception made Ayu shy away from quite such personal songwriting for a long time afterward. Party Queen felt like one of the most honest albums she’d written in ages, addressing past trauma, isolation, poor self-image, support from friends and a lack thereof, taking on too much herself, and of course divorce and worrying she’d be alone forever. The root cause of a lot of what she wrote about here was her fame, though, and in 2012 I think we weren’t at a place where we wanted to fully humanize famous people yet (there was still a lot of sarcasm about “Oh you’re so famous, your life is so hard, let me play a dirge for you on the world’s tiniest violin” going on). I think the album might have been better received if it were released now, now that literally anyone is able to become publicly known via social media, and Ayu’s statements about separation between the person and the product are a bit more relatable. But even then, the mixing and production REALLY is terrible here (and I’m sad we didn’t get any vocal tracks from this album for #ayumix2020, I’d have looovvved to hear new arrangements for basically the entire album), so even with better release timing and a more understanding culture it probably wouldn’t have ever gone down in history as one of Ayu’s best. But with these lyrics, it deserved so much better than it got.
Let’s talk about some of the more technical aspects of her music. Ayumi has teamed up with a number of producers and writers throughout her career. She has also retained a loyal working relationship with many composers and arrangers, such as Yuta Nakano, Kazuhito Kikuchi, and Dai Nagao (DAI). Do you have any favorites among her team?
Kazuhito Kikuchi and DAI are absolutely my favorites among her composers, but also Ayu herself was a much better composer than she realized. I think she did the sort of rule-breaking as CREA that only songwriting beginners can really do. She felt her way through those, and you can tell, and it WORKED. I’m really sad we didn’t get more from her later.
I will always be obsessed with the arrangements we got from 1999-2003 era HΛL (and the sound Yuta Nakano dabbled in after joining the group, apparently stealing their secrets, and moving on XD). It was really nice to hear that sound come back a bit on “23rd Monster“! You can tell that one was produced by 2 former HΛL members, haha. (It was really nice to hear that return to form too, since their contributions to the TROUBLE EP did very little for me.) It’s funny to think that HΛL’s first work with Ayu was like… almost 100% plagiarized, lol. But hey, whatever gets your foot in the door I guess! 😛
And Shingo Kobayashi was an absolute master of ballad arrangement. “teddy bear” hurts me every time I hear it, and “JEWEL” is unequivocally one of the best love songs I’ve ever heard. Also, he turned the already-great “A Song for XX” into the emotional powerhouse rock ballad we got on A BALLADS. He really knew how to bring out the best in those songs. His passing was an absolutely massive loss.
Ayu has dabbled in dozens of genres throughout her career, from pop to rock, to metal, to R&B. Do you have a favorite? Any that you think suit her best?
Rock-with-synth Ayu will always be what owns my soul the most. I do think that’s what she does best, her vocal style is rock-expressive but with a synth-pop timbre to it, so to me that’s always been her strength. I don’t think she has the vocal chops for a lot of the sweeping pop ballads she’s done, although some of them have surprised me (“The GIFT” in particular). I do think she’s reasonably solid on the dancey stuff, but I definitely prefer her sad bops and the “searching desperately for hope” type uptempo tracks over the happy-scrappy “summertime with friends” stuff that she seems so fond of. I’m probably always gonna enjoy an “is this LOVE?” or “Last minute” more than a “Summer again” or “BLUE BIRD” regardless of the strength or weakness of the composition.
Ayu’s use of R&B was never one of my favorite things given her lack of an R&B voice, but it’s grown on me as I’ve realized how often she specifically employs it for particularly sad songs. It’s just not executed as well as it deserves to be. I’d love to hear a remix of “Secret,” for instance, because its instrumentation is, imo, too slick and shiny for how beautifully raw and tired her voice sounds.
I was pretty surprised that it took so long for Ayu to work with Tetsuya Komuro, whom she began teaming up with around 2010, and whom she has since stayed with. How do you feel about the way he, as a sort of representative of the avex trax sound, has contributed to Ayu’s soundscape over the last decade? Do you think he’s brought something unique, or new, to her music, or would you have preferred that he hadn’t gotten involved?
Uuuugggghhhhh I was gonna mention him earlier but it didn’t really fit in with any other answers, so I’m glad you asked this question.
First of all, to get it out of the way, I think Tetsuya Komuro is a garbage person and I would never personally work with him. Ayu remaining friends with garbage people is disappointing to me, but I don’t judge Ayu for trying to create the best product she can, blah blah blah okay that’s done. lol
So I actually find TK’s involvement in Ayu’s sound these days very ironic! One of the things that made Ayu stand out was her departure from the TK-inspired standard J-pop sound of the 90s. Her production style, the pitch correction keeping her on key (starting with LOVEppears), the raw and honest lyrics touching on isolation and depression, the more Western influence on the studio technology while maintaining the emotionally resonant Japanese types of melodies… all that stuff really shifted the J-pop industry in the early 2000s (I maintain that Ayu and Utada Hikaru represented a genuine slightly-Western shift in the industry that made J-pop really, REALLY good, but still unique compared to Western pop, for a solid 5 years, until it over-Westernized a bit).
TK being brought in for the Love songs era felt really disappointing at the time because to me the whole point of Ayu was sort of this rebellion against TK’s sound, you know? But! Color me shocked, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the final result… some of the arrangements were messy, and the album took time to grow on me, but the compositions of his songs were legitimately very good and honestly didn’t sound too much like his past work. They felt like a real evolution of his sound while still maintaining some of the character that made 90s J-pop such a huge moneymaker. “Love song” is an absolutely incredible piece of work, sadly it’s probably the best song on the album, but it is truly one of the great ones Ayu has given us.
On the other hand, “You & Me” is hot garbage! My child was able to come up with that melody on a cheap keyboard at age 6 (and no my child is not a musical prodigy at all, they don’t even listen to all that much music really). There is zero sophistication here, which makes the BPM change feel clumsy rather than elegant. (Also, not TK’s fault, but very tacky lyrics, and tasuku’s arrangement strengths are… not this). Among Ayu’s happy-scrappy summer songs that I dislike, I dislike this one the most.
By the time he returned for his contributions to A ONE, we were far enough removed in time for TK and Ayu to be sort of grouped together into the same era, and those of us with nostalgia for TK probably also have nostalgia for Ayu’s peak years, so this time around I feel like we got proper synergy. “NO FUTURE” is one of my favorite TK compositions of all time. It’s ringing in my head as I type this and I have zero complaints. I love the buildup and release of tension all through it, the crescendos and decrescendos are perfectly timed, it is a ROLLERCOASTER. Ayu’s voice really has to reach in this one and she delivers, it’s got almost a showtune-esque theatricality to it, and I like the “Well, eff you then!” sound it ends up having when paired with the lyrics. Which are definitely about Max.
“Dreamed a dream” is just so, so good. It was the song I’d been waiting for Ayu to make since M(A)DE IN JAPAN. MIJ really felt like a return to form for her after several albums that just weren’t quite there for me, so TROUBLE was really upsetting tbh. And then TK gives us this GIFT! Honestly I was so happy with it. Being that it was a TK song released after his “retirement” (which lasted all of 5 seconds, a disappointment to me at the time), I really didn’t want to like it. I was so ready to hate it. But dammit, IT IS SO GOOD.
And then “MASK” felt like an old globe song in the best way possible. (Honestly before TK turned out to be a piece of crap I imagined in my head a reformation of “globe” with Ayu on vocals and SKY-HI doing the raps, wouldn’t that have been totally sweet??? *sigh* ah well.) [Editor’s Note: I would love to hear what a collab like this would sound like!]
Long story short, I think he genuinely does contribute a lot – even if I don’t always love it, you can’t deny he’s given Ayu way more hits than misses and the hits are MAJOR. He’s demonstrably helping breathe life back into Ayu’s career in a way that I find very very frustrating given my dislike of him as a person. (A belated congrats to KEIKO on the divorce cuz like seriously fuck that guy lol.)
For a while, Ayu wrote her own music under the pseudonym CREA. What are your favorite Ayu-composed songs? Do you feel that her taking a step back from writing has had an overall negative, positive, or neutral impact on her continuing career?
“M” is, and always will be, one of the best songs in Ayu’s discography. The departure from verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure, the gradual buildup to a climax and then denouement at the end, the powerful melody, Ayu’s ownership of the song’s message, and the overall feeling like she started with lyrics and then built the song she wanted around them all make it such a strong piece of music. Perhaps it was beginner’s luck, perhaps it was the fit of inspiration she sounds like she had, I don’t know. But it is my favorite. [Editor’s Note: I think “M” is a perfect song and I every time I listen to it, I marvel both at how well it has and continues to age, and just how powerful and amazing it is. It defies logical belief that this is the first song Ayu ever wrote.]
“Will” with DAI is so freaking good though and I feel like she still had more to offer, but I don’t think she was nearly as confident in her composition skills as she deserved to be. I was looking forward to more. But I think that’s the last CREA composition we’ll ever get, unless she goes back to the CREA demos written in the past. (And we do know at least one does exist, so who knows?)
I think she’s done, since if she were to start composing anew again, she probably wouldn’t be as good anymore, given her lack of formal composition training. Her compositions felt like she was feeling her way through those, and doing that requires listening to, and making, a LOT of music. Pop music is on some levels a language, and like any language, you can definitely learn it through immersion, but when you stop using it before you become fully fluent you lose it over time. I think given her hearing she may not be able to get that immersion as easily anymore (and she’s said she doesn’t listen to much music anymore, which is fair). I do think her music quality has been lower overall since she stopped composing, but I’m not sure if there’s a correlation there really. Too many variables!
Ayumi has teamed up with a couple of surprising one-offs throughout her career, like Noriyuki Makihara. Personally, I would have loved to see her team-up with more women songwriters. What are, or have been, some of your dream collaborations?
MIYUKI NAKAJIMA! *sobs dramatically* Oh my god if Ayu sang something written by Miyuki Nakajima I would LOSE MY MIND it would be SO GOOD AAAAAAHHHH
Also it’s not a composition collaboration but I always thought BT’s style of pop/EDM production during his Movement in Still Life/Emotional Technology era would have been such an amazing fit for Ayu at the time. Hearing him do Ayu remixes would have been incredible.
Ayu’s vocal technique has changed many times over the last 25 years. When did Ayu’s ever-evolving vocals hit your sweet spot?
I feel like Duty is a cop-out answer here because that was the first album where I experienced the full release cycle, but that to me is like… the quintessential Ayu Voice, and I tend to compare the rest of her career to it, so. I’ll go with that. She did sound really good on Colours but I don’t actively enjoy listening to it as much.
Do you have any producers or DJs that have remixed her songs over the last 25 years that stick out to you, or are a personal favorite?
I have a soft spot for Seiki Sato’s “nicely nice” remixes, particularly those for “M” and “Endless sorrow.”
HΛL’s mixes were always consistently awesome. Newer fans will never understand how much the entire Ayu fandom loved when HΛL remixed anything! lol [Editor’s Note: Yes!]
I really enjoy the noisy organized chaos of D-Z mixes. Their remixes of “monochrome” and “SEASONS” were particularly great.
The history of Ayu’s discography is also a micro-history of avex trax. Do you think Ayumi stands as a good representation of the record label and its sound, or do you think she’s more of an outlier?
She’s definitely an outlier in a lot of ways, but the parallels are too strong because avex tied their success and failure to her way too tightly.
Ayu was always more into rock, R&B, and acoustic-type music personally, but Max’s love of dance music made dance-pop music the primary focus of the label as a whole, and TK being a major player at avex (with Namie, globe, hitomi, and some other TK family artists) helped drive that. So Ayu ended up becoming really well known for multiple genres of dance music, which I’d imagine she wasn’t entirely happy about at first, but she’s taken it in stride and had fun with it. So there’s that.
But it makes sense that avex would drag Ayu onto the dance train. I mean, the label had a really strong brand in the early 2000s. Like if I tell you to picture the avex blue color in your head, you know what color I mean. That little yellow-haired mascot, and the blue a-nation teddy bear, the old blocky crazy font, all that stuff is really stuck in my mind as part of “avex” back then. The company sort of had this “small business” feeling to it, where they felt accessible. They held auditions that were publicly known, and their website always had a surplus of information about new artists and releases, and when a group or artist caught on they gave the people what they wanted because they didn’t feel as disconnected from the public as they would later. The people liked Ayu, and avex knew it, so if avex was doing a thing, you knew Ayu would be there somewhere, whether it was an issue of Beatfreak magazine, an episode of Channel A, or a summer music festival. avex felt accessible, and she was relatable, and they helped each other in that way.
The problem is, she was lightning in a bottle and that’s hard to pull off twice. In 2001 when the industry was panicking over Ayu dating Tomoya Nagase (“what if she gets married and retires?!”), there was a lot of buzz about avex searching for a “second Ayu” — although they also talked about pivoting more to K-Pop given the success of BoA, S.E.S., and H.O.T. at the time. In the midst of that panic a few artists showed up and were given Ayu-esque styling to try and recapture the magic, like Hiroko Anzai (whose initials probably put dollar signs in their eyes) and HΛLNA (who captured even Ayu fans’ hearts and wallets given the production being HΛL so it actually sounded good), but Ayu didn’t end up getting married and retiring so avex’s panic subsided.
I think this led them into a false sense of security though. They learned not to put ALL their eggs in the Ayu basket, but they hung onto Ayu too long and lost touch with the Japanese public in a pretty major way. Despite Max threatening to leave if avex branched out beyond music too much, avex did indeed branch out (I think avex group has more anime companies than music companies now… including a healthcare one, which… what?), and they went from relevant to irrelevant despite financial growth right alongside Ayu, to be honest.
Even just on the music side of things, Avex would experiment with things like streaming services, weird proprietary digital album formats, etc. and Ayu was often the guinea pig for it all because avex trusted we’d spend the money even if it was a gamble that didn’t pay off for us. (Do anyone’s PLAYBUTTONs work anymore? [Editor’s Note: I only have one of these and never actually opened it.]) Meanwhile, other record labels and services are actually paying attention to consumer demand and giving the public true globally accessible experiences, better services, and music formats people actually want rather than whatever “new” format Max was convinced was “the future,” probably thanks to some really crafty salespeople. So we end up with Ayu having all these releases on very short-lived formats like the SACD CAROLS single and the DVD-Audio of RAINBOW and MY STORY (and the DVD-Audio version of A BEST getting cancelled) and the Blu-spec version of FIVE and the USB version of NEXT LEVEL and the PlugAir single for XOXO and M(A)DE IN JAPAN getting its AWA release first because oh surely AWA will catch on and overtake Spotify, right? (You’re a freaking DANCE MUSIC label. Vinyl is RIGHT THERE. I can have Daichi Miura’s best-of on vinyl but y’all won’t put A COMPLETE on vinyl okay I see how it is this is an attack on me)
Anyway. avex now seem to get the most success from nostalgia, but it’s not enough success because it’s poorly executed. And, unsurprisingly, the same mostly seems to go for Ayu.
One of my favorite things about Ayu is that she’s always been an original thinker, trendsetter, and icon who always stays true to herself, whether or not someone is along for the ride. One well-known moment was her clipped dismissal of trendy K-pop music at a press conference. Do you think her continued adherence to her mostly signature musical style over the years has hindered or helped her career?
I mean that depends on your definition of career success, doesn’t it? Her style still varies enough that there are a lot of old fans still listening (Hi everyone!), and I know at least I haven’t gotten bored yet (well, some ballads… lol). I think her musical style has very little to do with her financial success these days, so I’m not sure it’s had any effect at all on that measure of success. But being true to herself does seem to have kept her happier. I think dismissing the pressures of the rest of the industry is really risky if you’re trying to be the most popular artist out there, but if you’re just trying to express yourself then it’s probably for the best.
Are there any moments in her discography that you think were judged unfairly, or that you think deserve better recognition/appreciation?
See rant on Party Queen above XD
Ayu is known for surrounding her working life with close friends, particularly for live shows, such as the two back-up singers, PECO Hamada and Yoko “Princess” Yamazaki, as well as Timothy Wellard. Why do you think they have been such polarizing figures in the fandom?
I feel like this is a question that answers itself, lol. When you work with people you know, you’re not necessarily working with the best people for the job. Ayu’s loyalty to her friends is amazing, but let’s face it, PECO’s voice was never a good match for Ayu’s voice, it’s too warm. (Forgive my synesthesia, but PECO’s voice has a matte finish and Ayu’s voice has a glossy finish. That’s the best way I can think to describe it.) I love PECO as a choreographer — her choreography era gave us the “Trauma” dance and the simple-but-notable “too late” dance that we saw again at the 24th Anniversary concert, and then once she was a background singer instead, we got the dramatic flailing era which still. Hasn’t. Ended. — But she wasn’t a good fit for Ayu vocally at all. Because of that, it was easy for me to find everything she did annoying. (Princess is a little bit better of a fit, but not much. But some of the new backup singers are much better!)
Similarly, Timmy was brought on for one thing — his songwriting — and became a concert backup vocalist. And since his style, like PECO’s, was always very big and ostentatious, it felt a bit like he was encroaching on Ayu’s territory as the star of the show (although this is 100% something Ayu enabled for a very long time. If you pause a DVD of almost any of Ayu’s shows from like 2006 to 2018, chances are you’ll see the audience, a wide shot of the stage, or dancers, and Ayu will be out of frame or invisibly tiny. For awhile it really felt like Ayu was trying to make everyone except herself the star of the show, and fans didn’t respond well to that. Timmy was representative of that problem in a big way, I think, and I mean look at the HOTEL Love songs stage setup! Right during Timmy’s era, that was peak “Ayu isn’t the star” time!)
The other thing, too, is that Ayu had a band in the beginning. They were dudes we knew. It was a little family made of Ayu, Enrique, Yo-chan, Shingo Kobayashi, and Nobuo Eguchi and then PECO & Princess had to come along and INVADE our little FAMILY and it was a bit off-putting, lol. And as the dancers became a bigger part of the crew, we got used to them and they became a family too, but then we got different dancers and the lineup changed and that was never easy. Change is always hard. I miss the old lineup sometimes. (Don’t ever leave me, Midoringu! ;_;)
How do you think Ayu’s personal life has affected her image with fans and the public over the years, particularly the media’s portrayal of her marriages, the birth of her children, and the TV drama that portrayed her relationship with producer Max Matsuura?
Well, that Tomoya Nagase related panic in 2001 was quite the mess, wasn’t it? I mean Ayu’s never just been allowed to date, the way normal people can date. That’s the nature of fame as a woman, sadly, and in Japan it was even worse back when she was at her peak. It’s terribly unfair, but they’d always frame her as this walking disaster because of it.
I don’t think she’s necessarily any more of a walking disaster than anyone else. She’s managed to hold on to far more of her humanity than a lot of celebrities do, and tbh I think she deserves some commendation for that, but I think that there are still a lot of people who see her as perhaps flighty or emotionally-driven or weak or easily distracted by men. I think it’s not too hard to connect the dots and realize why she’s done what she’s done or why she’s felt some of the things she’s felt, so I totally understand the urge to gossip and share the mystery-solving you feel like you’ve done, sure. I don’t hold that against the public too badly, I certainly wasn’t immune to it.
I do think, however, that the onus is on us as the public to not base our own identities on the behavior of strangers. Whether you’re a big fan freaking out as soon as Ayu does anything you feel is “inconsistent” with who you thought she was, or if you’re a member of the general public who makes a hobby out of hating on celebrities for their failures. Ayu has done her best to keep Ayu and Ayumi Hamasaki as separate as possible, which wasn’t something she knew how to do early on in her career, but she’s done as much work as can be expected.
The public, to their credit, mostly seems to have chilled out. That’s almost certainly in part because Ayu simply isn’t at anything remotely close to a commercial peak anymore, sure, but it’s also because we’re 20 years older and 20 years wiser. The TV drama and book were definitely just a short “Haha, yeah, I knew it” moment for anyone who followed the tabloids in the early 2000s, and a fun bit of nostalgia for parents like myself who can pass the Legend of Ayu on to their kids. (I mean that’s a half-joke, but my kid enjoyed the drama quite a bit, haha… I gave running commentary about the industry at the time, which was fun.)
The way we treated Ayu when she was dating, married, divorced, dating, married again, divorced again… Every story was framed to put her in the most foolish and tragic light possible, and that wasn’t fair to her at all. But it’s no different than how most celebrity women are treated, is it?
Let’s talk about Ayu’s live performances. What is your favorite, overall, concert tour? Which one would you recommend to first-time watchers?
That’s probably a tie between concert tour 2000 Act 2 and ARENA TOUR 2006 ~(miss)understood~.
AT06 is one I recommend often, actually, in part because I recommend (miss)understood as an album to people a lot, and it makes sense to watch that tour afterward. But A museum is a really good first concert as well because a lot of Ayu’s tour traditions and typical costume styles got nailed down around that time, and that “A Song for XX” costume is absolutely ICONIC to me.
Do you have any favorite costumes or looks?
See above, haha 😀 I also love pretty much any time Ayu’s ever worn a leather or moto jacket. She nails the punky rock star look SO well.
What are some of your favorite, stand-out performances?
- “teddy bear/Memorial address” at ARENA TOUR 2003-2004
- “Because of you” at the 2004 MTV VMAJs
- “A Song for XX” at a-nation ’08
- “Love song” on Music Station
- “M” at ~POWER of MUSIC~ 2011
- “JEWEL” at 15th Anniversary Tour ~A BEST LIVE~
- And just in general the new version of “ourselves” she started doing in 2017 is very cool.
If you could go back in time and be in the audience of any one concert tour, which would it be and why?
I mean yeah ALL OF THEM to be sure, but probably DOME TOUR 2001, just because it seems like the kind of spectacle that the cameras couldn’t quite capture. (Although I would have loved to sneak a camera into the UC Card Limited Acoustic Live show… lol)
In regards to story or visuals, which are your favorite music videos?
In chronological order:
- 1. “WHATEVER.” I love the look of the metallic room Ayu is sitting in, and the story that plays out in the burned ruins is just heartbreaking.
- 2. “kanariya.” I feel like what’s going on is up for interpretation but I like the idea that experiments are being done to show how music affects mood, perhaps. I feel like Ayu has a lot of ideas about, well, the power of music, right? 🙂 And maybe this was the first time we saw that in her actual product. Also it’s just a cool looking video, full of Y2K-era video tropes like overlaid geometric/LCD text and TV screens and just generally being cyberpunky, and I get the warm fuzzies when I remember that era stylistically.
- 3. “vogue/Far away/SEASONS.” Wasn’t it weird that this video happened before 9/11? (Not that it could have possibly happened after). I loved its moodiness, the way they created this huge barren space on such a tiny set with matte paintings and green screens, the abstractness, the symbolism of the drawings going from black & white, to color, to reality, and then drawings of the past coming up at the end. Honestly this video did NOT have to go so hard but it did!
- 4. “Real me.” GREAT futuristic visuals (again, LOVE the Y2K-ness, haha!), love the holographic cloak thing, love the dance routine, love the not-so-subtle nod to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. In fact I used this video in a film class once and made that comparison, haha. (I got a very high A despite my presentation being too long. lol)
- 5. “ourselves.” Legitimately creepy, great environments and framing, very good editing. The video makes for such a good combination with the lyrics, too, illustrating the full picture of Ayu trying to separate the person from the product. (More fun facts! My sister makes videos and this one is her favorite Ayu video. She used it as inspiration for “No Strings Attached,” the music video she directed & edited for indie rapper Alyssa Marie.)
- 6. “STEP you.” I’m really into this muted-color art direction, aren’t I? Mostly here it’s the characters showing Ayu’s different sides. I love how well designed they are and how well Ayu acts out their personality. And then they all come together to create one complete Ayu, and I love that more and more every year, as society pressures us to create brands and only show pieces of ourselves to the world.
- 7. “alterna.” Such an EXCELLENT examination of what the pop music industry does to people, and I don’t think its message was fully appreciated, but the execution of the message was top-notch and fans certainly enjoyed that! It’s horrifying visually (the creepy bunny in the puppet show frame, the House of a Thousand Corpses clown styling, the way Machine Ayu is styled and dismembered). The way it’s edited contributes to the terror too; the extended pause as the video prepares to show you Ayu’s fate midway through? MASTERFUL execution of that. Seeing what happened really punches you in the gut. Reminds me of the original version of The Stepford Wives thematically.
- 8. “Don’t look back.” How many times has Ayu said a video had a twist that wasn’t really much of a twist? But THIS. THIS one was good, and so extremely well done! The editing, the use of the A BEST 2 photo, the metaphor of the rotting fruit, only showing one side of Ayu’s face for ages… honestly every choice was perfect.
- 9. “Last minute.” The red/black art direction of her dresses, the lamp swinging, the Ayu characters alternating point of view, and Ayu’s frantic emotional thrashing and raw facial expressions make this just a REALLY emotionally effective video. When it came out it had been some time since an Ayu video hit me that hard, and I remember being so blown away by it. I still am.
- 10. “FLOWER.” Some of my favorite Ayu video things came out here, didn’t they? First of all, single-shot. Something I love in general, honestly, but this is my favorite single-shot Ayu video. Then we get my muted, moody color palette, Ayu emotionally thrashing, and the cutting-hair-because-FEELINGS thing. God, I love this video.
OH MY GOSH I forgot “Ladies’ Night.” I don’t feel like renumbering the list but it’s in there too, lol. Oddly enough, this time I like the creepiness mixed with the sickeningly bright color palette. It works really well for contrast, and I mean that outfit is truly iconic. Look how many cosplays it got! (Although to this day I still wish I could buy a life-size “fascist dictator Ayu” tapestry.)
I really felt like her last album rollout and the anticipation for Remember you was close to the same excitement in the fan community as older albums used to have. Did you feel the same way?
Oh my goodness YES. The fandom excitement reeled me back in SO easily! It felt like a big group party again, for the first time in YEARS. I honestly don’t feel like I’ve been this hyped for an Ayu album before its release since… Love songs, maybe? It’s been wonderful to see how much everyone is enjoying this era of Ayu’s music. (Although all of us do seem to wish we were getting an old-school promotional push, but we’re suffering through that misery together, and that’s what matters! XD)
Some things I really miss from the early days of Internet fandom are the self-made fan sites, forums, and informational web sites, which have since migrated to social media sites like tumblr and Twitter. Is there anything you miss from the early days of Ayu fandom? Do you feel the new tools have made the fandom community stronger, weaker, or notice no real change?
I really miss fan sites in general. I miss when enthusiasts were some of the best sources of information on a topic, and I miss when you could Google a topic and find enthusiasts rather than ads and spam sites that just search-engine-optimized their way to page one. [Editor’s Note: Yes, yes, and YES!]
What has been your favorite thing about being an Ayu fan?
My favorite artist has enough material and variety to keep me occupied for the rest of my life, and everyone else’s favorite artist doesn’t! *Nyah nyah nyah*. XD
Aside from that, honestly, the friends I’ve been able to make and keep because of Ayu and J-pop in general (which wouldn’t be anywhere near as big a part of my life without Ayu) have been really important to me. I’m not very good at keeping in contact with people as an adult (it was so easy when I was a teenager with more time and energy!), but I’m trying to get better about it now because my Ayu fan friends are absolute treasures.
What do you think Ayumi, and being an Ayu fan, has contributed to your life, if at all, over the years? What impact as she had?
I’m a creative person (both by profession and in my spare time), and Ayu has been a muse for almost every one of my creative pursuits. I used to design wallpapers and fan sites back in the day and now I’m a UX Designer. I really liked writing and translating, and now I have a linguistics degree. Even now I use Ayu for inspiration for SO many things, from what I do in creative video games like ACNH and House Flipper, to fan fiction I’ve written for a different fandom. I’ve gotten more interested in media preservation too, from art restoration to digital archiving, in part because of my desire to keep artifacts from Ayu’s career alive. And keeping my merch collection clean and in order is one of the reasons I clean my house at all! LOL
What do you hope for Ayu moving forward, either personally, professionally, or musically, in the years to come?
I hope she stays true to her expectation that she’ll never fully quit or retire music, but I also hope she keeps working at whatever pace feels right for her at any stage of her life. And I hope she takes better care of her health going forward. She has an example to set for two little boys now, after all. I hope they learn it’s okay to set boundaries and take care of oneself first, and I hope they learn that because Ayu is doing those things for herself. And I hope those boys give her the unconditional love she always thought she didn’t deserve. And I definitely hope we get a lot of songs about it. 🙂
Ayu’s history and career can be overwhelming for those just starting out and discovering her. What advice or guidance would you offer to those just getting into Ayu’s music and the fandom?
Send me a twitter DM with artists you like and why, I’ll make you a playlist and we’ll go from there. XD It sounds like a joke but honestly, Ayu’s discography covers so many sounds and genres and vocal styles, I feel like the right entry point for Person A won’t be the same as the one for Person B! She has something for everyone.
What other fandom communities are you a part of today, and where can people find you?
I don’t really have anywhere else I can be found consistently just yet, however! I’m mostly active @deliriumzer0 on Twitter (for however long that lasts) and in the AHS discord server. Like I mentioned earlier though, I AM working on finally getting a proper complete Ayu website put together so people will be able to find me and my work there. You’ll be able to get to it from deliriumzer0.com, but no word on the actual final URL yet.
I mostly watch fandom from afar these days rather than truly participating, but I am definitely aware of the goings-on in a couple of major fandoms that I won’t disclose here because yes, I have some degree of shame. XD
I do play World of Warcraft again, I stopped around Ayu’s Secret era but I started up again during Colours lol. If anyone else is out there, I play on Uldum-NA, my toon’s name is Papino. I created her when Pino was still alive, and Papiko & Pino were a set with that name. I name all my WoW characters after Ayu’s dogs, when possible. On my original account I had multiple characters named Marron. 😀
25 years is a long time, and I’m sure that I missed some important things! Is there anything essential that I didn’t cover or anything you wanted to add?
One thing that comes to mind is how in the early days, the English-speaking fandom relied a LOT on the Chinese-speaking fandom. A lot of people in places like Hong Kong and Singapore were bilingual, so we got English translations of articles based on their Chinese language versions. Sites based in places like Hong Kong gave us a lot of otherwise rare and valuable photos and leaked MP3s. There were also a lot more bootlegs from Southeast Asia that made their way into anime shops in the USA, both online and offline. There were also a lot more pirated goods like wall scrolls and laminated posters thanks to those industries where copyright was less tightly enforced. The Ayunite forum was a huge source of info. Ayuchina gave us a ton of scans. Queen’s site (Who Ayu, ayu_everfree, whatever you want to call it) was a HUGE source of new photos during Ayu’s peak.
It’s funny that that’s shifted SO much over the years, as China holds more control over the Chinese-speaking world than it ever has, so laws are getting tighter, and trade with China, HK, and TW has definitely had some… shall we say, political issues. All the while, it’s only getting easier to shop from Japanese sites thanks to more and better middleman services. And VPNs and auto-translations directly in your browser are making it easier than ever to use Japanese sites, and TeamAyu allows foreign membership now. We used to rely so much on Chinese-language resources, but that’s really shifted a lot and we’re getting more info and merchandise directly from the source now. I remember when immel bought all that ARENA TOUR 2006 merch it was this big huge deal because no one else had really been able to get that much of a haul directly from the tour itself, but now a lot of us get batches of our favorite tour merch as soon as it goes live. A lot of scans I did for ayu-mi-x were of Taiwan or Hong Kong releases of Ayu’s CDs because that was what was affordable from YesAsia, and now I have PILES of original Japanese pressings because buying them used via Tenso & Buyee got so easy to do.
Very crazy how that’s changed so drastically. The distance between the English-speaking world and Japan is definitely closing, and watching that shift happen in real time over the last couple decades has really been something. [Editor’s Note: This is such an excellent and important point. I still own several “overseas” copies of Ayu’s CDs but only out of nostalgia, as I have been able to quickly and very cheaply replace them with original pressings over the years. This also has a lot to do with the decline of the prestige a CD used to hold in general, as CDs as a format have gone out of fashion. But the huge, and swift, changes in technology and communication that has made buying and getting goods and information directly from across the world is just amazing to consider).]
I just want to personally thank you for your work providing so many resources and points of knowledge for both myself and other fans in the Ayu fandom over the years. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer all of these questions and spend time reminiscing over Ayu’s incredible 25-year career in music. It’s always a special treat to talk about Ayumi with fans, enthusiasts, and experts like you!
The people-pleaser in me wants to apologize for not being more consistent about my contributions over the years, so this genuinely means so much to me! I never really set out to be a major figure in the Ayu fandom (and I’d argue it shows, lol), so when people compliment me or tell me something I wrote about Ayu affected them or even when they just yell “OMG DELI IS HERE” when I appear on the discord once a year, honestly it makes me feel… like I’ve found my ibasho, really. I neglected it for awhile, but I think I’m properly back now.
Thank you, Anna, and thank you to everyone in the Ayu fandom who’s made me feel welcome, whether 23 years ago or today. I will love this fandom until the day I die, I’m sure of it. ❤
[ Image sources are from personal scans, Discogs, Jame-World, PNGItem, @chiiwayu, AramaJapan, @ayuarchive (twice), @2030_TeamAyu, ayu-vogue, jpopcdcovers, HABR Fanblog, TeamAyu, CDJapan (twice), mu-mo, Random J Pop, and ZyreX. There are also some images used that I had saved on an old hard drive for so long time that I no longer remember where they came from. If you see any scans that belong to you, please let me know and I will credit you! ]