Meet the Artist: Utada Hikaru

Utada Hikaru (宇多田 ヒカル ) is an incredibly successful Japanese-American singer and songwriter, garnering acclaim not only in Japan but internationally. If you happen to play video games, you might recognize her for her theme song contributions to the Kingdom Hearts series.

She is fluent in English as a result of being born and raised in Manhattan, New York. Her classmates had trouble pronouncing her name (“He-kah-rew”) and instead opted for the nickname ‘Hikki’. For a while she would release albums in the West solely under the name ‘Utada’ to prevent any more mishaps.

For Utada, music ran in the family. She’s the daughter of famous Enka singer Fuji Keiko, and her father Utada Teruzane is a record producer. The three formed a musical act called U3 (Utada 3) where Hikaru would sing and develop some of her musical style, inspired by her upbringing in the States. In fact, she was one of the first to bring R&B to Japan.

Utada’s parents back in the day.

Utada is also a rarity in the fact that she writes and produces almost all of her music. At the time, top idol singers and pop stars held little creative freedom over their work. They were produced and managed to maintain an ideal image. Not wanting to be stifled or overtly managed, she chose instead to differentiate herself and take charge, even going as far as to refuse talent agencies from contacting her.

Her breakout album, First Love (1999), topped the Oricon Albums Chart by selling 2 million units within the first week. It has since gone on to sell over 11 million units globally and is the current best selling album in Japan’s history to date. To top it off, Utada did it when she was only 15.

She would continue to find success with her albums Distance (2001), Deep River (2002), Ultra Blue (2006), and Heart Station (2008). Remarkably, each of them are chart toppers in their own right.

Reading clockwise: Distance, Deep River, Heart Station, Ultra Blue

In 2011 she held some ‘good-bye concerts’ before going on hiatus to focus on developing herself and fostering relationships. She went through some turbulent times in those years. Her mother committed suicide in 2013, she got married in 2014 to a bartender from Italy, and the two had a son in 2015.

She emerged back onto the music scene in 2016 with her ninth album Fantôme, which was dedicated to her mother and influenced by all the happenings that occurred during her hiatus.

She recently released two new singles and an album titled Hatsukoi (2018). For the Japanese savvy, the title means ‘First Love’, undoubtedly a statement on how far she’s come in her musical career since her debut. The album also topped the Oricon Weekly Digital Albums Chart with 38,185 downloads, making it the highest first-week download record in the chart’s history so far.

Time will tell if her musical hot streak continues, so be sure to check her out sometime!

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