Girlpop Vol.41 (1999-12)

Ayu talks about LOVEppears and some of the frustrations she felt after her sudden popularity.

I disliked how people started looking at Ayumi Hamasaki differently even though I hadn’t changed.

Ayumi Hamasaki on her sudden popularity

Ayumi Hamasaki received new recognition as an artist with the release of her maxi-single A, but disappeared from our screens – aside from commercials – for a while afterwards. Just as we started wondering about her situation, she suddenly announced her new maxi-single appears and her much-anticipated 2nd album LOVEppears.

Q: You started drawing attention rapidly after frequently appearing in commercials after releasing Boys & Girls. How did you react to the attention?

Ayu: I already had a feeling more people would start noticing me while making Boys & Girls. I felt people’s expectations. In hindsight I actually made it through those days without trouble. I knew I couldn’t say anything regarding my music if someone asked me, so I decided “If someone asks me this, I’ll answer this” and I did. It scared me how this person called Ayumi Hamasaki started gaining force and I wondered what I should do*. I was like a swan in a current: looking calm above the water surface, but paddling desperately underwater. But it’s a positive song, right? I wondered “What am I smiling about?” while singing it (laughs).

* Note: She refers to herself as Ayu as if to differentiate between herself and Ayumi Hamasaki.

Q: You gained recognition as an artist with the release of your single A. How did you feel about this?

Ayu: I tried not to feel anything. I didn’t watch a single music show and I quickly changed the channel if they showed single rankings. I asked my staff how many copies the single had sold after finishing my new album. The number of sold copies really surprised me.

Q: Did you sense that recognition manifested in sales figures is fleeting?

Ayu: I disliked how people started looking at Ayumi Hamasaki differently even though I hadn’t changed. Things like “Huh? Everybody is suddenly being nice to me, huh.” I didn’t want that. Besides, I didn’t feel like I had suddenly released something amazing. I have been giving my best from the start. I didn’t want to be someone who looks at sales figures and releases based on what people like. I wanted to be someone who works hard for Ayumi Hamasaki in the background. Even if nobody likes my music, I will continue the same way silently.

Q: But there were surely many people who became your fan after hearing A.

Ayu: That genuinely made me happy, of course. Actually, several fans sent me messages saying “I feel like Ayu is going away! Don’t!” after listening to too late. I thought “Hmm, you’re sharp” to myself.

Q: Do you mean you truly intended to leave?

Ayu: Somewhat. I came back in the end, but if a single day in the time between A and my new album had been different, I might not be here now.

Q: Now you mention it, you said you wanted some time to think after releasing A, right?

Ayu: I did. To be honest, I didn’t feel like coming back at that time. But it’s not like I could say such a thing. However, I still wanted to let everyone know how I felt. I tried to sent a message through too late.

Q: Maybe it was like a farewell letter. Did you get time to think in the end?

Ayu: I didn’t touch any music for one month. But I didn’t think about the future either. I get sick of things easily (laughs). I was interested in how I would feel if I didn’t do anything related to music.

Q: I’m happy you came back. The covers of Boys & Girls, TO BE and A are connected with a thread wrapped around your fingers. Does this hold any special meaning?

Ayu: I started realising various things while making TO BE and I felt like those things would link up to my next album. I wanted to express this through my covers.

Q: What things did you realize?

Ayu: Various things about working behind the scenes. Actually, LOVE~Destiny~ helped me realise those things. After finishing the song, I was surprised just how different my voice sounded. I worked on that song in a different environment than my previous singles. That’s why I worried too much about certain things, but I also started paying attention to little details like “the piano is too loud” or “I can’t hear the strings properly”. I hadn’t really participated in the track-down process before. I didn’t know what things can change in that process. I started being present in the track-down process ever since TO BE due to my previous bitter experience with LOVE~Destiny~. I rejected the harmonisation countless times and asked for changes in the guitar tone color and more. I started participating so much that people probably wanted me to leave (laughs).

Q: You’re the one who gives the final say, after all.

Ayu: Indeed. Together with my producer. I think I should do at least this much in order to create songs I’m satisfied with.

Q: When did start planning your second album?

Ayu: I started on A with the intention of making a new album.

Q: Did you have any solid ideas about the album?

Ayu: I wanted to make an album that begins like “ah! it’s already begun” (laughs). One that makes you think “Huh? The third song? I have go to the first” as you listen. I gave myself the puzzle of making things pick up further steam when they’re already high.

Q: It really turned out that way.

Ayu: I didn’t want to create songs with a heartrending melody and heartrending lyrics like my first album. I wanted to release an heartrending album with intense songs. That’s why I didn’t choose any ballad-y songs.

Q: Did you want to make it strong?

Ayu: I think there’s only a paper thin difference between between really strong and really weak. I wanted to display that type of strength.

Q: What did your recording schedule look like?

Ayu: First I went to Hawaii to focus on writing lyrics. Then I went to Japan to sing the songs. I also stayed in New York for another job and I flew to Los Angeles for the track-down process.

Q: You hired engineer Dave Way to remix all the songs for the album, right?

Ayu: He mixed the songs in such a way to give depth to my voice because my voice is shrill. As if my voice was wearing Western clothing. I asked him to redo everything. My staff were like “Gaaah!” (laughs). There are people who dislike shrill voices but it’s part of me. I was scared it couldn’t be redone in time because of the deadline, but I’m glad I said it anyway.

Now I know that people who have something to protect are stronger than those who have nothing to lose.

Ayumi Hamasaki

Q: Are there any songs you wrote differently, lyrics-wise?

Ayu: Firstly, appears. I wanted to write lyrics which look simple on the outside but are actually hiding depth on the inside. Just like how detailed makeup can look really natural. I wrote the lyrics first and then searched for a matching song. I usually work the other way around. Moreover, I miraculously managed to write And Then and immature on the same day (laughs). The me who calmly evaluates herself as an imperfect human being, and the me who tries to become perfect. I think these songs show two different sides of me.

Q: Why did you include LOVE~Refrain~ instead of LOVE~Destiny~?

Ayu: That’s the original version. It was rejected in the past (laughs).

Q: So, revenge?

Ayu: My staff said the same thing (laughs). But it’s not like I didn’t want to include Love~Destiny~. Of course I was upset at the time, but I was able to view it as one of my songs as time passed. I wanted to show the original version of the song so many people love. I also made a version with KETSUMEISHI-san which is included on the single Boys & Girls. There are three versions and that’s it.

Q: The album cover is also surpising.

Ayu: It was my idea. We were discussing what I should wear this time and I thought about simply wearing nothing. There’s no intention behind it. It’s simply me as a product. I simply felt it would be cute.

Q: What did you feel after finishing your 2nd album?

Ayu: I frequently thought things like “why do I have to do this much?” and “please give me more time.” But on the other side, I work very hard to the point you might wonder why. I think it’s because the people around me have the power to push me forward. People who reach out to me, people who are kind to me – they all give their love to me in their own way. I felt I have to protect them. During A Song for XX, I thought I was strong because no matter what I would try to gain in the future, I had nothing to lose. But now I know that people who have something to protect are stronger than those who have nothing to lose. Maybe my second album contains such thoughts and feelings.

Credits: Scans thanks to Taki