Music / Utada Hikaru

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Influences: Aaliyah, Béla Bartók, Bj÷rk, Mary J. Blige, The Blue Nile, Jeff Buckley, Chick Corea, Cocteau Twins, Jimi Hendrix, Lenny Kravitz, Hibari Misora, Nine Inch Nails, Yutaka Ozaki, ╔dith Piaf, Prince, Queen
Utada Hikaru (宇多田ヒカル, or Hikaru Utada, if you're using the Western name order), born January 19 1983, is one of Japan's most prominent and successful music artists. Her debut album, First Love (1999), recorded when she was only 15 years old, is the best-selling album in Japan's history, selling at least 7.7 million copies in total (10.1 million copies worldwide), including over 2 million copies in its first week alone. Most of her following singles and albums went on to occupy the top ten spots on the same list.

She writes and produces almost all of her music, differentiating her from the numerous Idol Singers who don't hold much creative power over their work. Born and raised in New York, she is fluent in Japanese and English, and has released two English-language albums for the American market under the mononym, Utada.

In the west, she is perhaps most well-known for the theme songs of the first two Kingdom Hearts games — both Japanese and the English versions. Her songs "Beautiful World" and "Sakura Nagashi" are featured in the Rebuild of Evangelion series.

In 2010, she held her "goodbye" concert before going on hiatus that same year. The concert was streamed live on the web for the benefit of her foreign fans and others who wouldn't be able to see it in person.

Around early 2014, she announced her engagement on her official website and asked that fans respect the privacy of her fiance. In May that same year, they held their wedding in Italy, her fiance's home country.

Six years after her her hiatus, she released her 6th Japanese album (and ninth overall), Fantôme (2016).

Japanese discography

  • First Love (1999)
  • Distance (2001)
  • Deep River (2002)
  • Utada Hikaru Single Collection Vol. 1 (2004) (compilation album)
  • Ultra Blue (2006)
  • Heart Station (2008)
  • Utada Hikaru Single Collection Vol. 2 (2010) (compilation album)
  • Fantôme (2016)

English discography

  • Precious (1998) (under the pseudonym "Cubic U")
  • Exodus (2004) (Utada)
  • This is the One (2009)(Utada)
  • Utada the Best (2010)(compilation album) (Utada)


Provides examples of:

  • AcCENT Upon the Wrong SylLABle: In "About Me":
    Although we have known eachother for quite a while...
    [...]
    Who knows it if could be good for you after all
  • Adam and Eve Plot: In the video for You Make Me Want to be a Man has a modern, robotic twist, where Utada plays a feminine robot constructed around a masculine robot's rib. Also, there is a reference to the snake.
  • Advertised Extra: Masashi Yamada's feature on "One Night Magic". He and Utada sing the pre- and post-chorus and bridge together, but his vocals aren't very prominent, and he doesn't have any solo parts.
  • Album Title Drop:
    • "This One (Crying Like a Child)" from This is the One:
      You got me crying like a child
      And the crowd is going wild
      This one, this is the one
      Come on and give it up
  • Ambiguously Bi: There's some awfully intimate embracing between Utada and Shiina Ringo in the music video for "Nijikan Dake no Vacance", and Utada has stated that the song "Tomodachi" is written from the perspective of a gay person with one-way feelings for their straight friend. When a fan questioned her for the allegedly stereotypical depiction of gay people, this was her response.
  • Bare Your Midriff: Downplayed in the music videos for "Can You Keep a Secret?" and "Wait and See (Risk)"
  • Bilingual Bonus: She makes frequent use of English in her lyrics, and unlike in a lot of J-pop they are both grammatically correct and relevant and meaningful to the songs they appear on; in some cases integral to understanding them fully. Knowing Japanese helps too.
    • Her given name provides one too: She's a pop star named Hikaru (the verb "to shine" in Japanese).
  • Boastful Rap: Somehow manages a rare sung variant in "Animato".
    Somebody out there better get this
    Not many people can do it like this
    How about some speakers to amplify me?
    How about a rhyme to fortify me?
    Life's messy so I clarify it
    Simplifying things for everybody
  • Break-Up Song: "Taking My Money Back", oh so very much. Also "Come Back to Me" and "This One (Crying Like a Child)" (all three from This Is The One).
  • Broken Bird: The character described in "Hotel Lobby" seems to be one:
    She doesn't want to be respected
    Reality's her best friend
    She needs the extra money
    In the city, the town, and the household
    So many things go unreported
  • Child Pop Star: Became a superstar at the age of 15, started her solo career when she was 13, and prior to that performed with her parents in the group U3 from when she was only 10.
  • Continuity Nod: This is present in two of her music videos from different eras in her career. The first is "Keep Tryin" which has references to her past MV's that were all directed by her then husband, Kazuaki Kiriya. Naturally, avid fans had fun pointing these out. The second, "Goodbye Happiness" also has references to some of her past videos.
  • Cover Version: Covered "Close to You" by the Carpenters in her Cubic U days. She's also done covers of a-ha, Frank Sinatra, and Placebo in various live concerts.
  • Darker and Edgier: Fantôme is noticeably darker than any of her previous albums. Understandably, as it is inspired by her mother's death.
  • Double Entendre: From "Easy Breezy":
    I should have never ever let you inside
  • Echoing Acoustics: For Beautiful World's Planitb remix.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Her classmates in New York nicknamed her Hikki. She was a bit flustered when she found out what a hickey was a few years later.
  • Epic Fail: Toshiba-EMI (her record label) employed a company called Media Interactive Inc. to go through Youtube and delete all infringing videos. Seemingly, this included all the music videos (including the video debuted exclusively on Youtube "Goodbye Happiness") from Utada's Official YouTube Channel leaving many fans, her staff and the artist bewildered. [1]
  • Epic Instrumental Opener: The first minute and a half of "Boukyaku" is a very ambient-sounding one.
  • Face on the Cover: All of her studio albums except Precious. Other than Exodus, all are close-ups.
  • Genre Savvy: Has invoked Retcon ("Come Back to Me").
  • Genre Shift: Her early albums were mainly R&B; starting with Deep River she's moved towards pop music with a more electronic, experimental sound, often with orchestral elements.
  • Girls Love Stuffed Animals: She has a massive teddy bear named Kuma Chang who features heavily in her career ranging from promotional photos, tweets/blog entries involving conversations with him and to top it all, she's written a single song from his point of his view called "Boku wa Kuma".
  • Gratuitous French: In "Ore no Kanojo". It wouldn't be nearly so egregious if the pronunciation weren't so terrible, as what is sung makes grammatical sense.
  • Grief Song: "Manatsu no Tooriame" and "Ningyo", about the death of Utada's mother.
  • Hotter and Sexier: Exodus and This is the One have much more sexual content than her Japanese albums.
  • Improbable Age: Wrote and recorded the best-selling Japanese album of all time when she was only 15 years old, and released two more of the top-ten best sellers while she was still a teenager.
  • Intercourse with You: "The Workout", "Let Me Give You My Love", "Dirty Desire"... There's a fair bit of this on her English-language albums. A Japanese song, "Traveling", might also count.
    • The chorus of "Ore no Kanojo" is the most direct example out of her Japanese albums.
      Karada yori zutto oku ni manekitai, manekitai note 
      Karada yori motto oku ni sawaritai, sawaritai note 
  • Location Song: "Tokyo Nights" from Deep River is one, for Tokyo. The lyrics deal with loneliness and seeking fulfillment, which she finds in the city lights.
  • Love Is a Drug: "Addicted to You", as the name suggests.
  • Lyrical Cold Open:
    • "Kettobase!" from Distance.
    • "Ore no Kanojo", "Hanataba wo Kimi ni", "Manatsu to Tooriame", "Jinsei Saikou no Hi", all from Fantôme.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Me Muero" is a breezy, relaxing R&B song with a tropical atmosphere... and lyrics that reference a lost love and isolation, depression, suicide, drug/alcohol abuse, and staying in your pyjamas all day. Of course the song's title is a little bit of a giveaway for listeners who know Spanish.note 
  • Melismatic Vocals: Had a fair bit of this on her R&B albums, and generally downplayed or averted since.
  • Me Love You Long Time: From "Dirty Desire":
    When I'm alone at night, I sit and fantasize
    And in my fantasies I love you long time
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • The whiplash from the lamentation of a neighbor's death to Intercourse with You in "Let Me Give You My Love".
    • On Heart Station, "Take 5", a rather haunting song about dying and being separated from one's body, cuts abruptly into "Boku wa Kuma" which is a cute, children's song about, uh, a bear.
    • Fantôme follows "Michi", an upbeat dance-pop track dedicated to her mother's memory, with "Ore no Kanojo", a downbeat, jazzy/orchestral song about a troubled All Take and No Give relationship with some of the most overt Intercourse with You lyrics of her career.
    • Also from Fantôme, "Boukyaku", with ambient instrumentation and despondent lyrics contemplating suicide, is followed directly by "Jinsei Saikou no Hi", which is an upbeat song about anticipation and new love.
  • No Ending: The aforementioned "Take 5" ends abruptly, which highlights the morbid lyrics.
  • Not Staying for Breakfast: "Easy Breezy" is about Utada's lover doing this to her.
    You came and went and left my house like a breeze just passing by
    Hello, goodbye, you left a note saying "It was nice stopping by"
  • Obsession Song: "Addicted to You". The chorus' lyrics are an example of the Passive type:
    Dakedo sore ja kurushikutenote 
    Mainichi aitakutenote 
    Kono kimochi dou sureba ii no?note 
    [...]
    Aenai hi no koishisa mo soba ni iru itoshisa monote 
    Onaji kurai kuse ni narundanote 
    Kisu yori dakishimete, ikinari yamenaidenote 
  • The Oldest Profession: "Hotel Lobby" is a fairly dark portrayal of this:
    She rises with the sunset
    She wonders "when will this end?"
    The world is full of money
    She goes out unprotected
    She doesn't listen to her best friend
    It's only for the money
  • One Name Only: For her English-language music she went by just Utada, though as of her new global deal with EMI, she will release all her music under the name Utada Hikaru regardless of language.
  • Out-of-Genre Experience: Almost all her music is pop, R&B or electronic, but she's also recorded a handful of rock songs.
    • Deep River has "Uso Mitai na I Love You".
    • Exodus has "Kremlin Dusk".
    • Utada Hikaru Single Collection Vol. 2 has "Show Me Love (Not a Dream)".
    • Distance actually does this twice, with "Drama" and "Kettobase!".
  • The Oner:
    • The aforementioned "Goodbye Happiness" music video, with a still faux-web cam in a bedroom.
    • Her "Hikari" music video is a continuous shot of her washing the dishes and at one point she even goes out of frame. The video could be considered as having minimalism in its execution.
  • Performance Video: "Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro" features a performance more heavily than her other videos, but also features an implied plot about a broken-up family.
  • Pop-Star Composer: Most famously, the theme songs to the Kingdom Hearts games, as mentioned above.
  • Punny Name: "Utada" sounds like "uta da", Japanese for "It's a song".
  • Robosexual: Subverted in the music video of "Can You Keep A Secret", where Utada is having a romantic relationship with a robot but by the last scene is revealed to be a Robot Girl herself.
  • Rhetorical Question Blunder: Inverted in the spoken section of "Poppin'", where Utada actually wants to know if you want her to share the stars in the sky with you.
    But I can share if you like...[beat] Would you like that?
  • The Rival: Media outlets tried to invoke this between her and Ayumi Hamasaki when Distance was scheduled for release on the same day as Hamasaki's A Best, though both singers denied this.
  • Sampling: "Give Me a Reason" samples the famous drum break from James Brown's "Funky Drummer". Hearing it in a slow ballad is... weird.
    • "Never Let Go" interpolates the melody from Sting's "Shape of My Heart".
    • The violin-sounding instrument from "Exodus '04", produced by Timbaland, is lifted from the song "Meshkeltek" by an Arabian artist named Aitha al-Menhali.
  • Scenery Porn: Her video for Passion is just breath-takingly beautiful.
  • Self-Backing Vocalist: She's done this on all her albums. In fact, "Goodbye Happiness" is the first song to feature female background vocals other than her own.
  • Sequel Song: "Automatic", her 1998 debut single, and "Automatic Pt.2" from 2009's This Is The One. Interesting in that part one is in Japanese and part two is in English.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Silly Love Songs: "Automatic" is her most upbeat and straightforward.
  • Singer Namedrop:
    • Did this as Cubic U in "Ticket 4 Two".
    • "Automatic Pt. 2" is another example:
      Hello, my name is Utada, like la-di-da-di-da-di-da
  • Slut-Shaming: The first verse of "Easy Breezy" deals with being on the receiving end of this:
    You look stupid, telling all your friends that you got the best of me
    I intended to share the pleasure only
    Now I look stupid, we're living in a world with a lot of pressure
    It's quite unneeded to put more pressure on me
  • Softer And Slower Cover: "Final Distance" (Deep River) is one of "Distance" (Distance).
  • Solo Duet: "Ore no Kanojo" has Utada singing from the male and female perspectives of a couple.
  • Spoken Word in Music: A few examples. Notably, all are in English, even on her Japanese albums.
    • "Can You Keep a Secret?":
      Hey, can I take a time out to... tell you something? And say, can you keep it a secret? 'Cause this guitar is... making me warm... come on!
    • "Heart Station":
      Baby, can you hear me? Just tell me one thing...if you can hear me, say something.
    • "Poppin'":
      Yeah, you heard me right. They're all mine, the stars in the sky. But I can share if you like... Would you like that?
  • Surprisingly Good English: Japanese name, Japanese career, Japanese-language albums. To the casual observer, she looks about as J-poppy as you can get, but her first album was entirely in English. (The US never got it because Capitol Records was restructuring.) As noted above, she's actually Japanese-American, and speaks both Japanese and English fluently.
  • Teen Pregnancy: "Kettobase!", written when she was 16 or 17, has the repeated line "I want your baby".
  • Title Track: Most of her Japanese albums. Ultra Blue has a partial one in "Blue" while Fantôme doesn't have one.
    • All three of her English albums have partial examples: "Precious Love" from Precious, "Exodus '04" from Exodus, and "This One (Crying like a Child)" from This is the One.
  • Translated Cover Version:
    • Most famously, she recorded English versions of her songs "Hikari" and "Passion" ("Simple & Clean" and "Sanctuary", respectively) for the international releases of the first and second Kingdom Hearts games.
    • The dub mix of "Time Will Tell" is a partial version of this. Not all of the lyrics are included (dub mixes tend to take out at least some of the lyrics or vocals of the original song), but the ones that are translated into English.
    • There's also an English cover of "First Love" by Aiza Seguerra.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behaviour: "First Love" mentions a kiss having the flavor of cigarettes, which attracted some controversy as Utada was only 15 when she wrote the song, though she's stated the line wasn't meant literally.
  • The Unpronouncable: Allegedly the reason that she went by just Utada for her English releases was that "Hikaru" is difficult to pronounce for English-speakers.
  • Vapor Wear: Implied for fanservice in "Poppin'":
  • Vocal Evolution: Her singing voice has gotten deeper and more restrained (less melisma and belting) in her newer work, especially Fantôme. She's also lost the American accent she had on her first two albums.
  • Waxing Lyrical: "Come Back To Me".
  • Your Cheating Heart: "Tippy Toe", which is sung from the point of view of the mistress.

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