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Music / Hikaru Utada
aka: Utada Hikaru

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Influences: Aaliyah, Béla Bartók, Björk, Mary J. Blige, The Blue Nile, Jeff Buckley, Chick Corea, Cocteau Twins, Jimi Hendrix, Lenny Kravitz, Hibari Misora, Nine Inch Nails, Yutaka Ozaki, Édith Piaf, Prince, Queen, The Cure
Hikaru Utada (宇多田ヒカル, Utada Hikaru), born January 19 1983, is one of Japan's most prominent and successful music artists. Utada's debut album, First Love (1999), recorded when they were only 15 years old, is the #1 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 their following singles and albums went on to occupy the top ten spots on the same list.

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

In the west, Utada is perhaps most well-known for writing and singing the theme songs of the three main numbered entries in the Kingdom Hearts games — both the Japanese and English versions. Their songs "Beautiful World", "Sakura Nagashi" and "One Last Kiss" are featured in the Rebuild of Evangelion series.

In late 2010, Utada held a pair of "goodbye" concerts before going on hiatus in 2011. The concert was streamed live on the web for the benefit of their foreign fans and others who wouldn't be able to see it in person.

During their hiatus, Utada reportedly focused on "human activities" such as personal development, expanding their horizons and building relationships in their life. Additionally, a number of major events took place in their life. In 2013, they lost their mother, renowned enka singer Keiko Fuji, to suicide, in 2014, they married their second husband, a bartender from Italy, and in 2015 they gave birth to their first son. During this time they also wrote music. In 2016, after 5 years of hiatus, they returned to the music industry with their sixth Japanese album (and ninth overall), Fantôme, which was inspired in part by the events of their life during their hiatus, and dedicated to their late mother.

In June 2021, Mys. Utada came out as non-binary on an Instagram Live.note 

Japanese discography

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
  • Bilingual Bonus: As a native English speaker, they make frequent use of English in their lyrics, and unlike many of their J-pop contemporaries the lyrics are both grammatically correct and relevant and meaningful to the songs they appear on; in some cases integral to understanding them fully.
    • Their given name provides one too: They're 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 their solo career when they were 13, and prior to that performed with their parents in the group U3 from when they were only 10.
  • Christmas Songs: "Can't Wait 'Til Christmas" is a pretty straight example, though with some melancholy elements. In the Japanese tradition, it's a romantic rather than festive, religious or family-oriented song.
  • Continuity Nod: This is present in two of their music videos from different eras in their career. The first is "Keep Tryin" which has references to their past MV's that were all directed by their then husband, Kazuaki Kiriya. Naturally, avid fans had fun pointing these out. The second, "Goodbye Happiness" also has references to some of their past videos.
    • The title of their 7th Japanese album, Hatsukoi, is one to their debut First Love ("Hatsukoi" (初恋) means "First Love" in Japanese.)
  • Cover Version: Covered "Close to You" by the Carpenters in their Cubic U days. They've also done covers of a-ha, Frank Sinatra, and Placebo in various live concerts.
    • On Shiina Ringo's tribute album, they cover "Marunouchi Sadistic".
  • Darker and Edgier: Fantôme is noticeably darker than any of their previous albums. Understandably, as it is inspired by their mother's death.
  • Deliberately Monochrome:
  • Double Entendre: From "Easy Breezy":
    I should have never ever let you inside
  • Echoing Acoustics: For Beautiful World's Planitb remix.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Their classmates in New York nicknamed them Hikki. They were a bit flustered when they found out what a hickey was a few years later.
  • Epic Instrumental Opener: The first minute and a half of "Boukyaku" is a very ambient-sounding one.
  • Face on the Cover: All of their studio albums except Precious. Other than Exodus, all are close-ups.
  • First Love: Made an entire album revolving around the subject, with its title track "First Love" being one of their best-known songs. Surprisingly though, the words "first love" (in English or Japanese) never appear on any of the songs.
  • Foreign Language Title: All of their Japanese albums, and most of the songs on them. Outside of Fantôme, this can be justified by them featuring English lyrics prominently in all of them and apparently often writing their lyrics in English first before translating them to Japanese.
    • Fantôme averts this (other than with its title), as all of the tracks have Japanese titles.
    • Hatsukoi is their first Japanese album to avert this, with a Japanese title. However, some of the tracks have English titles.
  • Genre Savvy: Has invoked Retcon ("Come Back to Me").
  • Genre Roulette: While it's easy to just classify Utada as "J-Pop" and leave it there, they actually are rather hard to pin down as being in one set sound: their body of work has included tracks that are hip-hop, R&B, pop, dance, folk, trip-hop, rock, power ballads, avant-garde, and even a dubstep collaboration with Skrillex. Additionally, they fluidly slip between their bilingual mastery of Japanese and English, which often informs the tone of the song (as they tend to sing in a lower register for their English tracks).
  • Genre Shift: Their early albums were mainly R&B; starting with Deep River they've moved towards pop music with a more electronic, experimental sound, often with orchestral elements.
  • Girls Love Stuffed Animals: They have a massive teddy bear named Kuma Chang who features heavily in their career ranging from promotional photos, tweets/blog entries involving conversations with him and to top it all, they've written a single song from his point of his view called "Boku wa Kuma".
  • Gratuitous English: Averted - see Bilingual Bonus entry above - understandably, as they are a native English speaker.
    • Fantôme in particular is notable for using far less English than their previous albums. 7 of the 11 songs feature no English, while of the remaining 4 that do, only "Michi" has a significant amount.
  • 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.
  • Heartbeat Soundtrack: Used to very different effect in "The Workout" and "Boukyaku".
  • Hotter and Sexier: Exodus and This is the One have much more sexual content than their Japanese albums.
  • Hypocrite: The third chorus of "About Me" has Utada calling their partner out for keeping secrets from them, with the line "You say you're sure that you love me, how could that be when you keep so much from me?" However the entire song up to this point has been about how they haven't been honest with them.
  • Idol Singer: Defied; though most female singers around their age were idols when they debuted, they opted not to go this route, preferring to be a more straightforward singer-songwriter since idols rarely have any creative control over their music.
  • Improbable Age: Wrote and recorded the best-selling Japanese album of all time when they were only 15 years old, and released two more of the top-ten best sellers while they were still a teenager.
  • Intercourse with You:
    • "The Workout", "Let Me Give You My Love", "Dirty Desire"... There's a fair bit of this on their English-language albums. A Japanese song, "Traveling", might also count.
    • The chorus of "Ore no Kanojo" is the most direct example out of their Japanese albums.
      I want to invite you all the way inside, deeper than my body note 
      I want to touch you, deeper than your body note 
  • Location Song: "Tokyo Nights" from Deep River is one, for Tokyo. The lyrics deal with loneliness and seeking fulfillment, which they find in the city lights.
  • Longest Song Goes Last:
    • "Give Me a Reason" from First Love.
    • "Somewhere Near Marseilles" from Bad Mode (not counting bonus tracks).
  • Love Is a Drug: "Addicted to You", as the name suggests.
  • Lyrical Cold Open:
    • "Can You Keep a Secret?" and "Kettobase!" from Distance.
    • "Hikari" from Deep River, as well as "Simple and Clean".
    • "Be my Last" from Ultra Blue.
    • "Prisoner of Love" and both versions of "Flavor of Life", from Heart Station.
    • "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 their 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 their 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 their 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.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Their Instagram @kuma_power is rarely ever used to promote their music (their staff account @hikki_staff handles all of that). However, if you want photographs of plaster bandages, pizza boxes, and bagels discarded in the middle of sidewalks then Mys. Utada's got you covered.
  • No Ending:
    • The aforementioned "Take 5" ends abruptly, which highlights the morbid lyrics.
    • Lyrically speaking, "Can You Keep a Secret?" - it's implied that Utada tells their love interest the secret, but the audience never finds out what it is.
  • Not Staying for Breakfast: "Easy Breezy" is about Utada's lover doing this to them.
    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:
    But it's so painful that way [not being with you]note 
    I want to see you everydaynote 
    What should I do about this feeling?note 
    The longing for you when you're gone, and the love I feel when I'm with younote 
    Are both equally becoming a pattern for menote 
    Hold me instead of just kissing me, and don't just stop so suddenlynote 
  • 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 their English-language music they went by just Utada, though as of their new global deal with EMI, they will release all their music under the name Hikaru Utada regardless of language.
  • Out-of-Genre Experience: Almost all their music is pop, R&B or electronic, but they've 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.
    • Their "Hikari" music video is a continuous shot of them washing the dishes and at one point they even go 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 their 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".
  • Rhetorical Question Blunder: Inverted in the spoken section of "Poppin'", where Utada actually wants to know if you want them 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 them and Ayumi Hamasaki when Distance was scheduled for release on the same day as Hamasaki's A Best, though both singers denied this.
  • 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 themself.
  • 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.
    • "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (FYI)", as the name suggests, prominently samples Yellow Magic Orchestra's "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence".
  • Scenery Porn: Their video for Passion is just breath-takingly beautiful.
  • Self-Backing Vocalist: They've done this on all their albums. In fact, "Goodbye Happiness" is the first song to feature female background vocals other than their own.
  • Sequel Song: "Automatic", their 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 their 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.
  • Surreal Music Video: Many, "Traveling" and "Sakura Drops" being some examples.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: In "Wonder 'Bout":
    Late at night, I think about you sometimes \ I don't cry, I wonder if you're alright
  • Teen Pregnancy: "Kettobase!", written when they were 16 or 17, has the repeated line "I want your baby".
  • Textless Album Cover: Their first four Japanese studio albums, as well as Utada Hikaru Single Collection Vol. 2.
  • Title Track: Five of their seven Japanese albums have one. Ultra Blue has a partial one in "Blue" while Fantôme doesn't have one.
    • All three of their 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, for the international releases of various Kingdom Hearts games, they recorded English versions of the theme songs they contributed to the games. Specifically:
    • 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.
    • Their cover of "Hyme a l'amour (Ai no Anthem)" is a partial example. The first part of the song is in the original French while the second part is in Japanese.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behaviour: "First Love" mentions a kiss having the flavor of cigarettes, which attracted some controversy as Utada was only 15 when they wrote the song, though they've stated the line wasn't meant literally.
  • The Unpronouncable: Allegedly the reason that they went by just Utada for their English releases was that "Hikaru" is difficult to pronounce for English-speakers. This also probably inspired their childhood nickname "Hikki".
  • Vapor Wear: Implied for fanservice in "Poppin'":
  • Vocal Evolution: Their singing voice has gotten deeper and more restrained (less melisma and belting) in their newer work, especially Fantôme. They've also gradually reduced the American affect in their pronunciation while singing.
  • Waxing Lyrical: "Come Back To Me".

Alternative Title(s): Utada Hikaru