Since her debut single poker face hit stores in 1998, Ayumi Hamasaki has led one of J-pop’s most prolific careers. Although she hails from modest roots on Fukuoka–the daughter of a single mother who modeled and acted in B-movies before dropping out of high school–with the help of mega-producer Max Matsuura, she has sold millions of her self-penned albums and singles. Now 15 year on from her debut, she is the highest-selling female and solo artist in Oricon Style’s history. She has broken almost every sales record there is to break, and as of 2004, she has taken home the industry’s highest honor–the Japan Gold Disc Award for Artist of the Year–a record three times.
A notorious workaholic, Ayumi Hamasaki–now widely known as “Ayu”–has spent the last decade meticulously grooming her brand. She has lent her name to dozens of high-profile endorsements like Panasonic and RIMMEL cosmetics, and her evolution from teen trendsetter to grown-up fashion icon can be seen in the hundreds of fashion pictorials she’s shot over the years. All of this is done while she continuously records critically and popularly acclaimed albums. When not in the studio, Ayu spends her time personally bringing her music to her fans in theatrical spectacles that tour throughout Asia.
For all its grandeur, Ayu’s musical career will forever be characterized as giving a voice to a generation. All of her self-penned lyrics are deeply personal, famously articulating her lonely adolescence and later exploring her ever-expanding world view. Even recently in 2007, when she experienced both great fame–a record-breaking second single collection–and personal tragedy–permanent deafness in her left ear and the death of a friend–she poured her heart and soul into her songwriting, creating a listening experience for fans that was intimate, heartfelt, and wholly unique. Her fame may have earned her the casual title “Japan’s Madonna,” but Ayu is an artist all of her own. TIME Magazine was onto something in 2002: especially now, it’s safe to say that Ayumi Hamasaki is the true “Empress of Pop.”
“I don’t set goals. Like, that’s what I want to be doing however many years from now. I do what I love to do at the moment. If I wake up tomorrow and decide I want to dance, that’s what I’d do. Or design clothes. I think I’d throw myself into whatever I’m doing now. It’s not about abandoning what I was doing before, or giving up. It’s about knowing that if I die tomorrow, I lived the way I wanted to.”
- Ayumi Hamasaki, qtd. in TIME Magazine “Empress of Pop”