J-Pop Will Eat Itself
Ayumi Hamasaki



in this series, clicks’n’cuts dilettante Francis Henville describes his descent into the netherworld of Japanese, Taiwanese and Korean commercial pop. Track by track, he navigates deeper into the genre, searching for ever-more-toothsome morsels with which to satiate his jaded appetite…

Ayumi Hamasaki
Moments (Acoustic Piano Version)


Is Ayumi Hamasaki even real? Plug her name into Google’s image search and her face will pop up. Surely human beings like her couldn’t have existed before the industrial revolution. In the cuteness category, she makes Bjork look like Meatloaf. I prefer to think of her as a calcification of caste, breeding and modern elitism, secreted by years of consumption and eventually congealed into the perfect delicacy.

Of course, beauty wouldn’t be beauty without an expiry date. But for now, Ayumi is one of the strongest marketing tools Japan has, and she is used to sell every species of clothing, cell phone, makeup, television program and food that can’t be sold without the blessing of flawless twenty-something estrogen. When I went to Taiwan in 2000, her first album had just come out, and I remember seeing enormous images of her in a gattopardo catsuit—pouting, flipping a limp wrist—plastered to the exteriors of multistory music retailers. (I’m sure that image fueled the disgusting imaginations of the furries that Rich “Lowtax” Kyanka always aims his diatribes at.)

I hated Ayumi’s music. Most of her biggest hits were moronic, glassy happy-hardcore songs that battered the tiny speaker-systems of street vendors and bulk candy stores. And since then she has recorded albums that have milked the enormous teats of the lowest common denominator, jumping from lifeless techno to impotent rock to insincere ballads. Despite Ayumi’s figure, her music seems inherently fattening, and full of bad cholesterol.

This year, her biggest single has been “Moments,” which I found impossible to keep down until I heard this version. Her vocals are accompanied by a single piano, playing a simple but carefully inflected arrangement. It’s a track that lets you put her voice under a microscope.

And a new world is revealed. Ayumi sings lead and backup on this track, but she’s most effective when replicating herself in unison. Rather than rerecording the song with a rubato pianist, it seems that her producers have simply replaced the original pathetic rocking backing tracks with a piano. This piano couldn’t possibly be what Ayumi heard as she laid down her parts.

Her voice is full of breathless anticipation: perhaps she is imagining the future heights of media penetration and profit that her career will reach. Although her phrasing is carefully contrived, her voice has none of the whininess of Christina Aguilera’s, and when you place her next to American Idols, they seem like soulless husks. What’s more, the piano arrangement allows the unquestionable professionalism of Ayumi’s songwriters to shine through.

Not understanding the words, I’ve come to conceive of this as a paean to marketing. Play this track on headphones and look up at the bald blue sky, and you’ll hear her negotiating the price of the clouds and the distant birds. It’s impossible to think of Ayumi addressing this song to any lover but capitalism.

Poor thing. I wonder if she can lust after anyone as much as they can lust after her? It’s not enough for her to be stunningly proud and weak. No matter how many mirrors she looks into, she’ll never be attracted to her own exquisite lines. She couldn’t possibly love herself enough. I believe she knows this, and as evidence I submit the desperately polished perfection of her performance on this track.



By: Francis Henville
Published on: 2004-07-29
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