I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Hikaru Utada -- Prisoner Of Love

After being flooded with news regarding Hikaru Utada’s (宇多田ヒカル) comeback to the music industry, I started thinking about my own journey towards Japanese pop music.

Even though it all started with Megumi Hayashibara (林原めぐみ) and anime songs back in 2004, I only truly ventured into mainstream J-Pop after hearing Hikki’s “Prisoner Of Love” in late 2008 (thanks to a dear friend of mine who was positively obsessed with Fuji TV’s “Last Friends” [ラスト・フレンズ], a.k.a the drama in which the song was included).

After watching the drama, and also falling in love with the theme song “Prisoner Of Love”, I felt really closer to Japanese mainstream pop culture. At the time, it felt like I was renewing my interest in the country’s culture, as, before, I only watched anime and listened to anime-related songs. In other words, I was giving a step forward.

Hikaru Utada, but also rising Technopop unit Perfume, became my two new favorite artists during 2009. Also, the word aidoru, even though very present in discussions thanks to Hello! Project and the still rising AKB48, sounded like an odd thing that was better to keep some distance from. In the end, Hikki was mature and cool, while Perfume was fun, over-the-top and innovative. Everything blessed and backed by my love for Megumi Hayashibara, of course.

After a couple of years, my Hikki days started cooling down (contemporary R&B/Hip-Hop, but also epic ballads, were never my thing). By the end of 2010, when everyone was astonished by Hikaru’s sudden news regarding a temporary hiatus, I was already jamming to 80s aidoru singers, such as Chisato Moritaka (森高千里), Miho Nakayama (中山美穂), Akina Nakamori (中森明菜) and Wink. Not that the news weren’t a bit sad to me, but I was already moving forward... again.

In 2011, while watching her 2010’s final concert “WILD LIFE - Live at Yokohama Arena”, I just kept thinking about and discussing with a couple of friends the possibility of Hikki’s return to the music scene. In all honesty, I wasn’t so sure of her return. Moreover, I had a fear: how’d be the Japanese music industry when (or if) Hikki decided to return? Things were probably going to be different in various ways.

Hikaru left Japan just when the aidoru phenomenon exploded in popularity. I don’t really know if she followed the industry during her hiatus (I’m almost certain she just ignored it), but it must have been a little painful to her to think monstrous aidoru groups such as AKB48 and Momoiro Clover Z (ももいろクローバーZ), to name a few, started getting recognition. Also, the contemporary R&B sound, which was trendy during the 00s, almost vanished from the media (EXILE and related groups were exceptions to the norm, as they were able to mantain a big popularity) in favour of the bubblegum pop that took Japan by storm.

“Prisoner Of Love” was Hikaru’s last physical single before the hiatus, being released in May 2008. The song first appeared in the album “HEART STATION”, which was released a couple of months earlier, in March, but it was later released as a re-cut single thanks to the successful drama “Last Friends”.

The song, even though far from Utada’s most artistic singles, such as “SAKURA Drops” (SAKURAドロップス) or “COLORS”, is full of hooks, while also backed by a rich arrangement (the strings, my friend, the strings...) and Urban/R&B/Hip-Hop beats. Vocal wise, it’s Hikaru in her most romantic and melodramatic persona, which culminates in the fading lines “Stay with me, stay with me... My baby, say you love me... Stay with me, stay with me... Hitori ni sasenai” near the end. A true pop masterpiece, for sure!

Nowadays, even though I still have my moments of devoting some love to “Prisoner Of Love”, Hikaru is far from being my favorite Japanese artist. However, as some YouTube commenter expressed, “her voice sounds like home”. It surely does, and I’m happy she’s back in the industry. Also, judging from the little snippet of her new song, “Hanataba wo Kimi ni” (花束を君に), I can say my heart felt warmer after being filled with her voice. Yeah, she’s playing safe... but home is a safe place, isn’t it?

(cover version)

“Prisoner Of Love” reached #2 on the Oricon charts, selling 83,626 copies. Lyrics and music were written/composed by Hikaru Utada herself, while the arrangement was done by Hikaru Utada and Yuzuru Tomita (富田譲).



  1. Hi, Marcos.

    It was good to hear your story about how you got interested in Japanese popular music. So, Hikaru and Perfume were your guides into J-Pop eh? For me, it was Seiko and Akina.

    I caught the first episode of NHK's new morning serial and was surprised to hear Hikaru doing the theme song. I wonder if she will be doing a new album in the near future.

    1. Hi, J-Canuck.

      Yeah, I got quite emotive when I heard about Hikaru's comeback, so I wanted to share this story here in the blog. Like I said, it all started with Megumi, but Perfume and Hikki were very important in branching out.

      I also asked my friend (the one who introduced "Prisoner Of Love" to me) to read the post, and, even though he didn't comment here, he told me how nostalgic he was listening to this song again while reading what I've written. He's even going to visit me next week in order to listen to some J-Pop, so this post ended being quite helpful too.

      As fas as I know, Hikki will release two digital singles next week ("Hanataba wa Kimi ni" and another one I don't recall the name), and I'm sure she's working on a new album... maybe for the yead-end. Let's see...

    2. It's good for friends to get together to share hobbies. Hope you guys have a good time next week.


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