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.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Utada Hikaru -- Colors

2016 is drawing to a close, and it’s again Kouhaku (紅白歌合戦) time.  Originally, I thought I’ll skip watching this year.  But since Utada Hikaru (宇多田ヒカル) is going to perform for the 1st time, it got me interested and I think I’m going to watch again this year.  Of course, I don’t have any NHK subscription in North America and so I’ll be downloading it from the Internet in January.  I’m also hoping for a SMAP surprise appearance.

I knew Utada's name before I listened to any of her songs.  I remembered the first song I listened was “Can you keep a secret?” It was played at the end of the hit TV drama Hero, starring Kimura Takuya (木村拓哉) and Matsu Takako (松たか子). In fact, it’s not until 2012 when I bought my first Utada CD, a 2nd hand one titled “Single Collection Vol 1”.  In the past few years, I went on and bought a few other songs from Apple Store.  Now, I find myself hooked onto “First Love”, “Letters”, “Colors”, “Flavor of Love”, “Prisoner of Love”, “Sakura Nagashi”, “Goodbye Happiness”, and of course “Can you keep a secret?”.  Especially for “Goodbye Happiness”, its MV on her YouTube channel is extremely cute and it makes various references to her previous hits.  The entire video was taken in 1 shot and I was really impressed.  You should watch it if you got a chance.

I've let myself stray too far off the topic, I guess.  Today, I want to write about Utada's song “Colors”.  It was released in January 2003, her first single after she got married to her first husband Kiriya Kazuaki (紀里谷和明).  According to wiki, she wrote the song in France during her honeymoon with Kazuaki.  I guess being an artist means that you can choose your own working hours, but it also means that you’ll be working all the time!  Also from wiki, if you listen closely to her live performances, she always sang 1-key lower compared to her CD version.  Utada said she originally intend the song to be in that lowered key.  But during recording, people around advised her to sing 1-key higher, and so we now got these 2 versions.

Here’s the link to the official MV:

The lyrics of the song is very abstract and hard to follow.  Utada uses a lot of metaphors.  I’ve read a few interpretations on the Internet, but I like mine best :-) (or otherwise I wouldn't be writing about it)  Let me first say that I found a lot of sexually suggestive language in the song, starting from the very first paragraph.  According to my own interpretation, the song is about a woman who broke up with her boyfriend.  On one hand, she is not ready to give up hope on love, nevertheless she takes revenge at her ex-boyfriend by engaging again and again in one-night stands.  “Like a luring bullfighter flushing in red,” she wrote.

The first paragraph takes place in a love motel.

When I realized the mirage reflected in the mirror
Speed had suddenly picked itself up

I have never been to a love motel myself, but through various movies and documentaries, I’ve seen mirrors on the ceiling and around the bed.  When human is having an orgasm, he/she is delusional and everything he/she sees is mirage-like.  I’m not going to describe the 2nd sentence and you’ll have to imagine why there’s a pick up of speed.

We're now in the break-up scene, where her ex-boyfriend told her that “he doesn’t care anymore”.  She was disappointed and everything started turning gray.  From the very start, she’s already unsure about him but now everything is shattered.

In the 3rd scene, she remembers making love with him.

炎の揺らめき 今宵も夢を描く
あなたの筆先 渇いていませんか
Tonight, flames are flickering, and again we’ll be painting our dreams
My darling, has ink gone dry on your brush tip yet?

The chorus reveals her attitude about love and sex.

いいじゃないか キャンバスは君のもの
今は真っ赤に 誘う闘牛士のように
If there’s no blue sky in sight, let’s open a blue umbrella
Isn’t it nice? The canvas is his
One holds up the white flag only when she’s giving up
For now, I’ll be like a luring bullfighter flushing in red

Previously, she used painting as a metaphor for love making.  So "canvas" here refers to herself.  When there's no blue sky she's going to make one up herself by sleeping with men after men.  She's not ready to give up and she's doing it as if it's a revenge against her ex-boyfriend.  Her reference to bullfight is, in my opinion, sexually suggestive - as the bull charges towards the bullfighter it passes through the muleta as if it's entering into something.

In the next scene, she's met her new partner "on a black and white chessboard under fading fluorescent light."  Confused, they quickly fell in love with each other in a month's time.  I imagine that the chessboard metaphor means that they're probably playing games with each other at the beginning.

Unfortunately, things ended quickly.  It would have been great if they could just watch the orange sunset together.  But they quarreled and eventually broke up.  She vows not to wear "black outfits" because they're only for attending funerals.  She went back and continue her quest for one-night stands, intentionally leaving red rouge marks on every man's body, as if she's keeping score of her revenge against her ex-boyfriend.

Lastly, she reveals her attitude again in the ending portion of the song.

塗りつぶしてよ キャンバスを何度でも
If one say she can only produce dreamless paintings
Just paint the canvas over and over again, as many times as you please
A person only holds up a white flag when she's giving up
By now you have no idea what color I've become

If she couldn't find her true love, she'd rather sleep with as many men as she wants.  She's also telling her ex-boyfriend that the next time they meet, she'll be an unknown color to him!

Throughout the song, a total of 6 colors are mentioned: black, white, blue, red, orange, and gray, each signifying a different emotional state of the female protagonist.  The word color also serves as a double metaphor - men with whom she slept with.

I am personally very impressed with the song, both its lyrics and its arrangement.  I am not a fan of electronica.  But I really love its use throughout the song, especially in the intro and the conclusion.  It gives the song a layer of mystery.  As I listen to the music, I could totally imagine myself being in a night club, which is quite fitting for its contents.

Before I end this blog post, I want to mention one last thing that I've read on another blog.  The author said for some unknown reason, gay men are especially attracted to Utada's songs, Japanese or English.  He's himself gay and he said all his gay friends agree with him. 

The true meaning of Colors will remain unknown until Utada speaks up.  I don't know if she'll come across Kayo Kyoku Plus some day and offer her own comments :)

Let's enjoy the last day of 2016, and I wish everybody a Happy New Year 2017!


  1. There's a point in COLORS, at 2:56, where Utada stretches the colors she had previously been singing of out to a full second measure as the backing track of the song drops away, like the ground quickly falling from a car ramping off bridge. It's a beautiful, soaring moment, like she ran out of song and couldn't bear to stop singing until it came back.

  2. Hi, Larry. Good to have seen you again for lunch down at Kingyo the other day.

    Ah, so that's what "Colors" was all about. I remember the video for the song more than the actual song itself...all that visual imagery such as the two women intertwined with each other.

    Nope, I never had the opportunity to visit a love hotel although I've walked past a few of them in Shibuya. I can only imagine what a black light sensor would reveal in those rooms. :)

    1. It was great catching up with you over lunch. Happy New Year and may all your wishes come true in 2017! :P At the airport waiting for my flight right now.

    2. Same here, Larry. Safe flight home and let me know when you're back in town.

  3. Wow, that's very interesting! I had never though about the lyrics like this, now the song has a new layer to me.

    Also, have you listened to her latest album? Fantome. I'd love to read your comments about it.

    Happy new year. :)

    1. I haven't listened to her whole album. But I love Sakura Nagashi and Manatsu no Tooriame. I downloaded those 2 to my iPhone and enjoy them from time to time. For some reason, I don't find Hanataba wo Kimi ni interesting.

  4. As a gay guy, I second that opinion. I got a great group of friends via Hikki fan club, Just to find out later that 90% are either gays or lesbians 😂

    I'm forever in debt her for giving me the best friends of my life!

    1. I forgot where I read that. I think it was a blog. I'm glad that Utada Hikari's music help you find the best friends of your life!


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