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.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Ayumi Hamasaki -- vogue

In a way, I kinda feel inappropriate about writing on this song by Ayumi Hamasaki(浜崎あゆみ). As I stated in my very first article ("SEASONS") for the singer-songwriter who had basically held control over a good chunk of the charts starting from the late 1990s and into the 2000s, I never became a super fan of hers, but reading from her biography on J-Wiki and Wikipedia, she did have something to say about herself through her lyrics. Perhaps someone on the blog who is a huge enthusiast could give a better rendition here, but I will try my best.

"vogue" was Hamasaki's 14th single released in April 2000, and it was the first in a trio of singles which became known as the singer's "Trilogy of Hopelessness". The next two singles, "Far Away" and the aforementioned "SEASONS" detailed the singer's past and future respectively, whereas "vogue" focuses on her present. However, the general theme for the trilogy is one of pessimism.

Looking at her lyrics in this song, she seems to describe herself as a pretty flower and yet a flower that will inevitably fritter away. The impression is that there seemed to be a lot of insecurity within her, and the Wikipedia article for "vogue" points out her then-current dissatisfaction with her previous songs in terms of how well she expressed her message through them.

And yet, at the time that I was in Japan, my feeling was that Hamasaki had become a powerful force in Japanese pop culture with everyone being very positive not just on her music but also her fashion sense. I used to see her on the music shows, holding her own very well with the likes of comedic duo Downtown and appearing like someone who was quite cordial but wasn't going to kowtow to anybody.

During one week, CNN International had devoted a part of its programming to modern-day Japan, and Hamasaki was one celebrity that was interviewed during that week. I remembered the interview as being somewhat awkward although I thought the singer was OK doing the talk in Japanese and in fairly fluent English. There seemed to be some sizing up between her and the interviewer through their eyes and body language but didn't think that Hamasaki was being evasive. My point here is that I, as a casual observer of her fame, never thought that she was ever particularly insecure but pretty shrewd.

Then again, perhaps I may have misread the situation. It may not be so much insecurity but frustration about how she wanted to get her point across instead of going up those Oricon rankings.

As I said before, I didn't follow Hamasaki's music too too closely at the time, but I do remember the music video for "vogue" which occupied TV for months. It was always that special effects scene of her in that strawberry blond hair among the cherry blossoms with the innocent smile while the journey-like music played away, so I had no idea about how dark those lyrics were. The Wiki article talked about the Latin beat in there, but I also think it sounds as if it had come from an even deeper part of Europe, just like the way that some of those old kayo from the late 1970s had sounded.

"vogue" reached No. 3 on Oricon and ended up as the 23rd-ranked single of 2000, going Triple Platinum and selling over 760,000 copies. It was also placed on her third studio album "Duty", released in September 2000, which also included the other two songs from her trilogy. That album went straight to the top and stayed for 4 weeks running and became the 2nd-ranked album of the year. It finished 2001 in 77th place, and in terms of all-time top albums in Oricon history, it is currently 24th.

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