2004-09-19 - "Rising Star" - New York Post
Utada Hikaru was 15 when she released a debut record that sold 10 million copies.
By: MAXINE SHEN
New York Post - September 19, 2004
Don't call Utada Hikaru the Japanese Britney Spears - even if she is Japan's hottest young female pop star. "I hate that! It's a pet peeve," says the 21-year-old "J-pop" phenomenon, who's sold over 17 million copies of her four Japanese albums.
"I debuted [in Japan] before she did, but ever since she blew up in America, whenever I'm noticed by non-Asians, people would say, 'I hear you're the Japanese Britney Spears,' and I'm like, 'No, I'm not!'"
Still, Utada admits that the Britney comparison isn't completely unfounded.
"We're both young - I'm actually younger than her - and something about our characters hit our cultures," she says. "Americans are somehow obsessed with her, and something about me hit a spot with people in Japan."
Now the New York-born singer and songwriter is hoping to make her own mark in the U.S., where her first English language album, "Exodus," a multi-genre mix of pop, dance and funk grooves, will be released on Oct. 5.
A virtual unknown here, Utada leads a kind of dual existence, splitting her time between New York, where she's more or less anonymous, and Tokyo, where she causes a stir when she walks down the street.
The daughter of two musicians - her mother, Keiko Fuji, is a traditional-style Japanese singer who's famous in her own right - Utada has been a superstar in Japan since she was 15, when she released a debut that sold a whopping 10 million copies.
"People think I'm too unreal to be walking down the street; they don't expect it. Sometimes people look and they're like, 'No, it can't be,'" says Utada, who's learned to avoid walking on Tokyo's crowded streets and hitting CD stores during the day.
Although Utada wrote and produced most of the album, she got a helping hand from mega-producer Timbaland (Justin Timberlake, Missy Elliot) on three tracks - "Exodus '04," "Wonder 'Bout" and "Let Me Give You[ My Love]."
With lyrics like "I was dancing with a dirty blond Texan/Charming accent but the music's playing too loud/So I showed him how people in the Far East get down," the pop princess is showing off a racier image than the wholesome youngster her Japanese audience is familiar with.
In Japan, where over half a million copies of "Exodus" have already been sold, some of the lyrics have caused a stir.
"People are like, 'Oh my God, what's happened to her," she says. "In Japan, people don't really sing about sexual content ... [but] it doesn't have to be sleazy."
As with her lyrics, Utada has no plans to walk in the sketchy footsteps that have made some of America's pop tarts tabloid fodder. (For one thing, she's been married - to the same guy - since she was 19.)
"I'd rather be seen as a nice girl, and when someone gets to know me, say, 'Oh, so you're not exactly an angel," she says with a grin.