2004-10-03 - "Found in translation, Hikaru" - New York Daily News
"Found in translation, Hikaru"
By: REBECCA LOUIE - DAILY NEWS FEATURE WRITER
New York Daily News - October 3, 2004
With long black hair and pixielike features, Utada Hikaru looks like a female pop pinup.
But the 21-year-old singer insists that, in many ways, she's really a man.
"It's a bit confusing being a young girl, because my taste in music and what I do is more like a 35-year-old guy," says the Japanese star, who makes her stateside, English-language debut tomorrow when her CD "Exodus" reaches stores.
"Sometimes, I feel as though I'm caught in this girl's body and I'm like, ‘No! I want to be Trent Reznor!'"
Departing from lighthearted Japanese or "J-pop" that has sold 17 million albums overseas, "Exodus" assaults with innovative dance beats and mischievous lyrics.
Unlike many chart-topping talents here, Hikaru wrote and produced the entire album herself. Missy Elliott collaborator Timbaland joins her on three tracks.
"In Japan, Utada is a pop goddess," says Tario (Magurochan) Cham of Japanese music culture site jpop.com. "There, music is very limited. No matter how big you are, you have to follow the trends.
"On ‘Exodus,' Hikaru has more freedom to explore things. This album has a lot of fusion on it, hip hop, dance, experimental." Born on the upper East Side to musical parents (mom was a traditional Japanese singer and dad a producer), Hikaru wrote her first song in Japanese at age 10 and a full English language album at 13.
Her family then moved back to Tokyo, where a label executive suggested she attempt recording in Japanese. At 15, her debut, "First Love," sold 9 million copies.
Though she abandoned biology studies at Columbia, Hikaru has a bookish approach to working on her music.
"The same parts of my brain get as excited as when I study bio or read a novel and write a paper on it," she says. "You begin with a thesis, take through the next paragraph, bring it to a conclusion."
Trying her luck at a whole new market is a nerve-racking affair. "It's frightening to think, ‘Oh my God, no one is going to like it, no one is going to hear it," she says of her eclectic sound. "I just want people to see that I do my own stuff, that I'm not stupid, and I can make fun of myself."
When creatively blocked, Hikaru takes baths or tries yoga or Pilates at home.
"I don't like going to the gym because I don't like being with people I don't know in that intense environment," she says. "That's like telling someone to do squats on the train."
She now splits her time between here and Tokyo. She's been married to her video director, 15 years her senior, for two years. Of marrying so young, she says: "I figure no matter how old you are, it's always going to be your first marriage and no life experience is going to make you a better judge of who you should marry."