2004-10-01 - "Popular female singer Utada to make U.S. debut" - Kyodo News

"Popular female singer Utada to make U.S. debut"

Kyodo News - TokyoNow Section
Friday October 1, 2004 8:35 AM

Popular female singer Hikaru Utada will make her debut in the United States on Oct. 5 with her album "Exodus," in what may determine whether J-pop can make a breakthrough in winning worldwide popularity.
In the album, Utada sings not only J-pop but also hip-hop and rock 'n' roll, all in English.

Steve McClure, chief of the Asian bureau of the U.S. magazine Billboard which compiles the U.S. charts, said Utada has no problem with English pronunciation, and that compared with other artists who have tried to break out overseas, her level is overwhelmingly high.

But he said that while she may be ranked 50th in the album charts, the arrangements are over-elaborated and the natural sounds of musical instruments cannot be heard.

Her music's width is too wide, and those who listen to her songs for the first time may wonder what she is actually good at, McClure added.

There are many Japanese musicians who have won popularity abroad after reaching their peak in Japan, but only five singers and singing groups, including the Pink Lady and YMO, have been in the top 100 in Billboard's singles charts.

"Many producers think songs in English produced with famous producers will become a hit, but nothing is that easy," said Naoto Sato, an official of the compact disk shop American Pie of Tokyo who is well versed in U.S. music.

The late Kyu Sakamoto's song "Let's walk in looking upward" debuted in the United States in 1963 in the original Japanese with the title changed to "Sukiyaki." It topped the charts for three weeks in a row.

"The 'Macarena,' which sold quite fast in the 1990s, is a song in Spanish. A really good song can be sold regardless of its language," Sato said.

There are moves to broaden the appeal of J-pop by leveraging popular Japanese animated cartoons.

TOFU Record, created in Los Angeles in July last year, has been churning out CDs of Japanese musicians related to animated cartoons, including TM Revolution and Nami Tamaki.

One CD has sold 8,000 copies, making TOFU Record a good fighter as an indie.

A U.S. cable TV channel specializing in animated cartoons with about 80 million households as viewers will begin a variety program by picking the Puffy, a two-member singing group which has broken into the United States, as animated cartoon characters in November.

Yaz Noya of TOFU Record said, "With animated cartoons, the number of young people interested in Japanese pop culture is increasing. We would like to sell the creativity of Japanese culture without flattering."

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