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    Why Utada Hikaru's 'Exodus' Is Leaving us Lonely for the Holidays


    Skinny Legend

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    While much has been made over the comebacks of pop princesses Gwen Stefani and Fergie over the last month (and with good reason!), there's one artist who we at PHF feel is criminally underrated. Departing from fanbase expectations of her traditional style, she broke out in the same year as our two favourite frontwomen; reinvigorated the pop music scene with fresh new dance sounds straight from the far east, as Gwen did with R&B and Fergie did with hip-hop; and explored the same anxiety over the big time seen in songs like 'What You Waiting For?' and 'Glamorous'.

    Her name? Utada Hikaru - Utada for short.

    Bursting onto the American music scene for the second time just over a decade ago (her first foray into the American market came with 1996's Precious, which failed to chart anywhere until it was re-released in 1999 at the height of her Japanese popularity), Utada's Exodus album came at a significant time for not only the artist herself, but also for the world at large. With a title alluding to the singer's move from Japan to America, as well as her transition from rather straightforward, if odd R&B to experimental dance music, the Biblical allusion may have given the album a lot to live up to - but Utada (or Hikki, as fans call her) delivered in droves. Like Britney's Blackout after it, the album documented the electronic emancipation of a 20 something former teen star who was tasting her first bite of freedom, and licking her lips with every morsel. Capitalizing on a post 9/11 fear of the foreign and the so-called "Asian invasion" which permeated much of early 2000's popular culture, Hikki shocked her fans and the public at large with a dark, eclectic album perfect for the dancefloor, and the post-dancefloor hangover after it.

    What makes the album even more incredible is the level of input Utada herself had. Describing herself as a "mad scientist" who shunned human contact and label intervention during the making of the album, Hikki self-wrote and produced every track on the album, bar two co-productions with her childhood inspiration Timbaland on 'Exodus '04' and 'Let Me Give You My Love'. Disregarding the slightly ill-advised introductory first single, 'Easy Breezy' - whose fun, irreverent lyrics of "You're easy breezy/And I'm Japanesey" clash a little with the overt darkness of the rest of the album, the majority of the work is filled with quirky, unexpected clashes of eastern and western sounds and surprisingly honest, personal lyrics documenting the failure of Utada's marriage to her director husband, Kazuaki Kiriya. 'You Make Me Want To Be A Man', whose music video was directed by Kiriya himself, features shockingly intimate lyrics such as "I really want to tell you something/This is just the way I am/I really want to tell you something, but I can't/You make me want to be a man"; while 'Kremlin Dusk', which features possibly the most epic breakdown of any song ever, contrasting Hikki's concerns over her break into the American music scene with the neediness of a first love with lyrics like "Is it like this?/Is it always the same?/When a heartache begins, is it like this?/If you like this/Will you remember my name?/Will you play it again, if you like this?". Yet other songs explore Hikki's obsession with the fantastical, such as 'Hotel Lobby', which describes a working night for the prostitutes of Japan over an understated, sultry beat; and 'Tippy Toe', which describes the desire for an adulterous relationship in almost uncomfortable detail. Linking all the tracks together is an insatiable desire for honesty which pushes the singer further and further into the realms of her own mind, before exposing her thoughts brazenly for all to hear.

    Sadly, the brightness of Hikki's star was not for us to experience eternally. Following the release of her somewhat less epically experimental R&B album This Is The One back in 2010 and the exhibition of a few compilation albums in the following years, Utada announced an indefinite hiatus from music back in 2011. She's returned a few times, releasing the beautiful one-off single 'Sakura Nagashi' in 2012, hosting her own monthly radio show and responding to the tragic suicide of her mother in 2013, and revealing her marriage in 2014 - but she's yet to make plans for a true comeback, or even let us know if she's ever coming back at all. Recently, a cover album dedicated to Hikki's work and featuring big J-Pop names such as Ayumi Hamasaki and Miliyah Kato was announced for release next month, reflecting her ongoing popularity as the nations sweetheart - but nothing quite matches the excitement running through your veins the first time you listen to Exodus the whole way through, with an empty house primed for dancing all to yourself.

    And that's why, as the fourth quarter of the year approaches and the joyful Christmas season begins, we can't help but feel a little disappointed at the lack of the most important face in the comeback crowd for 2014. Gwen and Fergie have both wowed us with innovative, fun comeback singles recently; but 2004's Holy Trinity of Pop just can't be complete without a new album from Utada. Here's hoping for a Christmas miracle.

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  • Similar Content

    • By Skinny Legend

       
      If you think being a Little Monster is hard, try having Utada Hikaru as your fave.
      Considered by many to be the Queen of J-Pop, the singer has released eight studio albums, sold over 52 million records worldwide, and has the highest selling album ever in Japan with her debut, 1999's First Love. A record she set way back in 2001, when Distance gained the highest first week sales of an album in a single territory worldwide, was only broken last week with Adele's major 25 rollout. But she's left fans hungry for more after announcing an extended hiatus back in 2010, an unprecedented move for an artist of her calibre.
      But if what's being said is true, all that is about to change at the head of next year. According to an unconfirmed report from Sports Hochi, a popular Japanese newspaper, Utada is set to release her ninth studio album - presumably in Japanese - in spring of next year.
      Furthermore, they claim that a promotional strategy has already been planned for the album, with one song from the record being used as the theme song for a Japanese TV drama and another being used in a news program.
      A comeback from Hikki certainly wouldn't be unexpected. Back in July, the 'Come Back To Me' singer revealed that she had been working on a new album for the past nine months. Her father and manager has also alluded constantly to a new release in the form of a soundtrack single for next year's Kingdom Hearts III, making it the third theme song for the series that Utada has composed after 'Simple and Clean' and 'Sanctuary'.
      If and when it's released, Utada's new album will be her first since greatest hits compilation Single Collection Vol. 2 in 2010, which went double platinum, and her first musical release since soundtrack single 'Sakura Nagashi' was released in 2013. While she briefly came out of retirement to host a radio show, KUMA Power Hour, back in 2013, communication since then has been limited to ocassional blog posts and Twitter updates.
      If nothing else, Utada certainly has the inspiration to pen a stellar album. Since her retirement five years ago, the popstar has faced the loss of her mother to suicide in 2013, traversed through Europe on a soul-searching journey which involved meeting Skrillex, moved to Italy to marry her notoriously secretive Italian boyfriend, and given birth to a baby boy in July of this year. Matched with her endlessly poetic lyrics and vast span of references that fuse both western and eastern worlds, we may just have the ingredients for another perfect album from Hikki, like 2006's Exodus.
      What are you expecting from Utada's new album? Do you think she'll be able to match the brilliance of her previous success? Let us know your thoughts down below!
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