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Ayumi Hamasaki picture, image, poster
Ayumi Hamasaki

Date of birth : 1978-10-02
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Fukuoka, Japan
Nationality : Japanese
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2011-11-19

Ayumi Hamasaki is a Japanese singer-songwriter, record producer, model, lyricist, and actress. Also called "Ayu" by her fans, Hamasaki has been dubbed the "Empress of Pop" because of her popularity and widespread influence in Japan and throughout Asia.

In three short years, Ayumi Hamasaki became the top-selling recording artist in Japan. She first hit the top of the Japanese charts in 1998 with her single "Poker Face"; by 2003 she was the most powerful figure in the Japanese recording industry, idolized by millions of fans, and signed to numerous endorsement deals for products ranging from cosmetics to electronics. Only 18 at the time of her first hit single, Hamasaki has nevertheless earned a reputation for being an extremely savvy businesswoman, personally shaping every aspect of her career, right down to choosing the wardrobe for her album covers.

Ayumi Hamasaki, known as Ayu to her fans, was born in Fukuoka on the Japanese island of Kyushu. Her father left the family while she was still very young, leaving Hamasaki to be raised by her mother and her grandmother. She has had no contact with him since then, and told Lisa Takeuchi Cullen in Time International, "I don't even know if he's dead or alive ... I barely remember him." When she was seven she began a modeling career, partly to help support the family.

She moved to Tokyo at the age of 14, where she continued to work as a model and also began an acting career, landing roles on television and in low-profile films. After a time, however, both careers floundered, and she was dropped by her talent agency. She also had a difficult time in school, and finally dropped out of the tenth grade.

Out of school and out of work, Hamasaki danced away her nights at a popular nightclub in Roppongi called Velfarre. The club was owned by Avex, the company that would become her record label. Through a friend, Hamasaki, then 17, met one of the label's producers. The three of them went out to a karaoke club, where the producer, Masato ("Max") Matsuura, heard her sing. He offered her a recording deal on the spot.

Hamasaki was at first cool to the older man's offer, suspecting him of ulterior motives, but he persisted over the course of the following year, and at last Hamasaki gave in to his request that she begin singing lessons. She liked them no better than high school, however, and stopped going. Matsuura, who continued to believe in his protégé, suggested she go to New York for more advanced training. She agreed, and lived in a midtown hotel for several months while she took voice lessons.

In contrast to her previous studies, Hamasaki found her training in New York--and the city itself--a refreshing change from the rigid Japanese society she was used to. Meanwhile, Matuura, impressed by the writing skill he saw in Hamasaki's letters home, suggested that she try writing lyrics. Hamasaki found this to be her ideal form of expression and in 1998 released her first singles, beginning with "Poker Face."

Her first two singles, both released in 1998, landed at number 20 on the Japanese charts. Her next four singles hit the top ten. Finally, in April of 1999, Hamasaki scored her first number one hit single, "Love Destiny." From then on her singles routinely charted in the top three. That same year Hamasaki released her first album, A Song for XX, for which she wrote all the lyrics; it stayed atop the Japanese charts for five straight weeks.

By most accounts Hamasaki has achieved her extraordinary position by maintaining tight control over every aspect of her image and career--even choosing her makeup for photo shoots and selecting the fonts used on her marketing materials. Her business savvy has led to her nearly ubiquitous presence on Japanese billboards, in the news, and as an endorser of products that range from electronics to snack foods. Hamasaki also has an unusual degree of control over her creative efforts. For instance, even though singing in English could help her reach audiences outside of Japan, she refuses to do so, saying that she expresses herself best in her native language.

Hamasaki keeps herself in the public eye by producing a new single on the average of every two months. Each one features the star in an eye-catching look--made up, for instance, to look European or African. Hamasaki's many faces have even sparked a side industry in fashion, with fans eagerly purchasing elements of her styles, including sunglasses, jeans, and accessories. The star is pragmatic about her status as Japan's most successful recording artist. "It is necessary that I am viewed as a product," she told Takeuchi Cullen for Time International. "I am a product."

In 2002 Hamasaki released I Am ... , the first album for which she composed music. Hamasaki billed herself as "Crea," using her dog's name as a nom de plume. The album, like her previous records, was extremely successful, selling two million copies in Japan in the first two weeks of its release.

By the end of 2002 she had outsold every other recording artist in Japan for the second year in a row. Her influence, however, extended beyond the recording industry: In 2003 Mizuho, the world's largest bank, asked her to help raise its depressed stock price by purchasing shares. Hamasaki was already a proven powerhouse on the Japanese financial scene at the time of the bank's request--she generated almost half the sales for her record company, Avex, the largest record company in Japan.

Hamasaki has said that Madonna is the pop star she most admires, because she became a star entirely on her own terms. Contrary to some press reports, however, Hamasaki denies that she wants to perform with Madonna, preferring to have her image of the star unimpeded by a meeting with the actual person. Hamasaki is equally reluctant to specify her plans for the future. She told Takeuchi Cullen, "I don't have dreams. How can I say it? I myself am a dream. I don't set goals. I do what I love to do at the moment. It's about knowing that if I die tomorrow, I lived the way I wanted to."

In 2003, Hamasaki released three singles, "&", "Forgiveness", and "No Way to Say". To celebrate the release of her thirtieth single ("Forgiveness"), Hamasaki held the A Museum concert at the Yoyogi National Gymnasium. Her mini-album Memorial Address (December 2003) was her first album to be released in CD+DVD format in addition to the regular CD-only format, a decision that came from her increased interest in the direction of her music videos.

On February 28, 2007, Hamasaki released A Best 2, a pair of compilation albums containing songs from I Am... to (Miss)understood. The two versions, White and Black, debuted at the first and second positions on the Oricon weekly charts, making Hamasaki the first female artist in thirty-six years to hold the top two positions on any Oricon album chart. At the end of 2007, the pair became Japan's fifth and seventh best-selling albums of the year respectively.

In February 2011, it was announced that her Arena Tour 2011 A: Hotel Love Songs would start in April. Shortly after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami hit, it was announced that the tour was rescheduled to start in late May and the tour was renamed to Power of Music. Deeply affected by the Tohoku Earthquake and tsunami devastation, Hamasaki decided to collaborate with fashion magazine, Vivi, with the sale of charity shirts and the profits going to help the victims in the devastation.
On August 31, Hamasaki released her second mini album Five, which her first was Memorial Address in 2003. This is her first album to have no singles released. Five managed to top the Oricon Charts for 2 consecutive weeks, her first to do so since (Miss)Understood.

Studio albums:
1999: A Song for ××
1999: Loveppears
2000: Duty
2002: I Am...
2002: Rainbow
2004: My Story
2006: (Miss)understood
2006: Secret
2008: Guilty
2009: Next Level
2010: Rock 'n' Roll Circus
2010: Love Songs

1995: Nothing from Nothing (as "Ayumi")
2003: Memorial Address
2011: Five

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