(New York, 1983- )
Singer/songwriter Utada Hikaru is one of the biggest names in Japanese music. Born in New York, her mother is the famous enka singer Fuji Keiko. "Hikki" spent a lot of her childhood in recording studios and started writing song lyrics in English when she was only 10. At that time, she liked rock bands such as Bon Jovi and Queen but she later became a fan of R&B music. By the time she was 12 she had already released 3 singles in the US, where she used the name 'Cubic U'. She released her first English album in Japan, Precious, under this name in January 1998. The record was reasonably well received but by way of a re-entry into the Japanese pop music market, it was decided that she would use her real name.
The first single Automatic,released in December 1998, was a No.1 hit, as was the second Movin' On Without You, released in February 1999 and used in a Nissan TV commercial. As expected, her debut Japanese album First Love went straight to No.1 in the charts in March 1999. But more than that, it became the most popular debut album ever in Japan, selling more than 8 million copies.
This success was quickly followed up when her next single was used as the theme song for a popular TV drama series and she made a TV commercial for Sony. She said: "I want to continue to make my own music. And I want to continue to surprise people with my music." Utada's obvious talent, equal to that of similar artists in the US, set her apart from many of her peers in Japan, whose main assets are not the ability to sing or dance but manipulability, nice looks and a squeaky-clean image. She was set to build her own kind of career that could change the face of Japanese music.
But that level of success at such a tender age was not without its downside. While on her first national tour in 2000, she started to suffer from stomach pains, to the extent that she was forced to cancel a show. This experience led her to forego touring for several years and concentrate on other things, such as going back to the US to study at Columbia University.
In the summer of 2002, she surprised the media with the announcement of her marriage to a little-known photographer 15 years her elder. Kiritani Kazuaki is the son of a wealthy Kumamoto family, who ran away to the US in his teens. Based in New York, he was commisioned to take photos and direct videos for Utada's early work. She had the media in a frenzy again shortly afterwards, with the announcement that she was fighting cancer. Helped perhaps by her youth -- this was before she even turned 20 -- she made a quick recovery. Not only that but she won the Gold Disc award for album and single sales for the year, racking up well over 6 million copies sold.
In 2004, she attempted to break into the US market, using just her family name this time, after having signed with the Def Jam label early in 2002. The time gap gave an indication of how much thought and work was being put into the project. But it was only moderately successful, and she had little impact on the European market the following year.
In the summer of 2006 she played her first national tour in six years, in support of her fourth original album, Ultra Blue. But the next major news from Utada was her divorce from Kiritani in March 2007. About a year later, rumors appeared that Kiritani had been having an affair with an actress at the time.
In January 2010 she embarked on her first overseas concert tour. While she was playing a series of shows at smaller venues in North America and London, she revealed that her romance with an artist eight years her elder had come to an end. Sadder still, at least for her legions of fans, was the announcement in August 2010 that she was planning to get away from music altogether for an indefinite period of time. She posted on her blog that she had been in music since she was 15 and had missed out on growing up in many ways.
In December 2012 she took fans by surprise by releasing "Sakura Nagashi" the theme song for an Evangelion big screen anime movie. The promo video for the single was made by the award-winning director Kawase Naomi.
Tragedy struck the family once again in August 2013, when Utada's mother Fuji Keiko died after falling from the 13th-floor balcony of her Tokyo apartment, in what was an apparent suicide.
But unbeknownst to fans, the resiliant Utada had the support of a young Italian man, and in February 2014 she announced that she and her 23-year-old fiance were getting married in his hometown of Fasano in southern Italy. Although still in the traditional mourning period for her mother, Utada explained on her website that the news of their romance had made her mother "happier than I'd seen her in years" and she was sure she would approve.