Sunday, September 9, 2007

Utada Hikaru - Devil Inside

Utada Hikaru - "Devil Inside"

If I had updated this when I was supposed to, I could complain about how Rolling Stone readers in Japan get a cover with Rei Ayanami for the month of September, while we've been stuck with Maroon 5 and High School Musical for the past two issues. As it is now, we have the 50 Cent/Kanye West cover story, which is a vast improvement over the past two which they probably won't follow up unless they find another reason to put Bob Dylan or Led Zeppelin on the cover again. Meanwhile, Japanese readers are treated to some story about the new Evangelion movies and/or global warming, or something. Just another reason I wish I knew Japanese.

Rei Ayanami, of course, is still voiced by Megumi Hayashibara, whose work as a pop icon in Japan is -- at least to my sometimes-armchair otaku point of view -- rivaled only by Utada Hikaru. Megumi's musical output, which I've already fawned over, seems to have peaked in the 90s, while Utada's has reigned over the charts for almost the last ten years now. And though Japanese pop music is notorious as an industry that controls and sometimes consumes its artists, Utada's career has been free from trends and makeovers, at least compared to her American contemporaries from the same time period. Even after ten years, her music still sounds fresh and vibrant, her success continues despite her longevity, and her charisma remains undeniable -- if there's a more likable pop star in the world, please tell me. Though sadly, there doesn't seem to be any way for her to break into the English-speaking market, despite the fact that she is, in fact, an American-born citizen whose first language is English.

The possibility of her success in America and beyond wasn't lost on everyone; in 2004, she released an album of all-English songs on Island Records. Exodus received a bit of attention from the involvement of Timbaland on a pair of tracks, but was hardly promoted at all and, as a major label debut, completely tanked in the US. Her devoted American fans never got the chance to see her up close, either. As far as I can tell, her only promotional appearance for the album was at some club in New York, a VIPs-only affair attended by various NYC fashion fucks and greasy scenesters like Vincent Gallo. The lead single for the album, "Easy Breezy," was fun but a horrible way to try to introduce her to a new audience. "Devil Inside," on the other hand, hit #1 on the dance charts -- an honor of ambiguous distinction that doesn't really seem to lead to anything for artists, unless they're already making hits on the pop charts -- but failed to gain any airplay at all on radio.

This wasn't all that surprising, but at the very least, I was hoping that it would get some good word-of-mouth on the internet. After all, it was a huge, risky song that broke pop conventions, and in the wake of Richard X and "Toxic," it only made sense that bloggers would at least notice it. Maybe they were too busy flipping their shit over Annie (and eventually Robyn) to notice? "Devil Inside" was my favorite song of 2004, despite being shut out of the fluxpop party where it should have been celebrated.

This would have nothing to do with Evangelion, if not for the welcome fact that Utada's next single is featured in the new Evangelion movie. I haven't heard "Beautiful World" but her take on "Fly Me To the Moon" can be heard in the film's trailer. No word if or when this will ever be out in America. I've just assumed that we won't get this, or any of the upcoming movies, for another few years. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised. Maybe not.

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