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    PCR #505  (Vol. 10, No. 48)  This edition is for the week of November 23--29, 2009.

"Old Dogs" †by Mike Smith
Show Review: Renninger's Antique Extravaganza 2009 †by ED Tucker
Utadaís Shot at the U.S. Market †by Jason Fetters
I Visit The Slaughterhouse †by John Miller
Like Father Like Son .... See You In Hell (you, Not Me) .... Passing On .... .... .... .... .... .... My Favorite Films, Part 2 by Mike Smith
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Utadaís Shot at the U.S. Market

I remember being a college student in Hirakata City, Osaka, Japan, when a young 19-year-old female singing sensation hit the Japanese music charts with her single First Love, which sold over 7 million copies. When her first Japanese album called First Love, was released in Japan, the whole country became engrossed in Utada-mania as her album became the highest-selling CD in Japanese music history. It was the same experience as being a kid in 1980ís American when Michael Jacksonís Thriller came out and took the country by storm. With both artists, you had people everywhere who owned the album and had a definite opinion.

Part of the success of First Love as a single was the fact that Utada was bilingual and able to flawlessly switch between singing in Japanese and English. Previous Jpop stars had thick accents when singing in English; but not Utada.

Utada was born in New York City in 1983 to musician parents. She recorded her debut CD under the name Cubic U, Precious, and it went unreleased in the United States for a couple of years. She moved to Tokyo to attend the American School in Tokyo that still has an excellent English language curriculum. After graduating, she released two singles, Automatic and Moviní On Without You that achieved tremendous success on the charts and when First Love debuted, Utada was a major star in Japan.

Part of Utadaís success is the fact that she doesnít want to be a just a cute-looking idol singer that dances around and lip-synchs like a Britney Spears. In fact, on the video for Bohemian Summer, 2001, Utada starts to sing and messes up and apologizes to the audience and then asks the audience if it's OK to go back and start again. I have never seen a singer do that and actually appear to care for her audience. Another aspect of Utada is the fact that she writes her own songs and just doesnít allow a Japanese music producer to write a bunch of hits for her. A lot of Jpop singers do that with the results lacking any kind of personality and look into the artistís thinking when you read their lyrics. It's this type of authentic approach that can appeal to an international audience, which is growing more cynical and always looking for fakes.

I was also fortunate to see the release of Utadaís second Japanese album called Distance that contained the singles Wait & See: Risk, Addicted to You, For You/Time Limit, and Can You Keep A Secret?. Distance was also a major hit within Japan but also with a growing group of niche International fans. Several of my classmates that were learning Japanese went out to buy Distance and that album showed me what was to come.

Since Distance, Utada has tried to break into the US market with the disastrous Exodus that had the single Easy Breezy that was such a letdown from her past Japanese singles. Easy Breezy contains one of the worst lyrics in any recorded song with the line: "Youíre Easy Breezy and Iím Japanesey."

The problem here is a similar problem that Jackie Chan had trying to make it in the US, when Asian entertainers cross over they are paired with American producers who try to alter their abilities to fit in with the U.S. market. The results of this localizing produces awful products and do a disservice to the artists involved. If American producers would leave Asian entertainers alone and not try to add Western influences that look silly, the results would be much better. A lot of times these people have no idea why someone is popular in Asia as when James Glickenhaus was directing Jackie Chan in The Protector and telling Chan to act like Clint Eastwood. Chan is a comedian and the stiff approach of Eastwood did not work at all. Matsuda Seiko, a popular 80ís Japanese singer had an equally bad experience when she tried to break in the US and failed. Seiko wasnít properly advertised and marketed in the US and, once again, paired with music producers who had no idea of how to work with a Japanese artist and also muddled the creative process so much that whatever music was recorded and released was a total failure from the beginning.

I get the same dissatisfied feeling after listening to Utadaís third US English language CD, This Is The One, which contains bad lyrics, overt sexual content (which doesnít work for Utada), and brainless music producers that are trying to groom an Asian Star for the Western market.

I recently saw on YouTube Utada singing Come Back to Me on American TV and her performance was stiff and awkward. She lacked the energy and playful dances from her Bohemian Summer concert. Iím not sure is she was advised to appear that way by mindless PR people or if she is changing herself for an American audience, whatever the reasons, it just doesnít work.

One trend I have noticed is that all of Utadaís US releases have modest success here and then when they get exported to Japan have tremendous success on the Japanese music charts. However, her Japanese releases all do well in Japan and have International success with a small group of niche fans who are not demanding that a singer sing in English. I think her Japanese albums are better because in Japan she has creative control and she already has a large fan base that allows her to experiment and come up with interesting music. For This Is The One, Utada comes across as trying to compete with Beyonce and Britney Spears and her real singing ability is suffering as a result.

This Is The One had favorable reviews from several different music critics. Part of this is probably the fact that those critics didnít go back to listen to her Japanese releases which contain better music, lyrics, songwriting, and most importantly, singing.

Utada still has a major chance for the US and International market as her tour dates for the US are currently selling out for next yearís tour. I would go see her even if she was singing her second-rate US hits but I would rather hear her Japanese songs.

If Utada had better marketing, and music producers that would leave her alone, I believe she has the talent and it's just a matter of bringing the right combination of people together to work on it.

"The Asian Aperture" is ©2009 by Jason Fetters. †Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova. †All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2009 by Nolan B. Canova.