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Publication Date : 09-07-2012
Japanese pop queen Namie Amuro's new album may be called "Uncontrolled", but the interview with her was anything but.
Questions had to be vetted beforehand and her management specified that there were to be no personal questions. Even a query on what she thought of Korean pop was deemed unsuitable and struck off the list. No matter, at the press conference held at Ku De Ta Club Lounge last Friday, the question was asked and Amuro obliged with a response.
Speaking through an interpreter, the 34-year-old singer says in Japanese: "K-pop is really popular in Japan and many amazing artists do have concerts in Japan and I've also gone to see them. They also have great music and I think it's a good musical exchange for both sides."
It might well be due to K-pop's wave of popularity in the region that has prompted Japanese stars to venture beyond their own shores to start building up their popularity. Veteran rock band L'Arc-En-Ciel performed at the Singapore Indoor Stadium for the first time in April and this is Amuro's first visit here after two decades in entertainment.
To mark the milestone, "Uncontrolled", her ninth studio album, was released on June 27 and she will be embarking on a major tour of Japan in November and December. It is expected to draw more than 300,000 people.
As for holding a concert here, she says: "I'd really love to hold a concert in Singapore and if that really comes through, I hope all of you can come to my concert."
In addition, she will be holding a special show at her birthplace, Okinawa, on September 16.
The star began her career in the 1990s as part of the girl group Super Monkey's.
Those salad days were tough and she recalls: "We wanted very much to be singers and we always talked about our dreams of doing so. We had to undergo voice training and dance training. I also tried acting but it was too difficult."
Dressed in an all-black get-up paired with black heels, Amuro is tastefully put together. It would almost be too restrained were it not for the caramel-streaked tresses and gold nail polish.
The pretty facade does not crack throughout as she gives largely politically correct answers to questions about her music career.
Asked about the biggest sacrifice she has had to make, her response is: "It has been 20 years but it has been a really enjoyable time for me. I don't think there's any sacrifice for me to speak of. I really hope that even on my 21st anniversary, I can continue to enjoy music with all my fans."
But she does admit that she has had moments of doubt. She tells Life! that she had thought about giving up during her teenage years.
"I didn't quite come up with hit songs then and I was really quite low in spirits but thankfully at that time, it was a group and we really encouraged each other and persevered," she says.
"If I wasn't in a group, I could have just gone back to Okinawa."
It was only when she went solo that her career really took off. "Body Feels Exit", her debut single under the music label Avex, was released in October 1995 and it became a big hit. It also marked the start of a fruitful collaboration with top producer Tetsuya Komuro, whom she describes as 'indispensable' to her career.
She went on to become one of Japan's biggest female artists. Her studio albums consistently hit No. 1 on the Oricon album charts and her best-of compilation "Best Fiction" (2008) maintained pole position for a record-breaking six straight weeks. "Uncontrolled" debuted at No. 1 as well and has reportedly sold more than 300,000 copies in Japan.
In the early noughties though, her brand of R&B and dance pop faced a dip in popularity and part of it was attributed to rival pop star Ayumi Hamasaki.
Amuro demurs and says earnestly: "I don't take her as a rival at all. She's really a wonderful artist and she's also the fashion icon of many young girls. She's a great artist."
Just as her music has not been smooth sailing throughout, her personal life has seen its share of ups and downs too.
At the height of her popularity in 1997, she married Masaharu Maruyama from the dance-pop group TRF. She gave birth to a son a year later and later divorced her husband in 2002. There was tragedy as well when her divorced mother was found murdered in 1999.
It is hard to guess what the poised and unflappable Amuro now makes of that period in her life and of her struggles as a single mother in the music scene.
One question that does give her pause is when she is asked for advice that she would give to young singers.
She laughs at the question and then charmingly buries her face in her hands after answering: "I didn't expect to be able to carry on for 20 years. I just did my best every year. Perhaps if they have the same kind of attitude of not giving up, they would be able to have good work too."