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U of M students share their reaction to Japanese singer Hikaru Utada’s new album

Japanese singer and songwriter Hikaru Utada has released their album titled BAD MODE, their first since 2018. Being one of the best-selling Japanese artists of all time and known in America for her vocal contributions to popular video game soundtracks, Memphis students shared their memories of the superstar with the Daily Helmsman. 

Hikaru, in America, is best known for lending their voice to the PlayStation video game franchise, Kingdom Hearts. Since the game’s release in 2002 Hikaru has contributed songs and multiple remixes for the franchise’s soundtrack for nearly twenty years. Memphis students recalled their first-time experiences hearing the singer’s voice. 

Japanese major Najamel Silver said when he first played the game Kingdom Hearts, Hikaru’s voice was more compelling than the game itself. 

“Like most Americans I got introduced to Hikaru through Kingdom Hearts,” Silver said. “Their opening song, Sanctuary, captured my attention more than the game did.” 

Hikaru has composed three different theme songs for the Kingdom Hearts franchise with the first single being released in 2002, titled Simple and Clean. Simple and Clean holds the Guinness world record for the best-selling video game single in Japan. 

Silver said he has not listened to Hikaru’s album BAD MODE yet, but he is excited for Hikaru’s new musical direction. 

“It is always good to see one of your favorite artists return,” he said. ”I am sure after everything they have been through after the past two years this album will be good. Utada has been experimenting a lot lately so I am interested to see where they are going to take their sound this time.” 

Since their debut in 1998, Hikaru has released ten studio albums, two being in English. They hold the Guinness world record of having the best-selling album of all time in Japan, with their 1999 debut album – First Love – selling 8 million copies. 

World languages major Jessie Li said listening to the album BAD MODE was a pleasant surprise and enjoyed the duality of the languages used. 

“The album is pleasing to the ears honestly,” Li said. “I am happy she included the Kingdom Hearts track, Face My Fears, both in English and Japanese.” 

In June 28, 2021 Hikaru came out as non-binary during an Instagram livestream, causing both Japanese and foreign press to cover the singer’s announcement. 

Li said Hikaru’s statement provided various groups of people the confidence to establish their own sexual orientation. 

“Them coming out as non-binary gives not only her fans, but non-fans as well, [the strength] to come out and be able to live as who they really are,” Li said. “Seeing them state they are non-binary gives them a lot of courage.” 

In the recent years Japan has shown to be more progressive towards the LGBTQ+ community and in 2021 a ban on same sex marriage was deemed unconstitutional. 

Li said her first time hearing Hikaru sing on their debut was when she realized they brought something different to the musical landscape of J-pop, a colloquialism for Japanese pop. 

“My first time hearing Hikaru was on First Love,” Li said. “It was her debut song and it set her apart from the typical Japanese idols. Her vocals and everything about the song was amazing. It was iconic.” 

You can hear Hikaru’s title track from their album BAD MODE here.

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