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Hamasaki Ayumi, On To The NEXT LEVEL

Hamasaki Ayumi has finally achieved her 11th anniversary. We talk to AYU about the direction she’s running to, with sensational album “NEXT LEVEL”.

An outcome is something which comes later. When you challenge something, before you take the first step out, you won’t find an answer no matter how much you think. If that’s the case, if my thoughts and feelings are “Let’s go!” That is my motivation. After that, whether I fall or laugh, that is surely my “NEXT LEVEL” It’ll be fine as long as I’m confident, and raise my head high.


Quote: “Without Hamasaki Ayumi’s preferences, such as likes or dislikes, I hope you will try and listen to this music”



The main thing is, I can’t stop, that’s why I’ll keep running

For the album this time, admirably titled “NEXT LEVEL”, words alone cannot describe it enough. “That’s terrific~! Absolutely terrific!” is all I can say. (laugh)

“Bancho said that too. (laugh) But, you know, I myself thought that “It’s terrific this time” too.”

When did you first come out with the whole concept for this album?

“The word “NEXT LEVEL” by itself has been in my mind from quite early on, but I kept thinking about what kind of NEXT LEVEL it’s going to be. Is it a symbolic return to basics, or is it an impossible speed-up from now on? However, I reached the conclusion that “the main thing is, I can’t stop, that’s why I’ll keep running”. After that, comes the normal challenges of choosing music, then my vocal style, arrangements and more…”

But listening to “GREEN”, I get the feeling that your NEXT LEVEL already began last year. Therefore, this album has to at least maintain the same level, right?

“That’s right. When I was singing “GREEN” during Countdown Live, the thought “and so I have broken through” crossed my mind, and it was shocking.”

Looking at Ayu’s blog, there were some pictures of you clutching at your head during recordings?

“Because I played around and tried new things more than ever, there were too many choices, like what level of uplifting feeling I should show and which vocal style I should use. And there were also times when I didn’t get results no matter how I tried. This time was really like this, till I wondered “do I have a split personality?””

But having many choices for your performance is great too, isn’t it?

“No, I wasn’t calm enough to feel it that way. I was just like a monk doing SHUGYO. (laugh) But I really got myself immersed in the music right from the start. All the recording staff each had their own NEXT LEVEL to achieve too, so everyone was highly motivated to take on the challenge. And all this burning passion is reflected in each and every song, so the production process was fun. That was what it was like.”

That PV also reflects this feeling, right?

“Yep. We probably never had the chance to do any filming in Hollywood before. So halfway through, the Japanese crew decided to do away with all the translators and interpreters, and everyone communicated through mutual understanding. This feeling of passion worked its way into the PV as well. I think that the result of this challenge was that good chemistry was born. Especially for “Curtain call”, which in spite of the no-cut filming technique, we managed to do a great take on the very first try, and that became the actual PV.”

Personally, the PV for “Sparkle” made a very big impact on me, kudos to that. (laugh)

“Ahaha. That one surprised me too. (laugh) The director Shimo-ko’s genius is truly explosive!”

With all this excitement, the tour, starting in April, is surely highly anticipated.

“I told everyone to not be “reserved at all, and exceed my expectations over and over”. The challenges we’re facing this time are all anticipated, and we’re not doing anything reckless, so I think we’ll be fine. That is something which we’ve built up from our confidence and trust. The album, as well as the stage, are both works befitting of the word “NEXT LEVEL”, and my heart was able to open and reach out. That made me really happy.”


How do I want to do it? What should I do? The result, is always dependent on myself

Just like Ayu now, sometimes one wants to take a new step forward, but cannot do so. The readers also have many opinions about this, but what was the motivation that kept you going when you were stuck?

“Personally, I make my own decisions and understand my own intentions most of the time, sort of like standing tall with a “Just do it” spirit. But in general, when someone gives you a push on the back, that’s like a cue for you to go looking for your next new self. For those who just can’t take that first step out, it’s because they are so worried about what will happen that they can’t get over their hesitancy. But an outcome is something which comes later. No matter how much you think, you will never know what’s going to happen next. Nobody can know these things. So rather than worry, why not “if that’s the case, let’s just do it”?”

What kinds of things are considered new challenges for Ayu?

“I can either be satisfied or dissatisfied with myself, but it’s a really bad thing to convince myself that I have done something 100% perfectly. Like when I’m satisfied with a certain piece of music, or when I did something good at work, even when I’m feeling good, I’ll think “because I’m human, there will probably never be 100% perfection”, and then I will start to look for ways to improve. And there, in some undiscovered corner, I will find the motivation that helps me to move on to my next goal. That’s how it is for me. To further strengthen something which was not there at first, and that will convince me to be confident. So when I’m on a search for these things, I feel that it will come to me from my present circumstances. Honestly. When I’m too confident and believe that “I have done good things”, I feel that I’ve reached a blank. When I am clear of that, my horizons and reach becomes wider. So every time, with an expanded reach, I challenge myself to bury that blank.”

I see. Since her debut, Ayu has been expanding her reach, and with the confidence from 10 years of experience and accomplishments, NEXT LEVEL was set in motion with a bang from an Ayu caught in a blank.

“I finally managed to discover it in one breath. (laugh) But I think that it can be found in the everyday things that everyone does too. For example, when you go on a diet in hopes to become pretty, you’ll think “I can still go on” and “I’ll be able to keep up with fashion trends” and things like that. And when you have that confidence, your expectations for yourself will widen, and hopes of “more, more” will be born too. It’s the same thing.”

So it’s something like a positive feedback cycle. By the way, what things make Ayu positive?

“Now, it’s definitely my dear fans. But aside from that, probably when actual circumstances don’t drag my expectations down. Sometimes I have to do useless things which I dislike, and I really hate it, especially when it happens because of time constraints. I have to keep thinking about things which I don’t want to do, or things which irritate me. There are many people like that, who drag the mood down, which makes you wonder, “Eh? Don’t people ever get angry at them?” Personally, even when I’m irritated, it’s today’s problems which won’t matter tomorrow, so I cast them away. And when I wake up the next day, I feel that it’s best for myself if I can commit the many interesting and happy happenings to memory.”

There must be lots of unexpected times when, without meaning to, someone says something unpleasant.

“I’ve definitely heard some malicious ones. Some think that “I really don’t think so” is a good way to express their own opinion. But that’s not so, because it’s not a constructive comment, and when you keep saying it with abandon, it becomes unpleasant. So I feel that it’s better not to say it. The worst time I heard it was when someone whispered it into my ear.”

What do you think is the similarity between those people who enjoy themselves only when together with Ayu, and those who prefer to maintain a long-distance acquaintance?

“Though there are very few people whom I really treasure, the similarity is probably their generosity. I am a very emotional person, so when I have to work with other people who are like me, it is usually a mismatch. It’s like that annoying effect, when you have to wipe a glass table everytime you place a glass cup on it. (laugh) That’s why I like people with the opposite personality, with their crazy “gyahaha~” laughter.”

Is that also a circumstance that pushes you in a positive direction?

“Yep. Human relationships are also a part of my surroundings, after all.”

From now on, I’ll still run on with only my feelings

This NEXT LEVEL that Ayu is aiming for, what kind of place is it?

“Because Hamasaki Ayumi never stops and continues to progress, the destination isn’t as important as the fact that she will keep running on. Whatever she has decided on beforehand, she will probably end up running in a different direction. She’s always running because of what she’s feeling at that moment, and when she realizes that, she advances on to the next stage. Even so, she doesn’t think about things like “Hamasaki Ayumi wants to do _____”. Whatever she is feeling at that moment is the most important. In the past, when she chose to return to having black hair, it wasn’t because she wanted to surprise, or to challenge a new look. It was just what she felt like doing at that time, that’s the only reason why she did it. Looking back at the past, she has left many photos in S Cawa. At each of those times, she has left the past behind and proceeded on to the NEXT LEVEL as Hamasaki Ayumi the artist. Whatever she’s doing now is also the same. Doing things only because she wants to do them. In the future, when she looks back on this, she will probably think “that’s my NEXT LEVEL”.”

So how about the private Ayu?

“I often fail to reply mails and pick up the phone, and this trait of mine is infamous among many friends. Every now and then, someone will tell me to “please be more considerate. It’s so difficult to contact you that I’ve joined your fanclub”……. That’s a NEXT LEVEL by itself too, huh? (LOL)”

The fanclub’s diary is quite diligently updated, eh? There are even days with multiple entries. And it’s all very heartfelt too. Friends who can’t contact you and are worried can just read that, eh? (laugh)

“Ahaha! That’s right. I also always give details of everything that I do, and describe all my feelings, so it’s really easy to understand.”

So do you think that I can still write a report if I didn’t interview you, but just read the blog instead? (laugh)

“Maybe, since it’s the place which I treasure the most~ To a certain extent, there’s probably no mistaking that it’s the one place that is chock full of Ayu, with as yet undiscovered NEXT LEVELs.”

Quote: “The “NEXT LEVEL” is not an aim, or a destination, but is always what you are, right now”