She dominates the charts in Japan whenever she releases a single or album, but to call her a J-pop singer ignores Utada’s American roots and her desire to break all the rules of the genre. Born January 19, 1983, in New York City to a traditional Japanese-style singer mother and a musician/producer father, Hikaru Utada grew up in the recording studio. Her father’s production job bounced her between New York City and Tokyo, with the only constant being naps and homework in the studio. She was bilingual at an early age and soon came to understand both American and Japanese cultures.
She had composed and recorded her first Japanese-language song by the age of 11 and her first album in English by 13. What stood out to the few who heard the album was what an accomplished composer Utada was. A Toshiba-EMI executive approached the singer to see if she could write her pop songs in Japanese. She could, of course, and her Japanese-language debut album, First Love, hit number one on the Japanese charts during its first week of release, breaking the record for first-week sales of a debut album, and has sold nine million copies since its release in 1999.
One Japanese-language platinum-selling album after another followed and the Japanese press took note of Utada’s unique style, influenced by the alternative rock from America. Academics kept her away from doing many interviews, and her mystique grew as a result. In 2004 she announced she was moving to the Island-Universal Music Japan label and recording an English-language album. Her single “Exodus 04” became a heartbreaker for her solid fan base when her lyrics were taken as a goodbye to Japan.
The album Exodus was released in Japan on September 8, 2004, and Utada now held the record for largest-ever one-day shipment of an English-language album by doubling Mariah Carey’s previous record of 500,000. The album mixed wistful pop and sparkling dance music and featured producer Timbaland and Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodore. American J-pop fans were aware of her for years, but Utada got her first mainstream U.S. exposure when the “Devil Inside” single appeared in September 2004 with Rjd2, the Scumfrog, and Richard Vission handling the remixes. Exodus received its American release on Island in October of the same year. In 2007 EMI announced that Utada had set a record for a Japanese recording artist with combined sales of 7.7 million across all formats (CDs, digital downloads, ringtones, etc.). The Japanese language album Heart Station in 2009 with the English album This Is the One following.