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Hikaru Utada: 'Music making has been a really private thing for me'

Mr. Nimbus | 02/11/2022

Japanese star Hikaru Utada joins Zane Lowe on Apple Music 1 to discuss their eighth studio album ‘BAD MODE’. The artist tells Zane about making an emotional dance record, collaborating with AG Cook, Floating Points, and Skrillex, coming out as non-binary, finding freedom in taking a break, becoming a parent, combining Japanese and English vocals, thoughts on being associated with J-Pop, and much more.

Hikaru Utada Tells Apple Music About The Process of Making New Album ‘BAD MODE’…
I don’t usually have a clear moment of, okay, I’m starting an album now. It’s usually just already begun somehow. Someone told me recently, someone that I’ve worked with for a long time, that I always say, “When this album is done, I’m going to take a little break.” I was saying that again and she told me, “Well, you always say that, but then you always end up doing one song here and there right afterwards and then you’re into the next album.” And I thought, “Okay, that’s actually true.” There wasn’t a conscious, “Oh, let me begin a new album. It’s time to reflect or work on something new.” I can’t really plan making a new song. I think I take a lot of time to make songs and I can only make a song when there’s something that I really need to write about, I guess. If I came up with these songs, I guess there was enough material in me that needed to come out.

Hikaru Utada Tells Apple Music About Working With AG Cook and Floating Points…
Music making has been a really private thing for me. It’s been a safe space for me and it was mostly done, the writing and even the track making, for a bulk of my career, it was just me by myself on my laptop. There were times when a big producer, and I tried working with a very established producer who I admire, but they would have their stamp and that was that and it was hard to meet halfway, even though I liked the result. So I’ve been careful to try to select people where it was more organic. Floating Points, I just met through a friend and then I didn’t actually know his music super well, but I just got a nice feeling and thought it might be an interesting thing to try together. And then he also told me, actually, on the first song we worked on together, Bad Mode, he said he’s never done anything like this with anyone, this type of collaboration. And then he asked me what I wanted to do. And since I had pretty clear vision, he said he was relieved. He just needs to help me and enhance the ideas. So just add a bit of steroids, basically, to the ideas I had. And AG Cook as well. I didn’t listen to everything he’s ever done. I just had a light idea of what he does. And the main decision making was, I based it on a FaceTime conversation where I could tell that he was very flexible and he was trying to understand me. So flexibility and just a personality match is what I look for in collaborators.

Hikaru Utada Tells Apple Music About Working With Skrillex…
It was really exciting to see the way someone else works. Someone who works in a very different way. So it opened up the idea to me that … Yeah, I just saw how quickly he works. Well most of the track making is him, and I didn’t have a lot of input in the sounds of the track itself, which is really rare for me. And then it was a nice lesson, in a way, to see that I could just let go and let someone else do it. And then maybe it doesn’t feel as much like my song as my other songs, but it’s still really cool. Yeah. I was worried about how it was going to sit in the album because it was done a few years earlier than some of the other songs, but it actually brought everything together, and the message was great.

Hikaru Utada Tells Apple Music About Coming Out As Non-Binary…
Well first, when I came across the term non-binary for the first time, which was I guess a few years ago, it wasn’t a question of, “Am I, or am I not?” It was like, “Whoa.”Where was this word my whole life? Hello. We finally meet, and it was like a gift. The knowledge of just knowing that it was very … It was such a validating moment. And I didn’t even realise how much I had needed the term. You think, “Oh, it’s just a word.” Or, “You can be what you want and not have a word attached to it.” But it’s not the case when you don’t. When you feel strange your whole life. And I had gay friends, but I’d never come across someone who related to what I would say about how I feel about my body or my gender. Socially awkward, because I don’t really see anyone who seems to feel the way I do, and then coming across this word and knowing that there are a lot of people who actually do feel something along the same lines. It was just a bit of a relief. And then I didn’t think I would have to say it publicly, especially I was … I mean, I didn’t have to. And nobody has to. I don’t think anyone has to feel pressure. It’s a very personal private thing. Maybe there’s just the right time for it, because you should be able to say anything you want about yourself. But there was at the time when I said, “Hey, and by the way, I’m non-binary,” I was thinking about this fear, wanting to say it out in the open, because there was a lot happening at that time around people coming out but with their sexualities and gender identities. Well, in Japan, I think it was scary for me to say to … I wasn’t that worried about saying it or not. I didn’t think it would be a big deal for the Western communities, I know. But I knew it would be very misunderstood in Japan because there the discussion around things like that it’s just not really quite there.

Hikaru Utada Tells Apple Music About Discussions Around Gender Identity In Japan…
There was such a lack of visibility and anyone … Well, the whole idea that gender identity is a thing, the concept of that, I don’t see it really being discussed in Japan. I just felt it was a bit of a sense of responsibility, I think, that I should. There were people writing to me saying they’re scared, not necessarily about being trans or non-binary, but just about identity in general. They’re scared to be who they are, or they don’t know who they are anymore because they’ve lived their whole lives trying to be liked by other people. And people are scared of losing the support and love of their families or losing their jobs and things like that. And I don’t have to worry about those things. I’m just a public image basically. So I thought I should. And then afterwards it felt really good.

Hikaru Utada Tells Apple Music About The Album Cover…
And like even on the cover of my album, I’m in a top and bottom matching. All the previous albums I’ve released have been a close up of my face. And it could have been this time as well. No, actually, no. I said at the beginning of the shoot, or when we were thinking about the art direction, I said I wanted it to be something that doesn’t make me look like I’m in some vacuum. Like all these things just were born in some kind of… Wind blowing my hair. The only way I thought the cover could reflect or match the content and the music was if it was very revealing, because I think that’s what I’ve progressively … I’ve aimed to be … Well, not necessarily revealing in a shocking way, or Instagramable sort of way. Like, “Oh. This is where I am.” Yeah, exactly.

Hikaru Utada Tells Apple Music About Making An Emotional Dance Record…
I don’t usually have a concept going into making songs for an album and it’s something that becomes more evident as I write more songs. But this time, from the beginning, I knew that I wanted more electronic sounds. That’s how most of my things have been from the start and then with the last two before Bad Mode, I had explored using more live instrumentation and working with live musicians. And that was really nice, but I really wanted to go back to just more programming and working with other people just to make sounds from zero and to make something that sounds a bit stranger sonically and just a bit more intense. I wanted it to have fun but still, like you said, emotional and genuine. They came together, and I wanted something that I could dance to as well. I did do a great deal of dancing, especially the last couple of songs that I worked on. Well, I guess the last three I did with Floating Points. I remember just before being completely done, when I was working on the songs and I would work with him in his studio and then go home and it would be late but I would still listen to the song we’re working on, and I would end up dancing in my kitchen for an hour. It was fun. But with this I felt like with the lot of the songs on this album, even when I was done with them, I could still listen to them and just think, “Wow, it sounds incredible.” I just like them.

Hikaru Utada Tells Apple Music About Finding Freedom In Taking A Break…
I felt what was happening as I continued to make music as a well known artist, I guess in Japan. What was scary was there was this inertia building up, like I wouldn’t … It was like a being a part of a machine and I couldn’t take stop because other people, it would affect a lot of people. And scarier was the feeling that the image that people have of me, I become aware of it. And then over time it just felt like that was growing so much and I couldn’t do anything about it. And it was messing with how I look at myself. And also it was just like one side of me was so featured and all I had to do, everyone around me that works with me. I mean, I’m lucky that I was … that there were all these people trying to just let me be an artist. It was like, “You don’t have to do this. You don’t have to … ” Well, they didn’t say it like that.But when I lived in Japan, before I took the long break, I had never opened my own bank account. I had never done a contract for a mobile phone. I’d never rented a place by myself. I never paid the bills. They were done. I don’t know who was doing it. Honestly, it was like, I guess someone in my management company or people around me, or someone would bring me through.

Hikaru Utada Tells Apple Music About Losing Their Mother and Becoming A Parent…
And then my mother passed away and I thought … And it was a huge public death in Japan. And I thought, “Oh wow, this is … It’s going to be … ” And that was my first time in a few years to even be in the public eye at all. And it was suddenly me, like leaving the funeral home, surrounded by paparazzi. In a car. And I thought. After that, I thought, I really thought that I wouldn’t be able to go back into the public eye because that was really difficult. And then, and even things like practical things. I received so many flashes when I was in this car. And since then, I’m still, I still can’t do any flash photo shoots because it’s a bit too triggering for me. And I thought, “Oh, I can’t be a pop star and not be able to take like flashes,” no? But then … And also because my mother represents symbolised music, it was such a closely … She was a musician and artist, a singer. And it was so closely related to my music making process. I thought, “Oh, I will never be able to write anything again or sing.” And then I became pregnant and then something else kicked in like, “Wow, I’m going to be a parent.”

Hikaru Utada Tells Apple Music About Mixing Japanese and English Vocals…
Well, the reason I haven’t really mixed it this much before, or in the sense of having one block section of a song in a different language from the rest, or having a few different blocks that are fully English for one section and then fully Japanese and another is, well, I was conscious of the fact that if I introduce a new idea in one language than people who don’t understand that language will miss out on the whole message of the song and maybe not get across as well. But then on the other hand, I saw the benefit of being able to introduce something new. Well, because we listen to music without words or we listen to music in a different language we don’t understand, right? Maybe.

Hikaru Utada Tells Apple Music About Their Association to J-Pop…
It’s always felt a bit strange for me, because I haven’t ever really listened to much J-pop, except for the years I lived in Tokyo. The hit songs, you just kind of hear them, right? You’re exposed to them. So I had an idea of the really famous songs that were circulating in Japan at the time when I lived in, but I’ve never really listened properly to much J-pop. And I still don’t really know what’s going on in J-pop. I don’t think I’ve been influenced much. I don’t see myself as something that has risen from J-pop, but people have said, “Oh, the J-pop queen.” Honestly, I don’t really understand what J-pop means. I infer that if I am referred to as a J-pop artist, then it’s just music sung with Japanese lyrics. And that that’s as far as my understanding of the term goes. So I feel a bit weird and I feel a bit uncomfortable representing any group of people, because I’ve never really felt I belong in any group.

This post was originally published on this site

Written by Mr. Nimbus

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