This pop star has sold more albums in Japan than Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Kesha have moved in the U.S. combined
After over two decades in the music business, one of the most prominent fixtures on the J-pop scene has abdicated her throne.
To commemorate her 40th birthday, Namie Amuro — a royal among Japanese hitmakers — announced in September 2017 she would retire with a farewell performance in her hometown of Okinawa in 2018, a promise she fulfilled over the weekend.
“I could not have gone 25 years without your support, for which I am eternally grateful,” she wrote on her official site, noting her final day in the industry would fall on Sept. 15 of this year. “I plan to make the last year of my music career meaningful by focusing my full attention on creating a final album and [performing] at concerts.”
Following the release of her last album Finally and her ultimate bow at the Okinawa Convention Center, here are eight things to know about an industry legend stateside audiences have yet to properly embrace.
1. She was granted special permission by MGM to use the Pink Panther in her videos and created a new character for the cartoon feline
Her music has long incorporated outside inspiration from artists around the world, but the release of her 2005 album Queen of Hip-Pop saw Amuro extending her reach into the realm of Western popular culture after she was granted special permission by MGM Studios to use the likeness of its Pink Panther cartoon, first seen in the 1963 American comedy starring Peter Sellers as detective Jacques Clouseau, across the album’s promotion cycle. The music video for “WoWa” even introduced a female companion for the beloved character.
2. TLC re-recorded “Waterfalls” with Amuro in 2013
Just over 10 years after the death of TLC’s Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, the surviving members of the popular R&B group, T-Boz and Chilli, issued a new version of their 1995 smash “Waterfalls,” with rap verses from Amuro replacing Lopes’. The new version, released in celebration of TLC’s 20th anniversary, also generated controversy, specifically prompting Lopes’ family to respond to her involvement being erased from perhaps the group’s most memorable song.
“I did not know about it until a fan posted it online,” Lopes’ sister, Reigndrop, told TMZ at the time of the song’s release. “I mean it would have been nice if they would have given us a heads up before being surprised.”
Still, T-Boz and Chilli made cameos in Amuro’s video for “Hands On Me.”
3. She got her start in a girl group
Before same-gendered groups like the Spice Girls, *NSYNC, and Backstreet Boys ruled the charts overseas in the ’90s, Amuro got her start in the all-female dance collective Super Monkey’s. The band didn’t produce much in the way of hits, but it did position 14-year-old Amuro for individual success, as many of the group’s singles — and a slew of remixes — were later hawked (with Amuro as the lead singer) on her solo breakout, 1995’s Dance Tracks Vol. 1.
4. Her sales are killer
She’s sold more albums in Japan than American pop icons like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Kesha have shifted in the U.S. combined. The nation’s equivalent to Madonna, Amuro is one of the best-selling artists of all time in her native region, with each of her 12 original, full-length LPs earning platinum certification (or higher) in Japan, with 1996’s Sweet 19 Blues moving close to 3.4 million units. She’s also amassed 14 No. 1 singles in Japan, with eight of her singles released between 1996 and 1998 peaking atop the Oricon list.
5. A diverse range of producers have worked on several of her English tracks
Amuro has blurred international lines throughout her two-plus decades making music and is often credited with popularizing mixing foreign sounds with traditional Japanese pop. Her second album, Sweet 19 Blues, released in 1996, features multiple English-language tracks, its compositions bearing sonic similarity to studio sets from the likes of Madonna (Bedtime Stories) and Australia’s Kylie Minogue (Impossible Princess) released around the same time.
Amuro would continue infusing world influences in her music on later releases, most notably on Genius 2000 and Break the Rules, both released at the turn of the millennium, plus 2003’s Style and 2006’s Queen of Hip-Pop — all of which saw her dabbling in urban sounds on tracks from American songsmiths like Dallas Austin (TLC, Monica), Tricky Stewart (Rihanna, Beyoncé), Traci Hale (Mya, Brandy), and Blackstreet’s Teddy Riley (Michael Jackson, Usher).
Recently, Amuro has shifted her sound into EDM territory, working with SOPHIE and Zedd on club bangers like “Heaven” and “B Who I Want 2 B” — which also features Hatsune Miku, the pop star persona created in a vocal synthesizer app. In other words, the song includes guest vocals from a computer program (one that also opened for Lady Gaga on her ArtRave: The Artpop Ball in 2014).
6. She worked with David Guetta on a cover of his popular Emeli Sandé cut “What I Did for Love”
In addition to her tracks with SOPHIE and Zedd, Amuro worked with another Western producer, David Guetta, for an emotional interpretation of his 2015 EDM-tinged ballad “What I Did for Love,” originally recorded with British singer Emeli Sandé. Though the song failed to chart in Japan, the Sandé version reached No. 6 on the U.K. charts.
7. Her songs have often been used on numerous soundtracks for movies and TV shows
Japanese pop stars typically contribute music to television dramas and movies, and Amuro is no exception. Her songs have appeared in movies adapted from major properties like Pokémon (“Toi et moi” appears in the end credits for Pokémon: The Movie 2000), Death Note (“Dear Diary” and “Fighter” were used to promote the series’ 2016 horror film subtitled Light Up the New World) to commercials for popular Japanese brands (cosmetics company Kosé used her “Beautiful” in advertisements for its Esprique products in 2013).
Her song “Hero” was the official Japanese theme song for the 2016 Summer Olympics
Perry gave U.S. audiences the inspirational ballad “Rise” to accompany last year’s Olympic festivities, and Amuro did the same for her fans in Japan. Her tune “Hero,” released as a stand-alone single in July 2016, accompanied broadcasts of the worldwide sporting event on Japanese television throughout the duration of the games.