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Essay

The year of Namie Amuro

By Patrick St. Michel

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The past 12 months have seen a lot of exciting new artists make waves in the Japanese music scene. Some made a splash on streaming sites such as Spotify, while others uploaded videos to YouTube that became online sensations. Yet as 2017 comes to a close, the J-pop album with the highest sales of the year belongs to a familiar name: Namie Amuro.

The singer, who debuted in 1992, nabbed another career highlight with Finally, a best-of compilation. In its first week alone, the collection sold well over a million copies. That just doesn't happen anymore. And fans didn't stop, keeping the album near the top of the charts for weeks. No other release has come close to approaching it.

Part of the reason for the big numbers can be traced to Amuro's announcement that she will retire within a year. The short post on her website went up on Sep. 20, her 40th birthday, and instantly became breaking news in Japan. It sent fans down memory lane as they took to social media to share their favorite videos and lyrics from the artist. And then they rushed out to buy her compilation.

It's hard not to compare Amuro's coming retirement with the breakup of boy band SMAP last year. Both artists were among the biggest acts of the 1990s — Amuro's Can You Celebrate? remains the highest-selling single by a female J-pop performer. For a whole generation of listeners, Amuro and SMAP are among the most important musical artists of their lives.

Some of those fans are settling down, and they feel nostalgia for the simplicity of their youth in the 1990s. It's a common phenomenon — some people say that you are never a bigger listener of music than when you are a teenager, and what you hear during your adolescence will end up being your favorite sounds forever. Now, for those fans, two of their most well-loved acts are stepping away from the limelight.

But the similarities between Amuro and SMAP end there. SMAP broke up under a cloud of controversy. Amuro is stepping away voluntarily, and has given herself a full year as an extended farewell and to look back on her career. A documentary, Namie Amuro Channel, has begun airing monthly on Hulu, while a massive tour of Japan's domed stadiums is set for next year. And you can expect even more interviews along with special magazine features and online retrospectives as September 2018 draws closer.

Amuro has made a smart move — she'll get a ton of attention in the runup to her final goodbye, and move an extra million CDs in the process. That's one way for a star to make an exit.

安室奈美恵の年

突然の引退表明と、その後に発売されたベストアルバムのミリオンセールス突破で注目を集めている安室奈美恵。来年9月の引退まで、日本の音楽シーンでは彼女の存在感がさらに増しそうだ。

The Japan Times ST: December 15, 2017

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