For as long as I can remember, J-Pop has always been wonderful to listen to, but extremely frustrating to access. Over the past few years, J-Pop seems to have slowly (and I mean snail-paced) become more accessible. While the Japanese music industry still have a long, long way to go in opening to the world and caring for their international fans, Hikaru Utada (also known as ‘Utada Hikaru’ and ‘Hikki’) has always been a pioneer in the music industry both with her success and with letting her international fans access her music. In fact, Hikaru Utada was my very first J-Pop artist way back when and my very first exposure to J-Pop music with her song “First Love”. So, it makes sense that after over twenty years in the industry, this incredible J-Pop musician is still breaking the boundaries.
Last year, Japanese-American singer-songwriter, Hikaru Utada held her “Laughter in the Dark Tour” which was Utada’s fourth Japanese tour and her first concert tour in 12 years. Filmed in Japan at Chiba’s convention centre Makuhari Messe, the live professional recording of her final concert from her 13-date sold-out tour has been distributed via live streaming by Netflix worldwide. For a Japanese music artist this is an incredible feat, and for Japanese music this is huge step forward as this has never been done before, ever.
Dressed in monochrome colours, Hikaru Utada is equipped with only a microphone and keyboard, and accompanied by a live band on stage with a small string section. Even though Utada fronts the stage alone while her band play for her in the background, she happily addresses the audience affectionately, acknowledging that she doesn’t play live often and understands the importance of the event. In also another game changing move, Hikaru Utada encourages fans to film and take photos, provided that it doesn’t disrupt other members of the crowd and isn’t continuously recording. In case you weren’t aware, at J-Pop concerts (and many Asian concerts), filming and recording are drastically discouraged and even forbidden. So, when I saw Utada addressing the crowd that this was okay, this thoroughly impressed me.
With an incredible stage presence, Hikki goes through many of her incredible hits including dynamic synth-pop song “COLORS”, J-Drama Last Friends’ insert song “Prisoner of Love”, rap inspired “Too Proud”, tie-in song for J-Drama Gomen, Aishiteru “Forevermore” , “Hatsukoi” her second song for the Boys Over Flowers/Hana Yori Dango J-Drama franchise, the beautifully catchy “Play a Love Song”, video game Kingdom Hearts famed songs “Hikari” and “Chikai”, the iconic hit (and my favourite) “First Love” and “Automatic”, the debut solo single of her career that started it all.
With her career being on hiatus on and off due to young marriage, changing of record labels, divorce and fighting ovarian cancer, it’s incredible for her “Laughter in the Dark Tour” (themed on ‘humour in despair’) that Hikaru Utada has been welcomed back by her fans, popular as ever like she had never left. It is evident that Utada has always been a talented songwriter and while I may never get to see her perform live (let’s face it, accessing tickets to J-Pop concerts is another painful thing that isn’t readily available to international fans unless you know who to ask help from), I am grateful that Utada and her team have managed to release this wonderful concert on Netflix for fans all over the world to see. Not only is the live concert recording so comfortably enjoyable to watch, but it is honestly so refreshing to see a beloved legendary music artist still be ever so humble, even after being in the industry for so long.
Laughter in The Dark Tour 2018 is available on Netflix and is a must-see for not only for Hikki fans, but J-Pop fans and supporters of Asian music alike. I only hope that more Japanese artists learn from Utada’s decisions and help make Japanese music more accessible and available for everyone. The live concert recording has subtitles readily available in English, Japanese, Italian and Chinese so there’s really no excuse not to see this incredible singer-songwriter back on-stage and active in the Japanese music industry where she belongs. Welcome back, Utada Hikaru. We’ve missed you.