Which international superstar is a flashy sex symbol who’s built an army of fans ever since releasing her debut single “Poker Face”? Yes, that would be Ayumi Hamasaki, who turns 35 years old today in the midst of a very big year. The Japanese pop star has been enjoying a huge 15th Anniversary tour to mark the 15th anniversary of “Poker Face”–which was really just a minor hit, but launched a career that has the offbeat pop star having sold over 53 million records. That’s just in Japan, too.
That country adores its female pop stars, but Ayumi (usually referred to as just “Ayu”) is a true superstar. She’s had the most #1 hits of any Japanese singer, and those have also been the most consecutive #1 songs for an artist. She’s had a #1 single for every year since 1999. Then she released the Five EP in 2011. That didn’t have a single–and since it didn’t count as a full record, Five also broke her streak of having a #1 album in Japan for every year since her debut.
Ayu is a serious artist, too. She started out as just another J-pop starlet with the usual trappings. Then she took control of her career at the end of the ’90s, and moved past pop to explore trance and other dance genres. That helped turn her into one of Japan’s few musical acts that were big enough to fill stadiums. Ayu has mostly stayed in the dance world, but each album also works in some ballads and touches of goth. She’s as big of a fashion icon as American contemporaries like Madonna and Lady Gaga. It helps that she openly rebelled against the usual pop packaging early in her career, although Ayu endorses plenty of products.
She’s single, too. In what’s certainly a twist on the usual pop princess story, Ayu’s brief marriage to model Manuel Schwarz ended amongst reports that she was upset when he published a modeling book where he posed nude. Fortunately, Ayu isn’t a total prude, and has struck plenty of sexy poses over the years. She’s only made one album with English lyrics–2002’s Rainbow–and you can see why gals like Madonna and Gaga are grateful not to have the competition. We still wouldn’t mind seeing Ayu taking another try at American stardom. Her voice isn’t to everyone’s taste (there’s a video below), but Ayu’s beauty has universal appeal…