Ayumi Hamasaki (浜崎 あゆみ, born October 2, 1978) is aJapanese singer-songwriter, record producer, model, lyricist, and actress. Alsocalled "Ayu" by her fans, Hamasaki has been dubbed the "Empressof Pop" because of her popularity and widespread influence in Japan andthroughout Asia. Born and raised in Fukuoka, she moved to Tokyo at fourteen topursue a career in entertainment. In 1998, under the tutelage of Avex CEO MaxMatsuura, she released a string of modestly selling singles that concluded withher 1999 debut album A Song for ××. The album debuted atop the Oricon chartsand stayed there for four weeks, establishing her popularity in Japan.
Hamasaki's constantly changing image and tight control overher artistry has helped her popularity extend across Asia; music and fashiontrends she has started have spread to countries such as China, Singapore,Taiwan, and Southeast Asia. She has appeared in or lent her songs to manyadvertisements and television commercials. Though she originally supported theexploitation of her popularity for commercial purposes, she later reconsideredand eventually opposed her status as an Avex "product".
Since her 1998 debut with the single "Poker Face",Hamasaki has sold over 50 million records in Japan, making her the best sellingsolo singer in Japanese history and ranking her among the best-selling singersin the country. As a female singer, Hamasaki holds several domestic records forher singles, such as the most number-one hits overall by a female artist, themost consecutive number-one hits by a solo artist, the highest sales, and themost million-sellers. Since 1999, Hamasaki has had at least one single each yeartopping the charts (except 2011, which she released a mini-album, Five, withoutany singles). Hamasaki is the firstfemale singer to have eight studio albums since her debut to top the Oricon andthe first artist to have a number-one album for 13 consecutive years since herdebut.
Hamasaki's influence goes beyond music; she is oftenconsidered a fashion icon and trend-setter, a status attributed to her tightcontrol over her image. Besides her frequent appearances in fashion magazines,such as Vivi, Popteen, and Cawaii!, Hamasaki has often been lauded for hertrendy choices in apparels and accessories; Oricon has repeatedly named her the"Most Fashionable Female Artist". Many aspects of Japan'sfashions—including clothing, hair, nails, and accessories—have in some way beeninfluenced by her. As with her music, trends Hamasaki started have spread toAsian countries as Taiwan, China, and Singapore. Among the trends Hamasaki hasstarted are hime-kei (a look inspired by the fashions of 18th century French aristocracy)and chapatsu; she has also heavily influenced the kogal subculture. Hamasaki'sconstantly changing image is apparent not only in her fashion photo shoots andcommercial endorsements but also in her record covers, an element she considersessential in conveying her message. She has portrayed herself as a vine-clad"peace muse" or "Greek goddess" (on her album I Am...), asa "twenty-first-century Joan of Arc" (for her single "Free &Easy"), and as a "funky Lolita". Though Hamasaki has portrayedherself in earlier releases as a "girl next door", she has adopted amore sexualized image since the release of Loveppears. The covers for recordsincluding Loveppears, I Am..., and Rainbow feature Hamasaki in states ofpartial nudity, for which she has generated controversy. Hamasaki also garneredcriticism after she modeled bra for lingerie manufacturer Wacoal, though mostof the criticism alleged that Hamasaki was only trying to "playcatch-up" with Kumi Koda, who gained popularity for her overtly sexual image.
Hamasaki has accepted offers by numerous brands to endorsetheir products. Throughout her career under Avex, she has promoted productsthat ranged from electronics (Tu-Ka cell phones and Panasonic) to various snackfoods. Among the products she has advertised on television are the Honda Creascooter, Kosé cosmetics, Mister Donut donuts, and Boss coffee. As well asserving as background music for television advertisements, some of Hamasaki'ssongs have been used as themes for video games, television shows and motionpictures, such as Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams, InuYasha, Shinobi: Heart UnderBlade and Tales of Xillia. Although Hamasaki initially supported theexploitation of her popularity for commercial purposes, saying that it was"necessary that she is viewed as a product", she eventually opposedAvex's decision to market her as a "product rather than a person".