Kumi Koda

by Jonathan Mays,
Kumi Koda can see the future. Or maybe it just seems that way. As a young girl in Kyoto, she knew she had what it took to be a pop star, even though nobody wanted her for the first ten years that she auditioned. When she finally got her shot in 2000, she wasted no time scouting the Western music scene with a crossover debut single, "Take Back." Koda also saw the potential in video games and offered to let Square Enix record and computerize her dance moves for Final Fantasy X-2. Now that she's hot in Japan, Asian singers are flying west in record numbers, and Nintendo is using J-Popper Hikaru Utada to anchor their new system, Kumi Koda is already three steps ahead. If history is any indication, you should pay close attention to those DVD-only releases that Koda's putting together these days.

What was your first big break?
The 2000 Avex audition. It had been my dream since childhood to become a singer, and it finally worked out for me.

Did your friends and family give you any advice when you first signed?
Not really—I didn't get much advice.

Tell us about the first time you heard yourself on the radio.
It didn't sound like me on the radio, actually. When I found out it was me, I was so thrilled!

What is the usual process you follow when putting together an album?
Each one is different. In my latest album, "Secret," I only selected songs with a melodious vocal line. For the lyrics, I approached them separately as "Kumi Koda" and as myself, “Ku-chan.” We also used a few excellent lyrics that songwriters had submitted.

Do you play video games much?
Oh, yes. Fighting games and puyo puyo.

What was it like to do the motion-capture dance for Final Fantasy X-2?
We worked on it about a year ago. It took a very long time because the computer graphics were extremely hard to create. In the end, I was amazed that Yuna had the same facial expressions and characteristics that I had during recording!

What's your favorite thing to do in your free time?
I love to lounge around in the house with my dog, Lum-chan.

Have a favorite manga series?
Urusei Yatsura, because Lum is so cute!

When you go to your local convenience store, what's on your must-buy list?

Anything else?
Lozenges, those medicated candies.

How do you prepare for live performances?
Usually I do vocal exercises I also work to have good communication with the other dancers.

Do you have any good stage surprise/disaster stories?
Once, right when I was about to go on stage, I didn't see the step and I fell! There was no time to do anything, so I had to perform with my knee bleeding.

How about memorable, accident-free performing moments?
All my performing moments are memorable in different ways, so I can't really pick one...

Do you play any sports?
Dancing, that's a sport.

What's the best thing about performing overseas?
Having the opportunity to meet all kinds of different people. In addition to fans, there are remixers, artists, and other staff to meet.

How is the energy at your overseas concerts different from those in Japan?
Mostly the enthusiasm. Many of the Japanese fans are shy. I like how Americans express what they think.

Your image is much sexier than that of the average Japanese pop artist.
That's exactly how I want to be projected!

You wear a lot of crazy things; do you have any favorites from concerts or music videos?
They are all my favorites at the time. As time goes on, I'm sure it'll change again. I think that's what you call growing up.

Do you have any dream projects you'd like to do someday?
I once got a chance to perform with Peabo Bryson, and it was a wonderful experience. So I'd like to be able to perform again with a male American ballad R&B singer.

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