Today's a bittersweet day for Utada lovers like me. Island Records is giving her another chance to find an American audience, and that's definitely a good thing. Problem is, they're doing this with a 12" vinyl record of Utada's Exodus '04 song, another remnant of her October disaster.
After following the highs and lows of Utada's American adventure for two years now, I can conclude only that she or her management is out of touch with her fans. Utada's handlers will not grant interviews to any publication that is related to Japanese pop culture; her publicist told me they were aiming to be "more mainstream." My own disappointment aside, I believe this is a very poor decision for her career.
The numbers back me up: Exodus sold just 7,105 copies in its first week in America, this with MTV plugs and favorable reviews in USA Today, The Washington Post, and several other national newspapers, not to mention unprecedented online hype. (To be fair, the same Exodus became the fastest English album to sell a million copies in Japan, though I'd credit her superstar status over there.)
Of course this is about more than interviews—they're just a prime example of the attitude problem that's dragging Utada down. I can also point to her "NYC Showcase," which limited its tickets to an incomprehensible 25 lucky fans. I did not attend, but I saw video of her performance, and she looked quite uncomfortable in a fluffy black dress with an epilepsy-inducing computer lightshow behind her.
And finally, there's Exodus itself, which has some of the most abrasive and unnatural music I've ever heard from Utada. "Devil Inside" is a decent if uninspiring song, "Kremlin Dusk" is catchy but poorly mixed, and "Exodus '04" would be fine if not for those stratospheric notes in the melody. The rest sounds closer to midnight Electronica experiments in the basement than the polished work of Japan's all time best-selling music artist.
All of this leads me to believe that Utada's career in America is in serious trouble. Now, she could be on the cover of next month's Rolling Stone and "Exodus '04" could become the next Top 40 radio hit, and I'll look like a fool for writing this, but recent history is not on Utada's side.
The way I see it, Utada has one good path remaining: she must be true to herself, ignore the marketers who think they can guide her to stardom, and brush off anybody who says she should "reinvent" herself. Otherwise, Utada's fans will make an exodus of their own.
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