Sound Decision
Exodus Revisited

by Jonathan Mays,
Last week's commentary on Utada's floundering career in America sparked some strong reactions and a number of good points. One reader complained that Exodus's first-week sales "mean nothing." That's definitely an overstatement, but I'd agree that they give a snapshot and not the full picture. So here are the Nielsen Soundscan numbers for Exodus's first four weeks:

Oct 5-11: 7,105 (#160 on Billboard 200)
Oct 12-18: 5,034
Oct 19-25: 4,164
Oct 26-Nov 17: 3,178

For comparison, Japanese star Cibo Matto sold about 150,000 copies of Viva la Woman in America, and indie hits Pizzicato Five and Cornelius sold about 75,000 each. It's also worth nothing that Billboard ranked Exodus #1 on the Hot Dance Song/Club Play Singles chart for the week of October 19, and #15 on the year end list. But keep in mind that these charts are not based on sales. (Food for thought: Kumi Koda's Trust Your Love single, released under the name "Koda," topped the same list in 2001.)

Another important point is that Utada may not be stuck with Island for much longer. Zoe pointed out that Utada's original deal with them was for one album only. Thanks, I missed that one.

Speaking of record labels, a few people have e-mailed with questions about who exactly is working with Utada these days. Exodus and its singles, Devil Inside and Easy Breezy, are released by Island Records, which is part of the Island Def Jam Music Group. Island Def Jam, in turn, is owned by Universal Music Group. And if it goes any higher than that, we probably don't want to know.

What about Toshiba EMI, you ask? This is where it gets a little strange. Although Utada signed with Universal in February 2002, she didn't leave the label that has been with her since she debuted in 1998. And even as Exodus and the Easy Breezy DVD single sold briskly in Japan, Toshiba was releasing other Utada works, including a DVD of her 2004 concert at Nippon Budokan.

The bottom line: Utada is releasing CDs in Japan under both the Toshiba and Universal International labels. I think she manages this by going by two different names, "Hikaru Utada" under Toshiba and "Utada" under Universal. There may also be a requirement in her Universal contract that she sing in English.

Why should you care? Because the inner workings of Utada's record contracts explain a lot of the strange choices she's made over the last two years. Next week I'll put the pieces together and show how a shrewd move by Universal and a gullible press may have taken advantage of Utada, her Japanese label, and her fans.

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