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Utada Hikaru Biography

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Utada Hikaru (宇多田ヒカル Utada Hikaru, born January 19, 1983), also known as "Hikki" to her Japanese fans, is a J-Pop music star. She has gone by Hikaru Utada (where surname comes last) once, in credits for a joint song with Foxy Brown, Blow My Whistle on the Rush Hour 2 movie soundtrack. In a Time interview, she explains: "I just figured it's a good way to separate my English and Japanese personas." However, ever since Exodus (2004), her first album in the States after her Cubic U era, and on singles from that album, she has gone by simply as "Utada," while the press mostly refers to her as Utada Hikaru. Utada Hikaru is one of the most popular and successful Asian American artists today, given her personality, singing, songwriting, and producing ability, looks, lifestyle, and upbringing.

She was born in New York City, New York to Japanese parents who both had roots in the Japanese music industry: her father, Teruzane Utada, was a producer, while her mother, Junko Utada, was an enka singer (she performed under the stage name "Keiko Fuji"). She made her first professional recording at the age of twelve, and recorded her first album, Precious, in 1996 under the pseudonym Cubic U. The album led to her career overseas. In a recent MTV interview (MTV's You Hear It First, October 2004), Utada said: "Someone in Japan heard it, at a Japanese record company, and he said, 'Oh, can't you write in Japanese? You speak Japanese.' And I didn't want to say no, so I had to try it."

She is currently married to Kazuaki Kiriya, a photographer and movie director. He has directed several of her music videos, including "Final Distance", "Traveling", "Hikari", "Sakura Drops", "Deep River", "Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro", "You Make Me Want to Be a Man", "Be My Last", and "Passion". Also, "Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro" was played during the credits of Kiriya's best-known film, Casshern.

She moved to Tokyo later that year and attended The American School in Japan, while continuing to record on a new contract with Toshiba/EMI. She soon made her mark on Japanese music with her successful single "Automatic", soon followed by the album First Love, which sold over five million copies in a month during March and April of 1999, and placed Utada among the 100 wealthiest people in Japan. She also broke the record of units sold on a single album in Japan; she still holds the record (in 2005).

The album has sold more than ten million copies in Asia.

Utada returned to New York in 2000 to attend Columbia University as a freshman, but took leave from it within the year. She continued to record, however, and her two subsequent albums, Distance (2001) and Deep River (2002), also went multi-platinum. In September 2002, shortly after the release of the latter, she announced her marriage to Kazuaki Kiriya, a photographer and director fifteen years her senior.

The video for Utada's 2001 song "Can You Keep a Secret" received some attention as part of International Week, which coincided with the 2001 EMAs, on the American channel MTV2. That video's airplay was likely Utada's first chance at exposure in the United States.

So far she is best known in the western hemisphere for singing "Simple and Clean", the theme to the video game "Kingdom Hearts" and its sequel "Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories", which is an English version of her popular song "Hikari", combined with elements from another of her songs, "Uso Mitai na I Love You". She also performed a well-received duet with Foxy Brown, "Blow My Whistle", which was featured on the Rush Hour 2 soundtrack. Her most successful singles include "Can You Keep a Secret?", "Addicted to You", and "First Love".

On October 5, 2004, Utada Hikaru released her North American debut album, Exodus, under the name "Utada" (for fear of fans mutilating her Japanese nickname, Hikki). It was released nearly a month earlier, on September 9 in Japan, with a special booklet and housed in a cardboard slipcase. In an MTV interview, Utada said: "There really aren't any completely Asian people singing right now. For me, it's an experiment to see what people are gonna think of it".

But her American debut as an Island Def Jam Music Group artist was met with indifference by the American market, perhaps due in part to poor promotion on her record label's part. Despite the failure in the international markets, this album topped the charts in Japan, though it sold less than her releases as Utada Hikaru. Also, "Devil Inside" became a club hit in the U.S. and topped the Billboard Hot Dance/Club Airplay charts.

"Easy Breezy" was released as the lead single in early August 2004, followed up by the dance blockbuster "Devil Inside" a month and two weeks later. "Exodus '04" was released at the end of June 2005. The fourth single from her "Exodus" album was released in October 2005: "You Make Me Want To Be A Man".

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