A review of Secret by Ayumi Hamasaki

By 2006, eight albums into an already illustrious career as the “Empress of J-pop,” Ayumi Hamasaki would be a priestess to the art of theatre and production value, in all its campy glory. Even Secret was initially announced to be a seven-track EP, eventually emerging as a full-length album and a well-packaged cornerstone of mid-2000’s J-pop. The product packaging has always mattered in Hamasaki’s career, a diamond in the crown of American pop star success, in the vein of Britney Spears, Destiny’s Child and ultimately, Madonna. In Hamasaki’s case, we’re sold the record label version of a porcelain doll, with a wardrobe curated and Vivienne Westwood-ified. True to corporate excellence, Secret comes out the factory a palatable serving of Japanese pop rock, awash in mid-aughts nostalgia and over-produced arrangements.

Happy to report that Secret is an unspoken gem in the glimmering Hamasaki discography. It’s easy and funny to come back to, like a chirping bird song in the homogenous woods I’ve grown much accustomed to. It evokes a time of youthful sincerity, hopeful for the sake of being hopeful – poignantly, Hamasaki’s music has always paraded its glittering optimism. Secret is a time-capsule tonic.

The immediacy of the electrorock tracks like “until that Day…” and “1 LOVE” is palpable but comically oversized – Hamasaki’s shrill, melodic tone is mixed to the its best capabilities underneath the charge of guitars. “Born To Be…” has reverb turned to max, battling against a wall of orchestra, while “BLUE BIRD” delivers the quintessential Hamasaki summer feeling. “Startin” is akin to a family pack of sweets, 2000’s pop trends and everything in between is candied and accounted for. But remember, Ayumi Hamasaki music is direct companion to its visuals – all seven music videos from the album cycle carry a joyfulness intrinsic to the J-pop craft. Viewers will experience a sparkle-heavy Swarovski ad (“JEWEL”), a Narnia meets Lord of the Rings set that’s very mid-aughts (“momentum”), and a curious interpolation of the gyrating of Britney Spears (“Startin”).

The Another night remix of “Ladies Night” runs well along Secret’s tracklist (the original can be found on (miss)understood), with its fizzy production finding much clearer threads within other rock-influenced cuts. As well, a well-performed cover of TRF’s “teens” is relegated as a b-side to the single release of “Startin’/Born To Be…,” slotting in quietly into Hamasaki’s ballad repertoire. Both tracks are welcome extras.

The 2022 pop music landscape finds modern iterations of J-pop in Rina Sawayama, the revitalized Utada Hikaru career and the foundations of hyperpop. Sawayama’s discography is a deep dive into manufactured pop stardom, while riffing on the Hamasaki sense of theatricality. And while Hikaru’s new phase in their career is inspired, it’s indebted to the recent rise of 90’s house beats. Secret delivers a glossy vision all its own, like the pages of a 2005/2006 Japanese fashion magazine.

I recall Ayumi Hamasaki’s mid-2000’s form fondly, as much of her music ‘06 to ‘10 were set in my post-high school, pre-university graduation timeframe. Hamasaki is context to the formation of my personality. Her entire Japanese pop star package, I worshiped, a goddess of zealous effervescence. These days, I like to light a candle or two at her altar, Secret is my tealight and a tonic.

Additional reading:

“Album Review: Ayumi Hamasaki – Secret” by Random J, for Random J Pop / Pop Commentary Foolishness

“Bold & ambitious: Innovation in Ayumi Hamasaki’s (miss)understood” by Anna, for appears music blog

“A review of BORN PINK by BLACKPINK” for Windhill Journal

One response to “A review of Secret by Ayumi Hamasaki”

  1. Super fetch! ✨✨✨


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