by Rinoa on April 3, 2007 · 4 comments · AddThis

Vogue 2004
Vogue 2004 feat. Ayu
Artist: Ayumi Hamasaki
Product Code: AVCD-30620/1
Release Date: 2004.07.28
Debut Ranking: #1
Label: avex trax

Ayumi Hamasaki is the petite young woman who is a giant in the Japanese music industry. Love her or hate her, she’ll always be remembered as a legend because of the astonishing records she broke ever since she made her debut back then in 1998. Back then she was the squeaky voiced timid artist with little confidence in herself. However those days are clearly over and Hamasaki’s confidence simply radiates from her whenever she is performing on stage. For the hot summer season of 2004, Hamasaki would release her exotic 33rd single with some extra spicy attitude to match with it.

In any way, if any of you readers are into J-Pop as much as I am, you would clearly notice how many female artists follow some sort of trend. Most of the time artists sing ballads to express their love, beg their ex to return or mourn for their lover. On the other side female artists tend to be skanky in order to get appreciated by a guy or something of that sort. What’s usually missing is that there is clearly no strong attitude or feminist pride in these girls. In the end I simply get the impression that it was just another pretty-face girl and a load of fanservice eyecandy on the way. It certainly sells but sometimes I’d rather see something more unique.

Ready Go
Promotion on Ready Go!

I’ve been following Hamasaki’s career for five years and I have yet to experience disappointment for any of her releases. Sure she’s had some singles which were not so worth it to purchase, especially since most of the tracks end up in her albums, but I’ve always enjoyed them. I don’t think I can exactly explain why I am so intoxicated by her music, but I am pretty sure it has to do with how she manages to blend in visuals with music so seamlessly. What definitely attracts me so much into Ayumi Hamasaki and her music is primarily her attitude which she manages to convey in her music. This single is no exception.

In this single, Ayumi is featured in black hair and tanned skin, resembling some traditional Hispanic dancer. This image suggests an exotic atmosphere, which clearly remains appealing to the Japanese audience. Offshot photos would be later released on the magazine Ready Go! It is needless to say that this single was promoted rather well. Both songs were given fairly strong tie-ins. Ayumi performed this song on various popular variety shows and posed for various photoshoots with her new exotic and sexy image.

INSPIRE” was a fairly successful summer single, selling over 329,145 copies, charting for 15 weeks and becoming her best selling single in 2004. It also ranked as the #16 single on the yearly Oricon charts. However when compared to her previous summer hits, I suppose it is a little low for Hamasaki’s standards. I highly suspect that the dwindling sales were linked to the avex scandal, which Ayu was clearly linked with due to her friendship with Masato Matsuura, especially after making a rather daring comment.

“avex will come to an end.”

Hamasaki also refused to receive any major music awards since then. She claimed that she wanted to give a chance to other artists. In any way, this single became a firm favourite amongst fans which enjoy her rock experimentations and was quite successful in ringtone sales. According to RIAJ this single achieved a “3x Platinum” status, which basically means around 660,000 legal downloads. “INSPIRE” is Ayu’s first single to have two promotional videos included and the second single which would actually contain an alternate DVD edition. This hints at avex’s discovery that promotional videos could be quite marketable rather than being used solely for promotional purposes only. This idea proved to be rather successful and would later on be extended to various other popular artists in avex trax.


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INSPIRE” is one of the most loud and energetic songs Ayu has released in her career. However I admit that it’s not her best summer song I’ve heard from her. I am more fond of her ultra-sleek pop summer releases with a more carefree atmosphere. Despite my initial reluctance to grow used to a summer song with rock influence, “INSPIRE” is one of those songs which slowly grow into you and become terribly addictive. And it certainly did manage to grow into me quite well, especially since I enjoyed how unique it sounded.

“It’d be boring if there was a definite answer.”

What is attractive from this song is the layering and blending between distorted electric guitars and synthesizers. The exotic atmosphere created is so different from the typical ethnic singles which focus on the traditional instruments. However rather than having the exotic setting dictate the instrumental choice, the instruments actually create the exotic atmosphere. The exotic setting created reminds me a lot of Latin music. Hamasaki has always been an artist who has never been afraid to experiment and take a risk. This is why she rarely sticks with one genre on style just because it sells, to stay on the safe side. A definite sign of confidence in this single was that she barely hesitated while performing this song live, even if she is far from being a professional dancer. For these reasons sometimes I find myself wondering if she releases music simply because she is truly enjoying herself, since she’s clearly rich enough to retire.

“Yes, I stand up again and again. I’ve got to break down these walls.”

This song would become a firm favourite for performances in concerts since it’s extremely upbeat and lively. Also this song would receive two tie-ins with the “New York Guggenheim Museum Exhibition” and “Avex Audition 2004″. The composition was by Tetsuya Yukumi and the arrangement was by the reknown H/\L. Koji Morimoto, a frequent contributor in Hamasaki’s releases would mix this song. The lyrics were as always written by Hamasaki herself.

I am rather attracted by the lyrics because they clearly reflect the present modern society and the general pessimistic attitude. People frequently give up on their own dreams and on love because they feel these are dorky or uncool. However Hamasaki feels she should protect those close to her and continue struggling to break down those walls of difficulties, no matter how many times she fails.

Filming in L.A.

The promotional video clearly captures the essence of ethnicity and a variety exotic senses. Ayu and her team would specifically travel to Los Angeles to film this music video. This would eventually be the start of Hamasaki travelling more frequently overseas to film various music videos, especially in summer. This might also signify an increased budget in her promotional videos, especially since the singles started being marketed for the DVD inclusion too.

Finally this promotional clip is also one of the few videos which contains a set choreography, since Hamasaki has claimed on various events on how much she dislikes learning choreographies. Her backing vocalist Peco would be the one in charge of the choreography. The promotional video clearly makes use of exotic images combined with artistic ones. The meaning behind it all? I have no clue at all. That being said, I personally am not so crazy over this video, especially since the choreography is not exactly top notch.

Rating: ★★★★☆


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GAME” is the darker alter-ego of “INSPIRE“. It has a rather moody atmosphere which oddly enough opens up with a mellow orchestral introduction.
However this atmosphere is rapidly destroyed and is replaced with a powerful rock segment. The song continues to recycle itself and switch from one style to another. The composition would be the spectacular job of BOUNCEBACK, while H/\L would again be in charge of the arrangement. This song would be used as a tie-in to Panasonic’s PM700MD product.

Apart from the fantastic arrangement which is in constant change, I really was awed by Hamasaki’s vocals and their pitch changes. She magnificently managed to reflect the moods reflected by the background music. Somewhat of a trademark to Hamasaki is the vocoded voice (synthesized voice), which manages to cleverly reflect the more metallic and monotonous moments. In one song she manages to convey a spectrum of emotion, most notably despair, anger and detachment.

The lyrics reflect how she struggles between keeping her composure and losing control. She yearns for her lover’s warmth but is also afraid that the game that they were playing was a little too long. I believe this means that she is starting to have feelings for someone which is clearly not part of her plans. In this way she feels she has lost control over her own life. Overall it’s one of the most complex psychological piece of works I’ve ever seen by her.

The promotional video is clearly the more appealing one of this single. Hamasaki wears two outfits. The first consists of a leather bustier with matching tight leather pants and is featured while she is performing in a rather gothic room. The second outfit is more feminine, consisting of a large black gown, which is quite reminiscent to the gothic lolita movement. In this scene Hamasaki wanders in a dark hall which has television screens fitted everywhere. Several other gothic inspired images are included, such as the ravens to keep faithful to the whole atmosphere of the song.

Rating: ★★★★★



This single is a pretty strong and well rounded one. The balance between dark and light was cleverly done to appeal to a wider audience. One can clearly observe Hamasaki’s evolving vocals, which have matured from the high squeaky vocals to the powerful and raw vocals. Also one can enjoy her further polishing of her rock genre, which is so popular amongst many of her fans. What was certainly disappointing was that there were only two songs in this summer single, when Hamasaki tends to record more songs for her summer singles. However I was quite pleased to see that there were two promotional videos for this single, rather than commercial clips.

For a rock single, it’s a pretty attractive one, especially since she manages to pull off the rock star image pretty well. But then I have yet to see an image where she doesn’t pull it off well. If you look past the slightly mediocre choreography of “INSPIRE“, I’m pretty sure you would enjoy this single. Also the fact that Ayumi always has her live band tagging along with her also makes her image so much more credible and entertaining.

Overall Rating: ★★★★½



CD Tracklist

  2. Game
  3. INSPIRE (Instrumental)
  4. Game (Instrumental)

DVD Tracklist

  2. Game(PV)

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About the author

Rinoa enjoys spending her free time writing articles, most particularly reviews, biographies and news articles. Her favourite artist is Ayumi Hamasaki but she enjoys listening to a wide range of musical talents from all over the world.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

felicity April 25, 2008 at 1:11 pm

This is a very nice review. Off to buy more Ayumi’s albums =D


Yuki PHILIPPINES May 15, 2007 at 7:38 pm

I love GAME! But I found the PV kinda scary (kinda reminds me of the PV of Ourselves). But I still really love the “rock” image for Ayumi. She’s great!


Simon May 9, 2007 at 10:09 pm

Good work!
i enjoy GAME pretty much, so lovely.
keep working =)


Anna UNITED STATES April 4, 2007 at 11:21 am

Excellent review. You’re very detailed about the musical styles and instruments used in the music. You’re also a very keen observer, ie “A definite sign of confidence in this single was that she barely hesitated while performing this song live, even if she is far from being a professional dancer…” You said all the things I couldn’t find the words for. This was very fun to read!


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