Flashback Friday: Ayumi Hamasaki - Sparkle | When it just don't bling like it used to

Flashback Friday: Ayumi Hamasaki - Sparkle | When it just don't bling like it used to | Random J Pop

After a long period of pretty much ignoring Ayu, "Sparkle" was the song that put her back on my radar. "Sparkle" being double A-sided with "Rule", which featured in Dragonball evolution, caused the song to get coverage on video game and movie websites, which how I came across it.

When I first heard "Sparkle" I didn't like it and I'm still not fond of it. But if you were to ask me to name several Ayumi Hamasaki songs in quick succession without thinking, "Sparkle" would probably be one of the first songs I'd name; because it was the song that re-introduced her to me in a sense.

But looking back on it, "Sparkle" marked a turning point in Ayu's career and the beginning of what would eventually be her undoing.

Po' thing.

Over the course of her career, Ayu had effectively redefined what it meant to be a J-Pop star on a national scale that could rival a Western counterpart. With the release of Guilty Ayu had pretty much reached her peak. Everything that would come after would be an attempt to recapture, reinvent and redo. And to this day, Ayu hasn't really found her sweet spot.

"Sparkle" marked the beginning of a shift we'd see with Ayu where her fashion and her music videos would become far more sexualised than they'd ever been. Something that could possibly be attributed to Avex's rising star, Kumi Koda. An artist who made a name for herself by bussin' it open in every music video and using sex to sell her music; something that was bold thing to have made her brand as a pop star at this point in time in Japan, but bodies were ready. Titillation was something Ayu had explored in music videos before, but "Sparkle" was the most aggressive that Ayu had been with it. After years of people calling Kumi out for desperately trying to be the crazier, sexier and cooler version of Ayu, the tables were starting to turn and some where starting to wonder if Ayu was playing Kumi at her own game. Ayu had no reason to see anybody as competition, as she'd already secured her legacy and made her impact. But with Kumi Koda releasing music every minute, shooting a video for every song and giving people something to talk about; maybe she felt the pressure.

Everything that would follow on from "Sparkle" would show a lack of consistency in Ayu's brand to such a point that she'd lose it. Regain it. Lose it. Regain it. Lose it. A bitch is still spinning that damn wheel now.

The music itself spoke a similar story. "Sparkle" was loud, brash and in your face, but it didn't really say anything. "Sparkle" received a mixed reception from critics, with many not deeming it up to par with what they expected from an Ayu single. My gripe with the song was that it just generally fell flat, which is how I've felt about Ayu's music for a long time. Ayu's vocals get completely lost in the music. At times I can't even hear a bitch. (Don't ya'll go making jokes about Ayu not even being able to hear herself). Ayu didn't give a vocal performance to match the energy of the music itself. And by this point in her career Ayu and her team should know her sound well enough to not have shit like this happen...but it did, and it would keep happening and is STILL happening.

Ayu hadn't done anything catastrophically wrong with "Sparkle". But she didn't really hit the mark neither and this was the problem, and it would be the beginning of more misses than hits. "Sparkle" was meant to be a nudge in the ribs to those who felt that Ayumi Hamasaki's sound and image weren't exciting enough, but the end result proved the point. And at a time in J-Pop where her peers were gaining more popularity and delivering on the freshness and it-factor that Ayu should have been maintaining, she was running the risk of losing her own sparkle and would come close to losing it altogether. Some would say that she's already lost it.

I still look back on "Sparkle" and feel that it could have been a great song if it were re-arranged and that the video could have been a lot better if the looks were stronger and the whole thing were more of a spectacle. Yes. More of a spectacle than Ayu just writhing around in a red catsuit. Britney done already did that and Lady Gaga would effectively give us what this video shoulda been.

Ayu seems to be lost between trying to recapture the past, get a grip on the present and secure her future. Something that she's probably feeling the pressure of even more in the wake of Namie Amuro managing to not only comeback more than once, but beat her ass in album sales, stay fresh and current and continue to keep all of her day ones and bag a whole new wave of fans too.

Ayu is far from past it. She just needs a team around her who can guide her and help her find that sparkle again.