Album Review: Suite Chic (Namie Amuro) - When Pop Hits the Fan

Album Review: Suite Chic (Namie Amuro) - When Pop Hits the Fan | Random J Pop

Circa 2002 Namie Amuro's career was in a bit of a slump. When she returned from her hiatus, the entire landscape of the Japanese music industry had pretty much changed. The sounds were different. The expectations were different. New big selling stars were on the scene. Namie made attempts to change with it, but on her own terms. And one of those terms was channelling the sounds of US R&B, a sound that was becoming increasingly popular in Japan at the time. The problem Namie found was that there was such a strong association with her earlier pop material, that her venture into a different sound alienated her fanbase. So what did she do? Release an album under a pseudonym. But Suite Chic wasn't just Namie's side project, it was also Verbal of M-Flo's. Verbal ever being the collaborator that he is,  fostered the idea of curating an R&B flavoured album for an artist in Japan who he felt was comparable to the musical diversity and success of Janet Jackson, and that person turned out to be Namie Amuro. You may be think 'Bitch, the fuck!? Janet!? Namie!?'. But sit with it for a while. 

Verbal was not wrong.

Album Review: Suite Chic (Namie Amuro) - When Pop Hits the Fan | Random J Pop

Namie Amuro's Style is the album that's tagged as the one where Namie when full tilt with the velour tracksuits, the paisley print bandanas and the Craigslist ad for a hood n***a. But the album which truly presented a turning point for Namie's sound and set a course for where Namie's albums would head for the next decade was the album of hers which didn't bear her name. 

There is no grand concept for When Pop Hits the Fan. It's a suite of Japanese R&B producers, a couple of rappers, and Namie being the singer on all of the songs. But Namie's popularity burrowing itself into the ground during the early 2000s and her uncertainty of how to approach the R&B angle right yet wanting a test audience, meant that this album wasn't filed as an official Namie Amuro release, even though she appeared in the music videos for its singles "Good Life" and "Uh Uh,,,,,," . 

The sound of this album is pretty typical of what you'd expect from a Japanese R&B and Hip-Hop album produced in 2001. It's very of its time. Half of the songs are mimics of the popular R&B and Hip-Hop sounds which were dominating the airwaves in the US at the turn of the 21st Century. The Daisuki Imai produced "Without You" sounds like Olivia's "You Got the Damn thing" which was a Harvey Mason Jr. production, which in itself was a rip off of a Darkchild production. "What If" sounds like it wants to be a Timbaland production. And then there are sprinklings of typical 'Urban' sounds of the 00s spread throughout the album. When Pop Hits the Fan is a bit of a cliché, and there are songs on it which don't hit all the way, but it's such a fun album to listen to that you just go with it. Namie is also singing in key on this album. Something she barely bothered to do on Genius 2000, Break the Rules, or even half of Style.

I could imagine that being an old school Namie fan listening to this album for the first time had head spin like that demon bitch in The Exorcist. Especially given that Break the Rules seemed to dial back on the R&B-like cuts so heavily in comparison to Genius 2000, that they probably figured Namie had just gone through a phase and that it was over. But here she was. On songs with rappers, in a music video with a fur coat, poppin' bottles and coochie in VIP.

But the inception of this project was so clever, because it allowed Namie to put out music and visuals which were in line with the vision she had of herself, without the commitment of it being a part of her discography under her name. And for the print to be purposely limited meant that if it all flopped, there was little physical evidence. Even post Suite Chic when Namie Amuro's popularity soared and she started to run Avex and Kumi and Ayu's careers into the ground with it, Suite Chic was never acknowledged. Not a single song from When Pop Hits the Fan was featured on Checkmate!. The album isn't even available on streaming. It's a shame that an album which played such a vital role in Namie stepping into a new phase of her career which would see her become bigger than she ever was before is being omitted from the official Namie lexicon. 

Album Review: Suite Chic (Namie Amuro) - When Pop Hits the Fan | Random J Pop

Part of what makes this album fun as a fan is that Suite Chic was so low risk, so there's a level of relaxation that comes with that and makes its way into the music. Suite Chic presented a safe space for Namie Amuro to divulge in a sound that she wanted, without worrying about it being seen as this blemish on her career, because she could just say 'Bitch, that was a side project' when it's all said and done. Namie didn't fully hit her stride with confidence under her own name until Play, but there's definitely a sense of comfort that Namie has on this album compared to Style and Queen of Hip-Pop. With Namie having worked with Verbal before and him being the guiding force for this album, in addition to having his finger on the pulse of who's who in the world of R&B loving Japanese producers, there's a sense that Namie knew that she was in good hands. The Namie we get here is very different to the uncertain Namie we got on albums such as Break the Rules and Genius 3000, where she clearly wasn't confident enough to shed the pop persona she'd built over the years and also built her career on at that point. Working on the Suite Chic project gave Namie the sign that she needed that she could do this sound, change her image and work with producers and writers who could bring her vision to life. But more importantly it showed that if she wanted to enjoy her career and put out music that she loves, that she had to take the leap of faith, and When Pop Hits the Fan was the push.

Namie had said that she had great fun working on this album and you can hear it. Okay, so a bitch isn't hooping and hollering on songs. But those who know Namiserable know what her level of fun is and will pick up on it. Not long after its release Namie had also said that she'd love to do another Suite Chic project again, and it never happened. Because it didn't need to. Namie had effectively done the follow-ups in her own albums, channelling Suite Chic in Style, Queen of Hip-Pop, Play and Past < Future - making Suite Chic far more than just a side project, but the biggest light bulb moment of Namie's career which set her on the path to becoming the legendary bitch she bowed out as.


■ Good Life
■ Baby Be Mine
■ We Got Time
■ Without Me
■ Damn Fight 🏆 J's fave
■ What If
■ Signs of Life