Single review: Ayumi Hamasaki - 23rd Monster

Single Review: Ayumi Hamasaki / 浜崎あゆみ - 23rd Monster | Random J Pop

"23 Monster" Ayumi Hamasaki's 13th (I think!?) digital single, released to commemorate 23 years since the release of her debut single "Poker Face". Shout-outs to Lady Gaga.

"23rd Monster" is produced by Kazuhiro Hara, who first started working with Ayu on her 8th studio album Secret for the songs "Startin'" and "Born to Be". He would then contribute to several of her future albums; Guilty, Next Level, Rock 'n' Roll Circus, Love Again and Colours - with most of his contributions being singles. So there is a history there, which is cool. The problem is that Kazuhiro and Ayu are stuck where they were back in 2006.

I live for a throwback moment. But a continual issue I've had with Ayu's music is that it never seems to evolve. And part of the reason is that when she makes music, she surrounds herself with producers who are right where they are when Ayu first met them. It's a comfort for her. I'm sure. But it's led to where we are now, which is releasing songs in 2021 which aren't all that distinguishable musically from anything she released over 15 years ago. And whilst some stans may justify it and say 'That's the point of it'. No, I really don't think it is. "23rd Monster" doesn't sound like a re-tread because it's celebrating her career and shit she's done before. It sounds like a re-tread because that's all Ayu has done for the past decade.

Single Review: Ayumi Hamasaki / 浜崎あゆみ - 23rd Monster | Random J Pop

Ayu's music has been formulaic for years, and it continues to be. Many of Ayu's albums feature a song like "23rd Monster". Whether it's a "Rule", a "Microphone" or a "W". It is one of her signature sounds. I get it. But each one of them sounds identical and templated to a tee. Imagine if Britney just kept giving us "...Baby One More Time" on every single album she put out? It was cute for the first album, and it was cute for the second. But even she knew she had to move on from that style of song. And I'm not even saying Ayu should stop doing these types of songs outright. But at least inject some sense of newness into them and shake them up in some way. 23 years in the game is a huge milestone, especially for an artist who was such a monumental figure in J-Pop. And to celebrate it with a song which shows zero growth made in that time? It's a mess.

Ayu's voice sounded notably different on "Haru Yo Koi", a change of which you could start to hear from her 2018 EP Trouble - but it's even more noticeable here. Ayu's always had quite a naturally low voice, but it's even lower now; either as a result of her pregnancy, time, or both. On "Haru Yo Koi" her lower set voice actually sounded nice. But here it sounds pretty bad, because she's singing a song of a style she's sang for 20 or so years, but with no accounting for the fact that her voice has changed. Either the key of the song should've been brought down, or Kazuhiro should have arranged a song around Ayu's current vocal state. Many artists have to adapt their material as time goes on and their voices change, no matter how good a singer they are. Even somebody as vocally virtuosic as Beyoncé has had to account for the fact that she doesn't have the same voice she did in 2006, which is why she sings differently, and when she performs her older songs, they're in a different key to what they were originally.

Single Review: Ayumi Hamasaki / 浜崎あゆみ - 23rd Monster | Random J Pop

Ayu just singing how she normally does on a song which sounds so indistinct from what she's released before is just Ayu all over. There's no sense of wanting to evolve or try something different. It's not even that her music is bad, it's just that it's become stale. For every song she's released over the past 10 years, you could probably find an equivalent of it in her earlier discography which is better. "23rd Monster" is okay. But there are already the likes of "Inspire", "Startin'", "Talkin' 2 Myself", "Sparkle" which do everything "23rd Monster" does, but better. And you'd be hard pressed to tell that the song is even new, because Ayu's music sonically is stuck in the early 2000s. It was the same deal with "Dreamed a Dream". It just sounded dated, and not in a retro cool kinda way. Whilst some stans may justify it and say 'That's the point of it', I'm not so sure. Because for the past 10 years Ayu has been releasing songs which are very much in the vein of what she's always put out. "23rd Monster" could be a song from any of her albums with the exception of Colours, one of the few albums of hers where she significantly pulled away from the same ol' same ol' she'd always done.

If you were never into Ayu before, then there's nothing about "23rd Monster" that's going to turn you into a fan or even make you curious. If you are an Ayu fan, then you will either adore this song because its what you deem 'classic Ayu', or you'll be over it pretty quickly because you've heard it before.

It's a shame that Ayu is so content with just doing the same old thing, when she's long been at a point in her career where she'd have nothing to lose in trying something different which sounds new, but still retains the essence of who she is.