Ayumi Hamasaki delivers performances of “Nonfiction”, “A Song for xx” and more as part of a 25th anniversary TV special

A screenshot of Ayumi Hamasaki and her dancers, all dressed in pink during a pre-taped performance of “Nonfiction”.

NHK and Ayumi Hamasaki teamed up for a 25th anniversary special which included an interview, looks behind the scenes of her 25th anniversary tour, personal photos and footage from over the years, and performances of “A Song for xx”, “Voyage”, “Dearest”, “Evolution”, “Surreal”, “Movin’ on Without You”, “Nonfiction” and “Who...”. Surprisingly two of these performances (“Nonfiction” and “A Song for xx”) have been officially uploaded to YouTube by NHK. Japanese broadcasters hate YouTube, so this sure is something. Although comments are turned off and it wouldn’t surprise me if these videos are set to private by the end of the year. And, they’ve disabled the ability for me to embed the videos. Fuck the engagement I guess. So, alternative embeddable videos it is.

Let’s start with the performance of “Nonfiction”.

Ayu sounded fine. She looked fine. But my qualms about the music video also applied to this performance; which are that the choreography isn’t strong enough and that it was shot in such a boring manner. The best part of the performance was Ayu walking from backstage, because there was something happening. It felt dynamic. There was a cool energy about the whole thing. But the moment Ayu hit the stage, everything just fizzled. Even if we got a confetti cannon it would have been SOMETHING.

The performance just doesn’t match the energy of the song, the same way that the music video didn’t. Ayu’s creative team figured that the pink colour scheme alone would be able to carry everything. And as great as the colour scheme looks (I still don’t get why this wasn’t the visual theme for the album) it isn’t enough to make up for the shortcomings of literally EVERYTHING else.

Having dancers with newspapers open featuring Ayu on the covers from different albums, or dancers with old school journalist hats with cameras all circling Ayu, with flashes which are synchronised to go off in time with the music. Just something which tells a story and has some energy to it.

Ayu also performed “A Song for xx”, which despite being a ballad, got a performance with far more energy to it than “Nonfiction”.

This performance could have done without the dancers, because Ayu just there alone would have been more than enough. Sometimes less is more. And Ayu herself used to feel the same for performances of “A Song for xx”. Past performances were just about her on the stage singing the song and being expressive. Sometimes a guitarist would step forward and Ayu would interact with them. But for the most part, the performance was very much just about Ayu. A standout performance of “A Song for xx” is from A-nation in 2008 where it rained like hell, which added to the drama of the whole performance, which Ayu fully leaned into it. So it’s a shame Ayu didn’t honour her older performances of the song, instead of adding dancers in IKEA coffins.

For the past few years I’ve felt that Ayu’s performances sometimes feature dancers unnecessarily to express a feeling or a narrative that we don’t always need. And the choreo rarely seems to match the song. Every single performance in this NHK special which featured dancers, the choreography and energy of the dance never matched the song. Not once.

Ayumi Hamasaki 25th Anniversary NHK Music Special via 扶T荣耀 @ Billi Billi

But this is kinda Ayu right now. The pieces are there, but they’re not connecting in the ways in which they should.