Album Review: Namie Amuro - Genius 2000

A vinyl of Namie Amuro’s album ‘Genius 2000’, lying on a blue surface beneath some flying yellow butterflies.  The cover art features Namie Amuro lying on a blue surface with a blue backdrop behind her, wearing a maroon leather jacket and looking into the camera, amidst a bunch of yellow butterflies flying around her.

Discussions around Namie Amuro’s albums and what are widely deemed the pivotal albums which set the course for what followed is always interesting to me, because some of Namie’s albums get omitted.

Namie’s eighth studio album Play is often credited as the album where Namie really turned her shit around and established a new sound which would become her brand in the years which followed, but Queen of Hip-Pop was the album which did this. It’s just that Play gets all of the credit because of how big “Baby Don’t Cry” was. And when the discussion of Namie’s initial shift to a more ‘urban’ sound is had, Style is credited as the album where this occurred, but Genius 2000 was the album where this first happened. It’s just that Style came with a big image change for Namie, and “Put ‘em Up” widely became a fan favourite and was the strongest instance of that sound actually working for her in all of the right ways.

Listening to Genius 2000 makes you see that it was the genesis for a lot of what we would know Namie for throughout the years leading right up until her retirement. The balance of an urban sound and pop. Rapping. Singing in English. Working with American and European songwriters. Abusing the shit out of autotune. Listening to Genius 2000 now, you can hear traces of what would become Queen of Hip-Pop, Play, 60s 70s 80s, Past < Future, Uncontrolled, Feel and _genic. Namie laid her own template out without realising she was even doing it. Or perhaps she always knew. But regardless, Genius 2000 is more than just a comeback album. It’s a declaration of who Namie wanted to be seen and heard as.

But Genius 2000 also tends to be overlooked for another reason. And that is the follow-up album Break the Rules releasing not even a year after it.

Whilst Genius 2000 does feel like a full album unto itself, it also manages to feel like a companion piece to Break the Rules. Not just because of the close proximity of when they were recorded; but both albums being a tag team effort between Tetsuya Komuro and Dallas Austin, albeit weighted differently. It’s like Genius 2000 was the trial run. Break the Rules was trying to do it properly. And Style was the ‘Okay. We know the formula now, so we can bring more people in and get rid of that man and his fried ginger wig.’

Genius 2000 sounds a whole lot less refined than Break the Rules and it completely falls off a cliff in its second half (we’ll get to that). But to me, it still feels like the better album because of the swings that it takes and that I can better see the vision for it. Genius 2000 in many ways seemed like a testing ground for not just Namie, but everybody involved. A test for Namie to see how working with a US producer like Dallas Austin would pan out. For Austin it was a way for him to get songs out into the world that he liked, but TLC or other established acts signed to LaFace at the time may have turned down. And for Namie’s long-time partner in crime Tetsuya Komuro, it was a test to see if he could align his sound with the more R&B led sound Namie wanted to step into, whilst still staying true to the sound he had become known for, in large part because of Namie. And the Austin and Komuro of it all is why the timeline of Genius 2000 and Break the Rules is so interesting to me; because looking at Style, on paper you’d think the albums would be flipped, given that Komuro got so side-lined on Genius 2000 in favour of Austin, yet got the lion’s share of production credits on Break the Rules. Only to then have his fried ginger wig escorted off the premises for Style, which carried through more of Dallas Austin’s influence despite him only producing one song on it. Also, on Genius 2000, Komuro actually managed to do a really good job producing songs which sat alongside Austin’s. In fact, a couple of Komuro’s songs are the highlights of Genius 2000. Where-as on Break the Rules, his songs are the worst parts of that album. So it’s all a bit weird. What am I trying to say? Bitch. I do not know. But I would definitely recommend listening to Genius 2000 and Break the Rules together, because they do feel like somewhat of a package deal and form more of the picture. Even if that picture is a little confusing.

A shot of Namie Amuro from the Genius 2000 album shoot. Namie is crouched down, wearing a black suit with a white shirt and black nail polish. (Image credit: Namie Amuro Toi et Moi V4 @
Namie Amuro - Genius 2000 | Avex Entertainment Inc.

The production on Genius 2000 is a mixed bag. The Tetsuya Komuro productions are definitely the most interesting in terms of the different styles and genres which get fused together, particularly on “Love 2000” and “Mi Corazón (Te'Amour)”. These are also the songs on which Namie sounds the best. But the arrangements don’t always feel the tightest and the mixing is really raggedy. Where-as the Dallas Austin productions feature music which is far slicker, with arrangements which feel more streamlined and mixing which feels tighter. But, Namie’s vocals don’t sound too hot. They sound horrendous y’all. And each of the Austin productions has this weird thing where Debra Killings’ background vocals are singing the hook in English, but Namie’s main vocal is singing them in Japanese. So your ears are like ‘What the fuck!?’ because your ear isn’t able to focus on one or the other. I get why somebody may have found this concept cool and one which could work, but it’s a mess in practise. It sounds like a mixing mistake which was left in: Namie wanted the background vocals as a guide to sing the hook in Japanese and keep the same melody, but the mixing engineer forgot to mute the background vocals. It really does kill the hook of each of the songs. “Something ‘bout the Kiss” is still the jam, because the beat is fire, Namie’s low energy ‘I don’t give a single fuck’ vocals that I’m a fan of and Lil’ Okinawa’s rap verse which didn’t feature on the single version are just all too good for me to deny.

The Dallas Austin productions run the gamut of typical sounds that many pop acts branching into R&B ended up with, but they give this album a sense of charm and if nothing else, and show how much Namie had her finger on the pulse of what was happening in US music, with the pop and R&B crossover which was occurring in the early 2000s. And Namie is a part of that because of Genius 2000.

Namie’s vocals are wildly inconsistent on this album. As with a lot of her work around this time, Namie shows a surprising amount of range and is far more vocally expressive than she became from Style onward. But there is no sense of finesse to how she approaches any of the songs on the album. There are instances where she is just flat out singing in the wrong key. Moments where her notes are just off. “Things I Collected” is a wreck. I was wincing the entire time I was listening to it. It’s an absolute mess. But there is a sense of fearlessness she has when it comes to singing on this album. Namie hits notes (when she finds the right ones) and goes higher and lower than I’m used to hearing from her on other albums. What she taps into for the Tetsuya Komuro productions verses the Dallas Austin productions are completely different. So you get this cool breadth of what Namie can do vocally, which is cool to hear. Especially if you listen to this album for the first time having tapped into Namie’s discography around Style or Queen of Hip-Pop, where her approach to singing was completely different.

The production and mixing inconsistencies between the songs is a real shame and were completely avoidable. It’s not like there is a huge roster of producers and styles to balance. Komuro’s production style has always been pretty loose and rough around the edges, but Dallas Austin is usually tighter with his shit, which makes me wonder just how involved he was in the production of the songs once Namie put her vocals to them.

A shot of Namie Amuro from the Genius 2000 album shoot. Namie is wearing a black suit and a white shirt, in a room of mirrors. (Image credit: Namie Amuro Toi et Moi V4 @
Namie Amuro - Genius 2000 | Avex Entertainment Inc.

Something cool about Namie’s tours and albums around this time, which was quite a common thing in Japanese music during the initial city pop boom of the 70s and pop music in the late 90s, is that they featured well known musicians. Percussionist Sheila E., known for working closely (and having a messy affair) with Prince and P-Funk collective member Lynn Mabry were both a part of Namie Amuro’s tours as a percussionist and backing vocalist respectively. And they both contribute vocals to the songs “Love 2000” and “Mi Corazón (Te'Amour)”, in addition to being credited as writers. And Sheila E. plays percussion on both. Percussion is a prominent part of both songs, so for Sheila E. to grace both songs for the thing she is best known for adds a nice flair to both songs. And then there is Debra Killings providing backing vocals to all of the Dallas Austin productions. Debra was basically the fourth unseen member of TLC, as she provided background vocals on near enough all of their songs. And this wasn’t a secret. TLC fans knew of Debra. Fans of Dallas Austin productions knew of Debra. If you followed the music coming out of Atlanta during the 90s, particularly LaFace releases, then you knew of Debra. I always found Debra providing vocals to so many of TLC’s songs odd given that T-Boz and Chilli sang. But I guess not everybody can be bothered to do background vocals, not every girl group is a SWV or 702, or a Destiny’s Child where a member will occasionally be like ‘Girl, I’ll just do all the background vocals my-damn-self’. And Debra was probably singing the demo versions and guide tracks for all of Austin’s productions. But because of the aforementioned mess of Namie singing over Debra’s English vocals in Japanese and there being ZERO blend between the two, it means that Debra has a very clear presence on the Austin productions “Leavin’ for Las Vegas”, “Something ‘bout the Kiss”, “Still in Love”, “Things I Collected” and “Next to You”.

A shot of Namie Amuro from the Genius 2000 album shoot. Namie is wearing a maroon leather jacket, leaning on a blue surface, with a blue backdrop behind her. The same setup for the Genius 2000 album cover, minus the butterflies. (Image credit: Namie Amuro Toi et Moi V4 @
Namie Amuro - Genius 2000 | Avex Entertainment Inc.

Something I have always liked about Namie is that she has always seemed to get that albums should be albums; with the exception of Dance Tracks Vol. 1, which was pretty much a singles compilation anyway. Every Namie album has felt like a body of work in a market where albums aren’t always treated as such. Even when a Namie’s doesn’t completely work, I always at least [turns and looks into the camera] feel that there was some consideration of making it an album. As messy as her eleventh studio album Uncontrolled seemed from the singles we were getting, I was surprised at how well it held together. And I’m also not surprised that for her final studio album _genic, Namie said ‘Stop the music. Fuck the singles.’ And made the unprecedented decision to record all new material as an album and not include ANY of the singles or B-sides she had released prior, despite each of them having tie-ins, having charted and fans liking them. Namie has always been about her albums, and you get a clear sense of that with Genius 2000. However, Genius 2000 being somewhat an album of its time, it doesn’t manage to avoid the pitfall that befell many albums released in the early 2000s, which was front loading the uptempos and shoving all of the slower songs in the backend. Genius 2000 starts off so strong and is so captivating in its first half, but it grinds to a halt when “You Are the One” hits. And from this song onward, Genius 2000 was difficult for me to listen to. Because it’s not just that all of the energy is sapped out of the album at this point, but the weakest songs are in the second half of the album. This is where we get some of Namie’s worst vocal performances. Where the song arrangements are the most uninspired. And where the runtimes of the songs are really felt, because of the combination of Namie’s vocal performances and the uninspired arrangements. “You Are the One” is over six minutes long. “Things I Collected” is just shy of 6 minutes. And you REALLY feel it. “Virgo’s Groove” these songs are not.

Genius 2000 is also the first album where we get a clearer reflection of Namie’s musical influences. Sweet 19 Blues and Concentration 20 felt like Tetsuya Komuro vanity projects, with Namie being one of his vessels. Neither of these albums really said much about who Namie was. Where-as Genius 2000 feels like an album where we get some sense of who Namie is. Or at least what she’s into and the vision she has for her sound and where she wants to go. But whilst you can see and hear what Namie was trying to do with Genius 2000, it doesn’t make enough of a statement. Nor does it really sell Namie Amuro. And her being caught between the Tetsuya Komuro and Dallas Austin production makes this album feel like its in this limbo space that albums of acts can often end up in when they are transitioning styles; because it ends up being neither one thing nor the other.

But in the context of her career, Genius 2000 really highlights that Namie was far more in control of the direction of her albums than she’s given credit. Because Namie so rarely wrote any of her songs and isn’t listed as anything in her own liner notes aside from ‘Vocals and Background vocals’, it’s easy to think that she had no hand in anything. But the direction she took with Genius 2000, which would lead her through to Style, Queen of Hip-Pop, Play and beyond is because of her. Namie handed Sam that baby, locked herself in a room, played the shit out of CrazySexyCool and said ‘This is what I want’ - returning to music with an album with a completely different vibe and sound than what she was known for prior to going on hiatus. The term ‘reinvention’ is thrown around a lot in music, but Genius 2000 truly was the start of one for Namie. Choosing to do this album which was a shift in her sound, had an American producer helming most of it and was releasing at a time when the Japanese R&B wave was still new and not a sound anybody associated Namie with was a HUGE risk. But a bitch took it. And the results were not the complete and utter disaster it so easily could have been.

▪ Love 2000
▪ Leavin’ for Las Vegas 🔥
▪ Something ‘bout the Kiss 🏆
▪ I Have Never Seen
▪ Still in Love
▪ Mi Corazón (Te'Amour) 🔥
▪ Kiss-and-Ride
▪ Next to You

🖼️ Image credits: Namie Amuro Toi et Moi V4 @