Single Review: Hikaru Utada - Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana (A Flower of No Color)

A vinyl of Hikaru Utada’s “Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana”, lying on an orange lit sheet of ice.  The cover art features Hikaru Utada standing on a frozen lake at sunset, in the snow. Wearing a long black coat as they look into the camera. The song title in English is superimposed over the image.

I’m never too hot on Hikaru Utada singles. So my reaction to a new single announcement is usually one of happiness that Hikaru Utada is still releasing music, rather than excitement and anticipation of hearing the song itself.

The singles from Bad Mode did so little for me. Only in the context of the album did I actually grow to like them, and this is often my experience with Hikaru Utada’s singles. With Heart Station, it was the same shit. I was not feeling those singles until I heard them as part of the album. So I have an automatic margin for ‘Might like this song when I hear the album’ when it comes to Hikaru’s singles. And even though the album “Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana” features on will be a greatest hits album, I am still reserving that margin. Especially if the album is sequenced based on what flows the best sonically and not just chronologically in order of release. Because I’mma say this now. I’m not a fan of “Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana”. But something about it makes me feel that it will work if sequenced well on Science Fiction. I’ll still find the song boring as hell. But maybe I’ll ‘get it’ better when heard amongst other songs.

“Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana” is another Hikaru Utada song which features the production talents of by A.G. Cook of PC Music and Charli XCX fame. But as per “Kimi ni Muchuu”, “Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana” features so little trace of him. And I really am wondering what he is bringing to these songs. With “One Last Kiss” I could hear what A. G. Cook’s contribution was. But with “Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana”, I have no clue. And I feel that he is being under utilised on some of these Hikaru Utada songs.

Something which has been a sticking point for me for years now is the production of some of Hikaru’s songs. Songs either sound tinny and underbaked, or rich and textured. But with Hikaru’s last few albums, there have been songs with tinny ass beats paired with rich instrumentation and I just can’t vibe with it. Y’all. I have tried. But the result for me is always a song which sounds like it’s missing layers and a final coat of finesse to make the song sound better. This was how I felt about “Michi”, how I felt about “Pink Blood”, how I felt about “Kimi ni Muchuu”, and it’s how I feel about “Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana”. The lushness of the piano up against Hikaru’s ‘My first GarageBand beat’ drum sequencing here just doesn’t work for me. This is where A. G. Cook should be utilised. To better tether the sounds together, beef up the tinny ass production and fill in the gaps.

A screenshot of Hikaru Utada in the music video for "Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana". Featuring a close-up of Hikaru’s face as flakes of snow blow in the wind. The music video was shot on a frozen lake in Hokkaido, Japan.
Hikaru Utada - Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana (A Flower of No Color) | Sony Music Labels Inc.

“Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana” also does something which “Gold ~Mata au hi Made~” also did, which is straddling two vibes and sounds, when it should have stuck to one; unless the song was going to be better produced to make the two vibes feel better connected to make the song feel truly whole. With “Gold ~Mata au hi Made~”, I felt that if the song was just a ballad or just a dance song, it would have worked better. With “Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana”, if the song had just been a piano ballad with some soft orchestrations or just an 80s Casio keyboard Bossa Nova beat moment, then it would have worked better. To my ear, there is just something missing to better meld the two sounds into something that sounds good and complete. I don’t want to say that “Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana” sounds like a demo, because there are several instances of songs where I like the demo version far better than the final version. So, let’s just say that I feel like “Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana” in its current form sounds like an early cut of the song before everything was finished. Pending the recording of the live instruments and A. G. Cook’s additional production.

The sound of the song is one thing, but Hikaru Utada’s vocals are another. I really do miss when Hikaru Utada used to do more with their vocal arrangements. Playing around with harmonies, layering, effects and panning could have contributed to filling in more of the empty space and missing parts of “Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana”.

Tenderness is such a core part of “Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana”, so you have to be careful not to do too much to overthrow that. But on the flipside, tenderness doesn’t mean bare bones and rough around the edges. Bare bones and rough edges have their own charms and can work for a song. I just don’t think they do so here.

I woulda like to have heard “Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana” with the production of Floating Points, as he has a knack for adding breadth and layers to Hikaru’s sound. The Floating Points produced songs on Bad Mode were not only my personal highlights, but were hands down the best sounding songs on the album from a production standpoint. He was needed on this song as far as I’m concerned. He was needed on “Gold ~Mata au hi Made~” too. Because A. G. Cook ain’t cooking.

A screenshot of Hikaru Utada in the music video for "Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana". Featuring a close-up of Hikaru’s face as flakes of snow blow in the wind. The music video was shot on a frozen lake in Hokkaido, Japan.
Hikaru Utada - Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana (A Flower of No Color) | Sony Music Labels Inc.

Lyrics have also been an important component to Hikaru Utada’s music. Although I feel there was a shift with Heart Station, which may have been a result of Hikaru’s first divorce. Hikaru Utada’s first husband was also a creative presence in Hikaru’s career, having shot a bunch of their album covers and directed several of their music videos. His work had this almost otherworldly fantastical element to it, and you felt and saw the loss of that following the divorce. So there was this groundedness that Hikaru’s music developed, where things looked a little plainer and more grounded. And the lyrics felt a lot more pointed, specific and autobiographical. I think Hikaru’s lyrics have always been autobiographical to a degree. But there was a frequent sense of ‘What if?’ scenarios when it came to their songs. A lot of fiction based on reality, as opposed to ‘Chile, this is what I’m going through right now’. But circa 2007, Hikaru’s lyrics felt like pages pulled out of their diary, something which felt very evident on the album Fantôme. And this has continued to colour all of Hikaru’s songs since in some beautifully interconnected ways. To such a point that even a song written about a specific story or scenario manages to feel personal to Hikaru, as though the tie-in is inconsequential, because Hikaru would have written the song about this thing regardless.

“Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana” is a theme song for the Fuji TV drama Kimi ga Kokoro wo Kureta kara. Quick breakdown of the story as I know it. There’s a boy and a girl. They’re high school sweethearts who pinky swear on some shit at sunset, graduate and then part. Years later, they reconnect and all of those old feelings come rushing back. Everything seems like it’s going so well and that they’re on the path to becoming a couple. But this is only episode 1, so of course something has to go wrong. And in true J-drama fashion, as the guy is heading off somewhere in a good mood and pussy on his mind, he gets hit by a car. The girl finds him, drops to her knees and sobs. Then a Grim Reaper in an Armani suit appears and says ‘I’m here to take him to the afterlife’. The girl is like ‘NO. YOU HAVE TO SAVE HIM.’ And the Grim Reaper is like ‘Okay. So I’ve got a special offer today whereby I can save his life.’ The girl is like ‘Great’. And he’s like ‘But it’s gonna cost you all five of your senses’. And because this is a J-drama about fate and making sacrifices for love, of course the girl says ‘Onegaishimasu’. But there are also sub plot lines concerning families, memories, hidden feelings and generational bonds.

Hikaru Utada was an ideal fit to write such a song, because their songs frequently deal with the topics of love, mortality and finality. And Hikaru has had to deal with grappling with the complicated relationship between all three things upon losing their mother and what they mean for themselves as a mother. And that weirdness of going through the ritual of saying goodbye to somebody you’ve lost, whilst simultaneously wanting to keep them alive in your life. And finding something you believe in which is tangible enough to get you through the pain; which is usually centred around memories and love, and a belief in the eternity of these things - the latter of which “Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana” touches on. So “Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana” could very easily be a song which has absolutely nothing to do with Kimi ga Kokoro wo Kureta kara at all, because the song speaks to something Hikaru has somewhat experienced and the kind of stuff they sing about anyway.

A screenshot of Hikaru Utada in the music video for "Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana". Featuring Hikaru in medium shot, mid dance. The music video was shot on a frozen lake in Hokkaido, Japan.
Hikaru Utada - Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana (A Flower of No Color) | Sony Music Labels Inc.

But one thing I have greatly admired about Hikaru Utada’s music since Deep River, is that they have a sound. Hikaru Utada having a particular sound isn’t just cool from an artistic and a brand perspective, but as a listener of their music, there’s a real comfort in it. Even though I am not [turns and looks into the camera] in love with “Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana”, I do like the warmth in the familiarity of it.

“Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana” sounds like a combination of different Hikaru Utada songs. Despite there not being much to the song, it still sounds like it’s pulling in sounds, themes and vibes from across Hikaru’s career. To me, “Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana” sounds like it could be a song from around the time of Ultra Blue or Heart Station. But I can also hear bits of First Love, Deep River, Exodus and This Is the One being pulled into the song too. This is why I think the sequencing of “Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana” on Science Fiction could end up doing a lot for it, especially for somebody like me who warms up to Hikaru’s singles in the contexts of albums. But whether intentional or not, “Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana” feeling like it draws from across Hikaru Utada’s career makes it a great fit for a new recording on a greatest hits album.

A screenshot of Hikaru Utada in the music video for "Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana". Featuring a close-up of Hikaru’s face as flakes of snow blow in the wind. The music video was shot on a frozen lake in Hokkaido, Japan.
Hikaru Utada - Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana (A Flower of No Color) | Sony Music Labels Inc.

There’s nothing about “Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana” that makes me eager to listen to it. It’s a very ‘whatever’ kind of song for me. Even when placed in Kimi ga Kokoro wo Kureta kara, it doesn’t really hit the same way I remember “First Love”, “Flavor of Life” or “Prisoner of Love hitting in the dramas in which they featured. 

There is a charm to “Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana” in its simplicity and how it feels like a lullaby. And the song feels as much as an introduction to something as it does a farewell to it - which is a perfect encapsulation of the story of Kimi ga Kokoro wo Kureta kara. I just feel that the song could have been made to sound a bit more interesting and engaging. Because as it is, “Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana” is just a pretty boring song with a really cool music video. But it would be cool if it got the “Hikari”, “Flavor of Life” and “Beautiful World” treatment at some point down the line, with an alternate version or a remix - because there is enough in “Nani Iro Demo Nai Hana” which intrigues me enough to want to hear it again, but reimagined. So let’s see what Hikaru does with it on the Science Fiction tour.