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A vinyl of Ayumi Hamasaki’s album ‘Remember You’. On a light brown wooden surface.  The cover features a shot of Ayumi Hamasaki in a hotel room, with brown tousled hair and a black velvet gown, leaning over with her arms resting on a table.

Back in January 2023, Ayumi Hamasaki did what seemed unthinkable at that time. She released a studio album. Seven whole years after her last. With any other artist, especially one who has been in the game for even half the time that Ayu’s been in it, this would be pretty normal. But Ayu was a different type of bitch. Because from 1999 to 2016, she would have a new album on those Tower Records shelves near enough every single year. Sometimes there’d even be two albums in a year. So for her to go so long without releasing an album, it was out of the ordinary.

So much time had passed that I honestly wondered if Ayumi Hamasaki would release another studio album again; between her publicised dwindling sales and how much she seemed to be enjoying the new phase of her life as a mother. Ayu seemed very content to just do gigs whilst putting out the odd single every now and then.Ayu had been very open in the past about the disdain she felt towards having to keep releasing albums at the behest of Avex. So being in a position where she no longer had to churn out albums, but could still hold shows to keep earning that yen and fulfil herself creatively; Ayu ‘seemed’ fine with it. And Avex probably was too, because it’s not like they have the budgets to promote a Ayumi Hamasaki release the way they used to anyway.

A shot of Ayumi Hamasaki from the photoshoot for 'Remember You'. Featuring Ayumi Hamasaki on the balcony of the Peninsula Suite of the Tokyo Peninsula Hotel in a white latex dress.

(Image credit: Image scanned by ohsixthirty and featured on
Ayumi Hamasaki – Remember You | Avex Entertainment Inc.

Now, what I’m about to say is purely speculative. But Ayu’s eighteenth studio album doesn’t feel like something Ayu was all that fussed about releasing, but rather something that Max Matsuura told her that she may as well do, because it’s been seven years and ‘Gurl, Avex needs the money from whatever you are able to sell. And Namie’s legal team keep blocking a Best release’.

As much as I haven’t always fully enjoyed Ayu’s albums, I at least got the sense that she liked making music and took it seriously. Even when she didn’t want to do it, there was a pride that she took in her artistry, regardless of how I or others felt about it. But Remember You feels different and it’s hardly surprising. Because this ‘I might as well’ energy which permeates Remember You is the same one I felt with her albums A One and M(a)de in Japan. Party Queen was the last album from Ayu where I feel that she felt compelled to put it out. In order to show everybody that the lovey dovey shit of Love Songs was a wrap following her divorce and that she’s still a bad bitch. It was her last album which seemed to make some form of a statement.

Every album Ayu used to put out felt like a necessity to her in some way, even if it was initially prompted by Avex poking her shoulder. Whereas now, every Ayu release feels like an obligation and nothing more. Ayu is just on autopilot.

A shot of Ayumi Hamasaki from the photoshoot for 'Remember You'. Featuring Ayumi Hamasaki on the balcony of the Peninsula Suite of the Tokyo Peninsula Hotel in a white latex dress.

(Image credit: Image scanned by ohsixthirty and featured on
Ayumi Hamasaki – Remember You | Avex Entertainment Inc.

Remember You as it is, should not have been a studio album. It should have been a Best release. “Nonfiction”, “Summer Again” and “Mask” should have been new recordings on a nice three disc Best album which was released in April 2023 instead of January 2023, to coincide with the 25th anniversary of Ayu’s career. It could have kept the title Remember You, because it still fits. Fans get something new. Avex get to trot out another Ayu release. And a Best album would have done better sales wise, because Best albums always do, let alone one from Ayumi Hamasaki, who can still chart in the top 10 of the Oricon by default. Remember You as a studio album just doesn’t offer anything to fully justify its existence. But we’ll get to this.

Remember You is an introspective album, as Ayu albums often are. But it’s also incredibly retrospective. Not only in terms of the subject matter of the majority of the songs, but in terms of the sounds and who she chose to work with on them. Yuta Nakano, Tetsuya Komuro and Kazuhito Kikuchi, each of whom has a long history with Ayumi Hamasaki, return into the fold here. And it’s like no time has passed since she last worked with them. Because nothing they bring to the table sounds even remotely new or different in any way. Every song on this album sounds like something Ayu has done before, with no element of freshness, no new tricks, no newness, nothing – which further begs the question as to why Remember You wasn’t just a Best release. Because if you are just going to do what you did before, exactly how you did it before, then what is the point in even releasing anything new? Especially when your old shit is better and will still be remembered in a decade, whereas none of these new songs will stick in quite the same way.

Ayu has long moved past the point in her career of having to put out songs for the sake of putting out songs. She has such a long and extensive discography which is still revered to this day, that she never has to release anything new ever again. Her funds and her legacy are secured. And it’s really unfortunate that Ayu isn’t taking advantage of this to say ‘Well, I don’t HAVE to release anything new. But seeing as I’m still able to put music out, how about we try something a little different this time?’.

Ayu doesn’t have to do anything drastically new. We got a taste of how that worked out on Colours, and it was a complete mess. But the public response to that album putting Avex and Ayu off of trying anything new was silly. Because it wasn’t Ayu trying new things which was bad, it was the new stuff she and her team chose. But, seeing as Ayu is now permanently in the mode of ‘Let’s do what I’ve always done’, there are so many ways that Ayu could bend and twist her sound in a way which is true to her sound, but is reframed and presented in a way it hasn’t been before. But instead we just get an album of the same old, same old. And it’s not just that we get retreads here. But retreads which sound completely outdated.

“Dreamed a Dream” as a song released in 2002 woulda been…fine. I guess. But in 2023?


Ayumi Hamasaki and Tetsuya Komuro are both too stuck in the past. So putting the two of them together was always going to be a recipe for something as outdated as Komuro’s hair colour. But “Dreamed a Dream” is not unsalvageable. The best parts of this song are the intro and the very end. And if “Dreamed a Dream” had stuck with either of these vibes for the entire song, it could have worked. My personal preference would be the end, because I think “Dreamed a Dream” would have worked far better as a ballad.

‘This song would have worked better if…’ is a constant theme throughout Remember You. Each and every song has something about it which works, but is then followed by a bad arrangement, a shitty production choice or Ayu doing something heinous vocally which throws the song off. There is no song on this album which is great, but every song on it had the potential to be if different choices were made. “Summer Again” would have worked better had it been on a similar vibe to the Johnny Vicious Club Remix of “Mirrorcle World” or the Non-Stop Mega Mix Version of “Dearest”. “Mask” would have worked better if it were midtempo and had a similar vibe to “Why”. “VIBEES” would have worked better if it had the [Turns and looks into the camera] vibes of “1Love” or “(Don’t) Leave Me Alone”. The trick should have been to lock in on the vibe of each song, and then pull them apart to piece them back together again, into something which feels new, yet familiar.

There was a course which could have been charted with each song for it to be great, because each of them fundamentally has a really strong melody and a good set of lyrics. But everybody involved is so complacent and has such a lack of awareness and a misguided sense of taste, that the songs end up falling flat. Even the “Nonfiction” remix that I thought Yohanne Simon would do great things with, falls completely flat and also has no place on this album. There truly was nobody steering this ship. 

A shot of Ayumi Hamasaki from the photoshoot for 'Remember You'. Featuring Ayumi Hamasaki standing by the window in the Peninsula Suite of the Tokyo Peninsula Hotel in a dark purple latex dress.

(Image credit: Image scanned by ohsixthirty and featured on
Ayumi Hamasaki – Remember You | Avex Entertainment Inc.

It’s crazy how Ayu and her team of producers have an awareness of what Ayu’s sound is, but have an inability and a lack of interest to do anything different with it. Ayu and her team are on autopilot, and somebody has gotta turn that shit off. Ayu doesn’t need to completely overhaul her sound. She just needs to refine and play with what she knows works. But this is the problem. Ayu and her music team don’t seem to have a consistent idea of what actually works outside of ballads. Ayu’s music team have shown so little evidence of being able to nail a sound of hers down so succinctly that they can fuck with it with, break it apart, redefine it, recontextualise it and make it something fresh and new, yet still familiar and on brand. Many artists have done the whole ‘Let’s take my sound and play with it and reframe it’ and done it well. Hikaru Utada did it with Ultra Blue. Then did it again with Fantôme. Then did it again with Bad Mode. Mariah Carey did it with Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel. Then did it again with Caution. Beyoncé did it with Renaissance. Kylie Minogue did it with Light Years. Then did it again with Fever. Then did it again with Tension. Perfume did it with Plasma. Namie Amuro did it with Queen of Hip-Pop. Then did it again with Play. Then did it again with Past

Ayumi Hamasaki isn’t pushing herself creatively. She has no interest in trying to sing better, which is even more crucial now given her hearing issues. She isn’t pushing how she writes songs. Her producers aren’t pushing her when it comes to her sound. Her arrangers aren’t pushing her when it comes to song structures. Ayu is at a point in her career where she is happy to keep trotting the same types of songs out, and she is doing a disservice to herself and her fans. Her fans will never admit that her music has been a flatline and inconsequential for the past decade, but it has been. You could wipe Remember You, M(a)de in Japan, A One, Colours and Love Again out of existence, and it wouldn’t dent Ayu’s discography, feel like there’s something missing or change the course of anything. That’s how little impact these albums have had in music and on her legacy. Ayu could be capable of far more and really tap into herself in new ways if she worked with a team of people who actually cared about developing something great with her, rather than just saying ‘yes’ to rinse and repeat for the cheque.

To even be able to say in 2023 that Remember You sounds outdated is crazy, given that we’re at a point in music where everybody is releasing songs with sounds which are from a previous era. The 60s, the 70s, the 80s, the 90s. All that’s old is new again. Even in Japanese and Korean music we’re seeing revivals of the city pop sound. And yet, even with this, Ayu’s shit just sounds outdated. And this goes to show just how out of touch Ayu and her team are. Because even within this, there is an album concept which could have worked for Ayu. ‘What if we made an album which sounds like Ayumi Hamasaki from the early 2000s who was made to record an album in the 70s / early 80s’. This could have covered so many different bases to give Ayu’s sound the jolt that it needs; because she and her team could still honour Ayu’s classic sound, whilst throwing in some new / old elements, song structures, production styles and singing techniques which they hadn’t tried before. Ayu could have even branded the whole look of the album around that moment at the start of the “Sparkle” video. And this would have started a really cool conversation in Japanese music around old and new, at a time when we are seeing older acts from the 70s and 80s have their catalogs be made available on streaming, re-released on vinyl and even release new material. Ayu being playful with J-pop of a certain era and showing how she is carrying it into the present would have helped shift the perception of Ayu being a relic of the Heisei era. But this idea of being a relic should have really been the nucleus of this album, given what every song on this album touches on.

A shot of Ayumi Hamasaki from the photoshoot for 'Remember You'. Featuring Ayumi Hamasaki standing by the window in the Peninsula Suite of the Tokyo Peninsula Hotel in a dark purple latex dress.

(Image credit: Image scanned by ohsixthirty and featured on
Ayumi Hamasaki – Remember You | Avex Entertainment Inc.

Remember You, true to the album title, is about remembering. Remembering what you had, but also what you had lost, and the struggle we often have reconciling with that. And whilst Ayu seems to be singing about very specific things and people in her life, this theme could easily be applied to her career not being what it was because of how the industry changed, how she refused to change, how life for her changed and how others changed around her. Remembering your own past is also an ever-changing thing. How you look back on something and remember it at one point in your life can be completely different to how you remember it 10 years later. And having children can also drastically change how you look at EVERYTHING. There is something here. There IS a theme to this album and you realise that Ayu actually does have something to say after all. But it all gets lost in outdated production, boring arrangements and re-treads. And none of the threads of how you look back on things and how Ayu remembers her past versus how others see it are tied together in a way which will make people look at Ayu differently, and I think that THIS is what the album should have done. It should have been a look at Ayu which also reframes how we all look at her, both past and present. But instead, Remember You ends up being the same ol’ same ol’ which won’t be remembered at all in the same capacity of her earlier albums. There’s nothing about this album that makes you want to lean into Ayu. There is a complete disconnect between how Ayu thinks we see her, how the producers see her, the lyrics and how the songs turned out.

Remember You has a theme and a concept curried at its core. Yet as per some of Ayu’s previous albums, Remember You feels like several album concepts in one, and Ayu;s solution to this is once again dividing these concepts with a taskin-something. The first half of the album has one vibe, whilst the later half has another. And then you have the album cover which tells a different story. It’s like Secret all over again. Had Remember You been an EP with one of the two sides of the album, or even two separate EPs, it would have worked far better. There is a way to tie everything this album does together, but it’s clear none of the producers she worked with on this album or Ayu herself had the know-how of how to executive produce the album in a way where it all fits together.

Ayumi Hamasaki’s music no longer feels necessary or like it is contributing towards anything. Ayu’s last couple of albums were fine. Remember You is fine. But these aren’t memorable albums. And there are no songs on any of them which feel like notable contributions to her legacy, gems in her discography or things that fans would look back with fondness. Ayu still releasing music can be seen as a good thing. But if it’s going to amount to nothing and result in such inconsequential material, then is there even any point in Ayu releasing it? And I can’t speak for her fans, but I do wonder if they even care for these songs as much as they used to or as much as they seem to pretend to. It certainly seems that Ayu doesn’t care as much for her music as she used to. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Ayu’s music, but even I notice that there is a spark that’s missing from it now and it’s been missing for a while.

If you were to recommend Ayumi Hamasaki to somebody new, you could just say ‘listen to her stuff between 1999 and 2010’ and that person wouldn’t be missing out on anything other than an amazing cover of Hikaru Utada’s “Movin’ On Without You”. That’s a whole decade of music from her discography that you could just omit, which is crazy. And Remember You was the perfect chance and time for Ayu to correct that. 25 years into her career. So much to look back on and ponder. An opportunity to reclaim how people see her (both good and bad) and write a new chapter of her musical history…and she squandered it.

▪ Remember You
▪ Haru yo Koi

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Album Review: Ayumi Hamasaki – Remember You