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A photo of Namie Amuro holding up a giant notepad, with a message which reads ‘I hope you kept them CDs and those WinRAR files. LOL.’

There’s not much more to elaborate on, as the post title says it all. But of course I’mma turn this into a several paragraph long post.

Namie Amuro? Removed from streaming services!?

Yep. That’s happened.

I caught wind of this news yesterday evening via a Namie Amuro fan account THE Amuro Archive on Twitter (give them a follow them if you’re a Namie fan) who had tweeted that Namie Amuro’s discography wasn’t available on Apple Music.

So, I then checked Spotify and YouTube Music to find that Namie’s music was unavailable on those streaming services too. Spotify didn’t even have a profile photo for a bitch. And over the course of the next 12 hours, more and more fans began to realise this unfortunate turn of events and that this wasn’t a regional thing. Namie’s music was unavailable on all streaming platforms, seemingly everywhere. Including Japan. [Cue dramatic zoom].

At time of posting, there is no official statement or any clarification as to why or how this has happened. It could be a glitch. It could be a contractual or licensing related issue. It could just be that whoever was supposed to keep on top of Namie’s discography on streaming got fired and just removed everything as a farewell ‘Fuck you’. Or maybe somebody overlooked something or just does not care. I regularly see instances where albums and songs are randomly removed, or one service has songs and albums that another one doesn’t. Perfume mysteriously had a couple of their albums disappear from streaming in 2021; but even now on Spotify, there are still songs missing, despite everything being available on Apple Music. The streaming upkeep in Japan is not great.

In a world where Namie’s retirement wasn’t her blipping herself out of existence, her music disappearing from streaming services would perhaps seen as the dawn of her announcing her return. But regardless, it is a shock thing to happen out of the blue. Albeit one which (if it were permanent) would not be all that surprising, between Japan’s continued reluctance of digital media, online content and the many loud conversations about the damage that streaming has done to the music industry. And there’s also Namie retiring the way I have never seen somebody in entertainment retire before. Namie really hopped in the Toyota Alphard and drove off into a hex, to never be seen again. The fact she called her farewell Best album ‘Finally’ said it all. She truly reached a point where she was over the pop star shit. So I could absolutely imagine Avex receiving faxes from Namie’s lawyers to clear out them desks and get rid of her shit.

When Namie retired, her music wasn’t available across every platform until almost two years later, which was more-than-likely a combination of the Japanese market still being tentative when it came to the likes of Spotify and Apple Music, and Avex wanting to maximise the sales of Finally – the latter of which makes complete sense, especially in light of Namie having to re-record so many of the songs on it. And then there are her music videos, none of which have been officially uploaded to YouTube in full. The Japanese music industry is more on board with streaming and YouTube than it once was, but there is still clear hesitancy with it, which is completely warranted. Streaming isn’t as lucrative for acts as physical sales were. This is the case worldwide. But the physical sales model in Japan has always been slightly different to that of North America. I mean, shit. Physical sales don’t even bring in as much money for acts as you think. So it’s wise to side eye streaming, which brings in even LESS money for acts.

Japan is the second largest music market in the world, yet was one of the slowest markets to adopt streaming, and unsurprisingly so. Physical sales have long dominated in Japan and managed to hold pretty strong, even when they began to swindle in America. I have some qualms about Japan and its approaches to physical media, particularly where re-issues and new pressings are concerned. And also how quickly releases can become scarce, resulting in a market where prices go through the roof. But it would make sense that the Japanese music industry wouldn’t welcome streaming with open arms, because the impact on it would be and has been far greater. Let’s take physical singles as an example. These stopped being a thing quite early on in the West during the advent of iTunes, which wasn’t such a huge blow given the low price points of single releases and that it saved record labels money from having to produce CDs. But in Japan they were still doing good business. Fans had greater incentive for buying singles because they would feature video content such as music videos and tour performances; a business model which has changed massively now that music videos release to YouTube the same day as the single releases. And due to singles often releasing in multiple editions, they also became collectors items. The special editions which would come with limited edition slip covers, posters, booklets and the inclusion of video content on a DVD and a Blu-Ray also meant the price point of these singles were higher, which was great for record labels and music acts. But singles sales had dropped because of the steady adoption of streaming and YouTube, both of which became so big that the Japanese music industry could no longer ignore them – resulting in a shift over to digital single releases. Few acts release physical singles any more, and the days of music videos for every single are long gone with that.  

Streaming does cheapen music and is resulting in the talent responsible for making it getting even less of the money. But Japan’s reluctance to embrace the entirety of the digital distribution model is a double-edged sword, specifically for acts of the Shōwa era, because their visibility is so drastically reduced to a point where it would be all too easy for them to get phased out of existence. It’s easy for us to go online and watch Michael Jackson performances from the 70s and hear the albums he recorded as part of The Jackson 5 and The Jacksons. Or check out the music of Janis Joplin, Rick Astley, Jimi Hendrix, Tiffany, Stevie Wonder and more besides. But try doing the same for any of the popular, trailblazing, top selling Japanese acts of the 60s, 70s and 80s. So many enka and city pop acts have no digital footprint whatsoever, making it hard to listen to their music. And because Japanese record labels tend not to re-press and re-issue albums with the frequency that labels do in North America, you can’t even buy any of it at a decent price.

One of the best aspects of streaming (and one of the few good things about it that we can all agree on) is that it provides not just a library to music of the present, but also of the past. And we’ve seen songs from decades ago find new life because of streaming. Look at Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” or Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”. Neither song would have been able to re-chart over 30 years after their initial releases were they not available to stream. And we had also witnessed something similar with Mariya Takeuchi’s “Plastic Love”. But the song wasn’t able to chart, because it wasn’t always available on streaming during the heights of that moment. And Mariya’s record label took too long act and make the song and album available both physically and digitally.

Streaming was a Pandora’s box, and we can’t close now. So all people can do is try to make it work. But Namie’s music being removed from streaming is a reality check that for all of the convenience of streaming, none of the music on any of the platforms is guaranteed to be there forever. It can be pulled at any time, which is why buying albums will always be the best way to support an act. When you pay for a streaming service, you’re only really supporting the streaming service for the convenience of having access to a library of music. But it’s a library of music you do not own. Even the streaming services do not own it. Because if an artist or a record label turns around and wants to pull their music from the service, then they just can.

If Namie Amuro’s music is removed from the platform for good, it’s going to cause waves. But maybe it’s necessary to make everybody revaluate the value of streaming and question with greater frequency if the industry has leaned a little too far in one direction, as opposed to finding a happier medium which works for everybody. But it would be a shame if Namie’s music was permanently removed from streaming and she eventually just became nothing more than a relic of an previous era whose music we can’t share and direct to. Especially considering how much impact she made over the course of her career right up until the day she retired. Let’s hope it’s not permanent.

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Namie Amuro stops the music, as her discography disappears from streaming services