Japan singer Utada makes 3rd bid to crack U.S. market

Mon Mar 23, 2009 4:40am EDT
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By Frederick H. Katayama

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Japanese pop star Utada is hoping it's third time lucky as she tries again to crack the U.S. market with a new album that she is convinced has a stronger voice from her divorce after four years of marriage.

Hikaru Utada, 26, better known overseas by her stage name Utada, is returning to her roots in mainstream pop in a bid to make a name for herself in the lucrative American marketplace where Asian stars have always struggled to succeed.

Utada is one of Japan's top artists after with her debut album, "First Love," sold 9 million copies in 1999 and became Japan's biggest selling album ever, earning her superstar status at home. She has now sold over 50 million records in Japan.

But "First Love" failed to win her an international following while her English-language debut album "Exodus" in 2004, an electronically fueled album, also failed to earn her much attention outside Japan.

Produced by Timbaland, it only sold 55,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and spent just one week on the Billboard 200 of top selling albums.

"I'm not surprised my first English album, "Exodus," didn't sell. It wasn't the kind of thing that would sell. It was a very experimental album," she told Reuters Television.

Partly raised in Tokyo and her birthplace of New York, Utada has music in her DNA. Her mother, Keiko Fuji, is a famous singer of ballads while her father, Teruzane Utada, is a record producer who is now her manager.

Utada started early. At the age of 13, she recorded a single under the name Cubic U but it was never released in the United States. At 16, she released "First Love" which sold more than 9 million copies.   Continued...