Utada Hikaru’s “Be My Last”, 10 Years Later
I don’t do the anniversary-of-a-thing post too often, because I think the whole practice has become quite tired in the age of clickbait nostalgia, GIF listicles and general #content overload. Can you tell by now that the state of the Internet in 2015 absolutely exhausts me? I’m sure you can.
That said, when it someone that I really love like Utada Hikaru — an artist still on hiatus after five years, but reportedly ever-so-slowly preparing for a comeback, God willing — it’s a little different. I’ll take any excuse to call attention to her music.
I’ve always had a profoundly personal connection with her music (yes, Britney Jean style), and every one of her songs tends to bring back a strong memory of a time in my life, especially the ones released around a decade ago.
“Be My Last” came at a time when I had just met my first real longterm boyfriend. It’s one of two Utada songs I connect most strongly to that moment in time, right when the nights started growing a little chillier — sort of like the past few nights in New York. “Passion” is the other song, and still the ultimate reminder of that relationship — not only because it was “our song” (as enforced by me), but because its jarring chorus blared from my sad, dinky LG flip phone every time he called for years. I still occasionally jump to find my phone for a second when I hear it, merely out of instinct.
“Be My Last” was Hikki’s first Japanese release since her Exodus promotions in Europe and America. And, as it turned out, she’d only continued to develop and mature as a singer-songwriter since her English debut. Perhaps more than some of her earlier Japanese ballads, Utada really pours herself into this song, sounding more vulnerable then ever. It’s a haunting acoustic ballad, built on lingering vocal melodies and a plea that resonates: “Be my last.”
As a bilingual songwriter, Utada knows how to draw emotion in either language, and even better, have them beautifully intertwine.
(Her orchestral rendition, performed live on Our Music, is a favorite.)
The video for “Be My Last,” filmed in Prague, matches the song’s melancholy, as Utada plays a watchful guardian (or a ghost, maybe?) to a couple before being ultimately meeting an abrupt end. Really, it gets grim — although Utada doesn’t seem very sad about her violent fate. (On a lighter note, I love her blunt bang hairstyle during this era — it’s one of my favorite Utada looks.)
At the time — no doubt lost in the delirious sugar rush of falling in love with someone for the first time as a young, dumb gayby — I understood the song to be a kind of goth marriage proposal. Be my last? How dark and romantic! I was also extremely needy then, and a song called “Be My Last” catered perfectly to my desire to get hitched ASAP.
It reads much differently to me now, undoubtedly because I’ve grown up quite a bit since (and also, possibly, because of an ongoing interest in Buddhism). Now, I consider it to be a meditation on impermanence, which is what makes that chorus so unbelievably chilling…and futile.
The lyrics differ slightly depending on which translation you read, but the sentiment is more or less the same in each version: Nothing lasts forever.
Mom, why is it that
The things we were brought up with
Are destroyed by ourselves as the days keep coming?
Anyway, here’s to ten years of “Be My Last” — an introspective and heartbreaking ode to the passage of time that will, ironically, live on well beyond any of us.