“Baby, come back to me…”

It’s been six incredibly long, emotionally draining, Kuma-less years since Utada Hikaru first announced she would be taking a break from the music scene. And, aside from a one-off with “Sakura Nagashi” in 2012 for the Evangelion movie, she’s made good on her promise to press pause on her pop career in order to get back to living her personal life.

And live she did: Not only did Utada get married in Italy to a bartender she met at a London hotel (literally “meet me in the hotel lobby…“) in 2014, but she gave birth to a baby boy last year. Mama’s been busy.

But she couldn’t stay away from music forever. Or, at least, we certainly weren’t going to allow that.

After loud rumors began brewing at the start of the year, Team Hikki finally announced the NEW-TURN PROJECT in March, a fan initiative to formally welcome Utada back to her promotional activities in April. By tweeting well-wishes with #おかえりHIKKI (“Welcome back Hikki”) and purchasing her music, fans added cherry blossoms to a digital tree with each tweet. And, since Utada is a blessed being sent from above, proceeds from those sales contributed to a cherry tree restoration project in areas affected by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.

Today (April 4) is that day: Hikki has returned at long last with not one, but two new offerings: A theme song for NHK drama Toto Nee-chan (とと姉ちゃん) called “花束を君に (Hanataba wo kimi ni)” (roughly, “A Bouquet for You”) and “真夏の通り雨” (“Midsummer Shower”), a theme song for TV news program NEWS ZERO.

Fun fact: Both songs were mixed by Stephen Fitzmaurice, who’s engineered records for plenty of major acts including Sam Smith‘s In The Lonely Hour – AND three songs on Kylie Minogue‘s Body Language. (Icon!)

Unfortunately, it seems we’ll need to wait until April 15, the day the songs are made available on iTunes, to hear them both in full.

But let’s dig in with what we’ve got so far.

“花束を君に,” theme of Toto Nee-chan, is a light, airy production buoyed by piano melodies, drums and strings (and of course, Hikki’s bright voice), but the lyrics suggest something sad about that bouquet — a bouquet with flowers the color of tears, to be exact.

An English translation from my friend UBlog:

As someone who never wears makeup
That morning, with your light makeup
Somewhere between the beginning and the end
You made a promise I couldn’t forget

Let me send a bouquet of flowers to you
To the one I love, To the one I love.
No matter what kind of words I line up, it won’t become the truth
So today I’ll send a bouquet to you, of flowers the color of tears

Let me send a bouquet of flowers to you
To the one I love, To the one I love
No matter what kind of words I line up, they won’t be able to honor you
So today I’ll send a bouquet to you, of flowers the color of tears

“真夏の通り雨” is no less emotional and, so far, my favorite of the two. (Frankly, a theme song for a news show should be heartfelt.) Once again, it’s a relatively sparse ballad from a production standpoint, but the meaningful lyrics provide some serious weight — and are certainly open for interpretation.

Whenever I reach my hand out to someone, and my thoughts go to you
There are so many things I want to ask you
Overflowing, overflowing
The trees sprout, the months and days circle by
I want to explain my unwavering feelings
There’s a freedom in becoming free
The shadow cast, ever still, of those who must do the send off

With both songs, as UBlog points out, the lyrics seem to potentially reference Utada’s late mother, who tragically died in an apparent suicide only three years ago.

Even the line “there’s a freedom in becoming free” echoes the incredibly sad sentiments Utada shared on her website after her mother’s passing: “She is finally freed from her agony, but … the way she ended her life was beyond sad. I am suffering from a sense of remorse,” she wrote at the time.

This is all purely speculation as an outside observer until Hikki herself shares further insight (if she so chooses), but it would not be at all surprising to see the singer drawing upon something so devastating and personal that has undoubtedly had a profound impact on her life. (She’d already written plenty about her mother in the past, from references in songs like “Keep Tryin'” and “Tokyo Nights” to “Arashi no Megami,” a song she wrote as a thank you, released on Single Collection Vol. 2 in 2010.)

This upcoming album, at least based on the little we’ve heard so far, might be far heavier than anticipated.

Fittingly, the songs — which are traditional in both production and title — also have very traditional-looking single covers. (Sadly, no Hikki to be found.)

hanataba_jctmanatus_jct

But, fear not: There are brand new photos of Utada in 2016 — the first promo photos we’ve seen in over five years — shot by Ryuichi Ishikawa in February, which are glorious. (Those “Be My Last” bangs!)

Ryuichi Ishikawa Ryuichi Ishikawa Ryuichi Ishikawa

That’s not even everything, either: Utada is also featured on the back cover of ぴあMUSIC COMPLEX Vol.4 (a music magazine, I gather?), which you can grab on Amazon Japan as I did already, because sad nerd), along with a 16-page special feature with the photographer inside the issue.

It’s all happening. Here’s to a new chapter — and to a very Hikki-filled 2016.