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‘Hatsukoi’: Utada Hikaru Reflects on Her First Love, Twenty Years Later

Utada Hikaru Hatsukoi

Utada Hikaru‘s seventh studio album, Hatsukoi, is out in a matter of weeks. (June 27, to be exact.)

Of course, we’ve already heard, like, the entire thing at this point over the past two years – from “Oozora de Dakishimete” to “Forevermore” to “Anata” to “Play A Love Song,” as well as various teasers. But not everything!

For instance: the title track itself, “Hatsukoi,” which as we know means “First Love” in Japanese, which as we know is the name of Utada’s classic hit, which as we know is the namesake of her 1999 debut Japanese-language album, which as we know remains the highest-selling Japanese album in history. (A casual record.)

So. “Hatsukoi,” then, already has a rich history.

The song – which was released on May 30 – is a reflection on the feeling of falling in (first) love, but from the vantage point of the woman she is today, as opposed to the young, inexperienced (but still vastly mature beyond her years!) teenager who arrived on the scene twenty years ago. And, between the music, the interviews, and the lack of privacy that her immense fame has afforded her, we know all too much about the ups and downs of her personal life.

As always, Utada captures the happy-sad complexity of the human experience with her poetic lyricism.

My heart, pounding deafeningly in my chest / My legs, now frozen in a way they never are / My tears, silently tricking down my cheek / They tell me…that this is my first love,” she begins. (Translation.)

The song’s production itself is intimate – and simple and clean, if you will: no extra bells and whistles beyond a stunning string section and a piano melody to guide the way. The focus is on the voice, and these gorgeous and worldly lyrics, which gradually reveal to us that the artist is really singing about a first love from long ago.

All people fall in love, that’s what I always thought. And yet..If I had never met you, I don’t think that anyone else would have led me to one day have these feelings.

The bridge is a dramatic stunner as only Hikki, Queen of Aching Nostalgia, can deliver.

Everything I long for, I can see it / Somewhere my hands can reach, there’s no way I’d not chase after it / Is that right to do? / Nobody knows the answer / Truly, no one does.

For various personal reasons, it makes sense that Utada Hikaru has turned inward in one her most introspective eras to date – from embracing her own background by using the Japanese-language term for “First Love,” to reverting to a more classical style of production, to reminiscing about the most powerful moments of her past.

While the future remains forever uncertain, the dark cloud hanging overhead on Fantome is slowly passing by, and the warmer feeling of memories from long ago are now shining in its place.

Image credit: M-On.jp / Sony Music Japan

“Hatsukoi” was released on May 30. (iTunes)