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Japanese superstar Utada Hikaru finds her way in the U.S.

Marian Liu
The Seattle Times (MCT)

SEATTLE — Utada Hikaru may not be a household name.

But the singer-songwriter has been hailed as the Japanese Britney Spears for her record-selling prowess — more than 52 million worldwide. Her concerts in the states have been selling out, too.

Born to parents in the music business — a producer and a ballad singer — Hikaru is from New York but was raised in Tokyo. At 26, her career has spanned more than a decade and several genres, most notably pop. Her influences stretch from Metallica to Mariah Carey.

Hikaru talked by phone recently from Los Angeles about her tour, her American fans and her success so far.

Q: Would it have been different if you had started your music career in the states instead?

A: I don't think I would be anywhere near where I am if started in the states. I can't imagine what I would be like, or where my music would have gone. ... There aren't as many genre boundaries in Japan ... so I have complete freedom in what music I make, without worrying about if this is going to be on urban radio stations, or Top 40 radio stations.

Q: You've tried the American market before — you even worked with Timbaland for your 2004 album. How is this time different?

A: This time I'm a little bit more at ease. ... Last time was my first American album and there was this weird hype, like, "She's the Japanese Madonna, or Japanese Britney Spears," and none of these comparisons really were on point at all.

Q: Who would be a better comparison?

A: I heard someone say Kate Bush (an eclectic English singer-songwriter), but it's not exactly Kate Bush either. I don't think there's one person I could compare myself to. I'm not so much of a show-type of person, than I am more of a musician-type person.

Q: Your latest performances are more stripped down, is that what you're going for now?

A: I just want the focus to be more on song writing and singing and the music itself, rather than having like a big, flashy Lady Gaga-type thing. The tour we chose really small venues on purpose.

Q: What are the shows like that you do in Japan?

A: I don't have half-naked male dancers or anything like that. I wear big costumes. The last tour, which was a while ago, 2006, was huge, a whole big visual setup. The whole stage had LED panels underneath. I've never really done a tour with small venues, but I've been wanting to, ever since I debuted.

Q: Was your current single, "Come Back To Me," about a girl cheating, autobiographical?

A: It's something that I've done and I'm sure a lot of girls have done.

Q: Are you in a relationship right now? Do you have time for that?

A: Yeah, I find time. I think there should be something at least. It makes you work harder at your work and it makes your life a little more comfortable.

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