Alone in My Room: How Ami Suzuki Twisted the Plot in Komuro’s City Songs
Ami Suzuki arrives as the fresh new personality from the Komuro Family who can show that a more optimistic lifestyle can lie ahead.
Hi! Welcome to Tetsuya Komuro Week at This Side of Japan, a newsletter about Japanese music, new and old. We are dedicating this week on a series of essays discussing the producer’s essential acts and singles. You can return to the Intro page of the series here. You can check out previous issues of the newsletter here.
The superstars of the Komuro Family had become massively popular by the late ‘90s, and the follow-up to their initial hits began to reflect on the growth. Namie Amuro began to evolve from a pop singer to a voice of a generation, touching on more serious, personal themes like “How to Be a Girl” and “RESPECT the POWER of LOVE.” Tomomi Kahara tried her best to carry the weight of handling bigger, worldly topics in “Love Is All Music.” Each attempts by the Family to raise their respective status varied in level of success, but their music all suggested they now dealt with matters beyond the everyday realities lived by the rest of the public.
Ami Suzuki, then, arrives at the right time when her older siblings in the Family had graduated into a higher layer of stardom. Seventeen at the time of her debut, the young singer won the vocalist audition led by Komuro in 1998 for Asayan, the talent-search TV program for which the producer had already produced a number of acts. Komuro’s songwriting had crystallized into its own well-defined formula by the time he worked with his newest pop act, but Suzuki’s debut album, SA, presents enough of a shift in approach to elevate the singer into a fresh new personality to come from his stable.
The title of Suzuki’s second single “Alone in My Room” practically reads as a Komuro cliche. Solitude often begets the narrative of a Komuro single. Both Amuro and Kahara literally find themselves alone in their own rooms in “Body Feels Exit” and “I Believe,” respectively, too depressed to go out and enjoy a night in the city. Suzuki also yearns for company like the others in the song while looking out wistfully from her bedroom window. As if to flex the Komuro-ness of it all, the producer indulges in an extended Europop synth solo after the chorus like he’s crafting a T.M. Network song in miniature.
Suzuki, however, embraces a different attitude in “Alone in My Room” that separates herself from others in the Komuro Family. “It might be fun / being by myself / this kind of place / might not be so bad,” she begins the song; later in the chorus, she sounds at peace as she sits solo on the beach and gazes into the sea. She may prefer not to be by herself— “someone get close to me already!” She quips — but she’s also not looking for her long lost soulmate as much as she simply wants a play thing. Suzuki in “Alone in My Room” was the same age Amuro was when she put out “Body Feels Exit,” and yet she sounds the most comfortable to bask in solitude out of anyone Komuro has worked with.
She’s not entirely impervious to loneliness. Darkness and desperation strike Suzuki in “All Night Long” in a familiar manner as her cohorts. The tense rave beat channels the anxiety-ridden Eurobeat of “Body Feels Exit” but also the nightmarish techno that Globe had been exploring around the same time. Suzuki follows a nervous, stammering rhythm in the verses that runs counter to the break beat, like she’s too busy navigating her own crowded thoughts to ride the groove smoothly as instructed. Though she again deals with a lack of company, “All Night Long” finds her stuck in a much more intoxicated experience compared to the peaceful ambiance of “Alone in My Room.”
“All Night Long,” however, ultimately stands as an outlier in the trajectory of Suzuki precisely because it fixates on a head space found in the older wave of Komuro hits. The rest of SA offers a respite from the trappings of city life that Komuro often wrote about during an earlier time, and the youthful voice of Suzuki posit the singer as a reliable character who can show that a better, more optimistic lifestyle can lie ahead.
“White Key” follows up “Alone in My Room” in the album’s track list, riding high on the comfort and freedom expressed in the former single. The scenes depicted in the song resemble ones imagined in past Komuro records: “The late-night city’s brighter than it should be / shaking, somewhere, holding on to my white key,” Suzuki sings in the chorus, headed to nowhere in particular like a protagonist of a Globe song. But she sounds nonchalant about her predicament, looking forward to what’s in stores for her along a carefree hip-hop beat. Things don’t work out, and that’s life, her mannerisms say. When Suzuki mentions, “the times we spent together, that’s the song of the past,” she may well be talking about Komuro’s past singles so haunted by the ghosts of relationships past.
Suzuki’s eagerness to point to a better future from a doomed present continued in her two follow-up albums, Infinity Eighteen Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. While he provided the music and arrangement, Komuro took more of a backseat for the lyrics. Still, the songs that he provided lyrics for in the two records prop the singer as a promoter of positivity through even more obvious means. His songs are hardly subtle right from their titles: Suzuki covers T.M. Network’s “Be Together” for the first volume, and her lead single for the second is titled “Thank You 4 Every Day Everybody.” The latter bounces with jolliness from its bright piano riff to the big titular hook.
For all her efforts to elevate her status from the everyday girl, Suzuki was against tough competition who also aspired to become the next defining voice. Many solo singers in the next decade fell in the shadow of the just-debuted Hikaru Utada, who instantly took hold of the cultural zeitgeist with her take on R&B. The rise of Ayumi Hamasaki also made it a challenge for anyone else to claim to be the voice of a generation, first with her “Boys & Girls.” Suzuki may have had the songs, but she didn’t stand a chance against the two as a personality. Meanwhile, the very producer who introduced her to the culture at large and the movements he built was experiencing his last days of relevance.
Up next, Never End: Parting Words for Tetsuya Komuro Week
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