Body Feels Exit: How Namie Amuro Embodied the City Life as an Idol
Namie Amuro embodied the personal in Komuro's club songs while growing into the idol representing the lifestyle associated with the genre.
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.
Eurobeat informed the sound of Japan’s city nightlife during the first third of the ’90s, and it also helped launch Namie Amuro, the icon who would become J-pop’s poster child of urban life throughout the decade. Amuro debuted as a solo artist in 1995 with dance-pop anthem “Body Feels Exit,” produced by the decade’s in-demand hit-maker Tetsuya Komuro. Her breakout popularity soon influenced a massive wave of women adopting the singer’s gyaru-like style of high boots, miniskirts and pencil eyebrows — a fashion trend now remembered as the Amuraa boom.
Before her official solo debut, Amuro had already sang and danced over Eurobeat music as part of the teen dance group Super Monkeys. The unit first worked with a post-New Jack Swing sound in “Mister U.S.A.” before heading to closer to dance-pop in “Aishite Masukatto.” Once Avex Trax producer and label head Max Matsuura took over direction, the group began to cover Eurobeat singles with Amuro as the center act. The techno sound naturally set the stage for her first original song under her own name, and no producer was better for the job than Komuro, who had already brought Avex a series of rave-pop hits in the ’90s with TRF.
Whereas TRF established the general mood of rave, Amuro embodied the personal while growing into the idol representing the lifestyle associated with the genre. Not only did she mingle with the sounds of the club, she navigated the adult venue with ease through the stoic manner in which she sang over the demanding beats. The teen singer already expressed a personality beyond her years in “Try Me ~Watashi Wo Shinjite~,” her first foray into post-club music. She rises above the bright para para beat in the Lolita cover to steal the attention of a boy, who’s heartbroken from a recent break-up. “A confidence to open the door to a new world / I want to give that to you / more intense than anybody,” she sings, taking charge and seizing the opportunity in front of her.
Namie Amuro’s first few Eurobeat covers established a shining personality for the ascendant teen star. The Komuro originals, however, complicated her story. “Body Feels Exit” naturally followed up “Try Me” through a similar sound, but whereas the single with the Super Monkeys exuded confidence, the solo debut expressed desperation. “Only if you knew all the paths I’ve walked / until I finally got to you,” she begins the song. Despite her shouting “body feels excite,” love no longer sounds like a thrill. The innocence is now gone as the song places a lot more stakes in finding the one, and Amuro sings about her chance meeting like she won a lottery ticket to escape a life of misery.
While Amuro opens “Body Feels Exit” with a sigh of relief as if she has finally reached the end of her journey, the song refuses to let her off the hook. The dance beat keeps pounding without providing a spare moment for her to rest. The music doesn’t seem so eager to party either. From its moaning electric guitars to the sagging synth lines, the production sounds like Eurobeat trying to relieve a hangover. As exhaustion increasingly sets into the song, the relentless loop begins to sound like a nightmare that the teen singer can’t quite shake.
If Eurobeat as established by TRF was the sound of the city and its nightlife, the dance beat of “Body Feels Exit” portrayed the scene as the ghost of its former self. The place is merciless in her eyes, and the lyrics further describe a haunted graveyard. The city in “Body Feels Exit” is gathered by lonely souls, and Amuro, too, joins the others aimlessly wandering about. “I couldn’t see a thing / but I still wanted to find something / just by myself in my room,” she sings about her seemingly endless search for love. When she remarks about their connection — “we are both so alike / I’m so glad I met you” — they share not the same dream but the same tragic fate.
The backdrop of Namie Amuro’s city stories would eventually change as the years go by. It’s only natural as the culture’s popular sound, and in turn the city’s music, began to shift away from techno and more to hip hop, soul and R&B. She seamlessly adapted to the new wave, growing even more popular on the backs of those pop styles, and adopted it as the new vehicle to her stories.
While the scenery of their music started to look different over time, the city stories she told together with Komuro followed the same mood and narrative arc. Amuro continued to aspire to escape her current life circumstances as told in her music. Solitude begat sadness, and uncertainties towards the future remained. This bleak reality would ring true for many other artists who would later be associated with Komuro. “Body Feels Exit” launched a star but also the general format of a story that represented a generation.
Up next, Part 3: Sweet Pain and Departures: How Globe Defined the Mood of Komuro’s City Pop
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