I’m mad at Ayumi Hamasaki again, apparently

Okay Ayu. You’ve been doing alright. “Party Queen” was exactly the kind of thing I wanted from you, photo-shoot-and-graphic-design-that-missed-the-mark aside. Your lyrics got personal again and it was dark and magical and amazing and you went back to being MY Ayu again! …for one album.

So the tracklist & covers for “LOVE again” were just announced. And I feel like tearing my hair out.

For those who need background, Ayumi Hamasaki’s 15th anniversary as a pop singer under avex trax is coming up on April 8th. For the five months leading up to that anniversary, Ayu planned a new releases for the 8th of each month. Fans have been promised a special gift – what it is, we don’t know – if they purchase all 5 releases. Month 1 was “LOVE,” a CD that in format is similar to most of her singles – three original tracks, a few remixes, and instrumentals. However, it was called a mini-album so they could jack up the price by 1000 yen and not risk ayu’s amazing streak of #1 singles (again). Month 2 was “again,” another mini-album that should have been called a single but wasn’t. Month 3 (January) will be “A Classical,” an album of 10 orchestral remakes of 7 fan favorite songs and 3 recent songs. Month 4… well.

Month 4 will be Ayu’s newest full album, “LOVE again.” You can probably tell from the title why I’m pissed off. ALL the original songs included on “LOVE” and “again” – plus the atrocious mess of a track that was “You & Me,” the only reason ayu gave us to purchase “A SUMMER BEST” back in August – will be on this album.

Now, a new album with only 7 new tracks is hardly odd for Ayu. We usually only get 4, 5, or 6 new songs on an album. That’s no big deal to me. The big deal to me is that Ayu’s fans, through the promise of a gift for buying all 5 Anniversary releases, were duped into buying “LOVE” and “again” when – and I’m not joking – ALL the material on those two releases is now going to be duplicated on the album. Normally I avoid buying singles until after an album has been released for this reason. But because “LOVE” and “again” were marketed as mini-albums, we were given NO indication that the songs on those CDs would be duplicated on her next album. Songs were never duplicated from mini-album to album before – the songs on “Memorial address” did not appear on “MY STORY,” and the songs on “FIVE” did not appear on “Party Queen.”

We should not have listened to the marketing calling “LOVE” and “again” mini-albums. We should have waited. But many fans did not know. And they are, rightfully, pissed.

This CD feels like a middle finger to the devoted fans who pre-ordered “LOVE” and “again,” a punishment for their loyalty, or a cruel trick because they were greedy and wanted the gift they were promised despite not having any idea what it might be. How is this a good business decision? How is this a reward for customer loyalty?

How is this, in any way, NOT a foolish decision on the part of Ayu’s marketing people?

In an attempt to squeeze more money out of us and not jeopardize a meaningless sales record, avex called two singles “mini-albums.” Clearly Ayu considered them singles, or they wouldn’t have the content they have, and she wouldn’t have worked on an album with the intent to include those songs on it. And now, Ayu fans are pissed. Even me – and I NEVER get pissed.

I usually avoid buying singles until an album has come out, so I can see which singles are worth the purchase. Mini-albums, however, I don’t typically avoid. There’s no reason to, because their tracks aren’t typically duplicated on future albums.

I can think of two artists I like who have put mini-album songs onto albums later, and both cases were FAR more forgivable than this, for a few reasons. Example #1 is Mika Nakashima, whose “RESISTANCE” mini-album contained several tracks that ended up on her second full album, “LOVE,” later on. However, most of those songs were remixed or otherwise reversioned. Thus, forgiven. The other example is OLIVIA, who had a series of mini-albums after her “synchronicity” album. These mini-albums were manufactured in very, very limited numbers and ONLY made available at Tower Records. So when most of these songs were included on her “The Lost Lolli” album, which was made widely available, it was awesome because it was the only way fans could legally purchase most of that material.

Neither of these are what’s happening here, however.

There’s no two ways about it – Ayu fans were tricked into buying the same material twice, and for an inflated price to begin with.

And it’s not fucking cool.

Also, Ayu, your graphic designers are terrible. None of the releases for this 15th anniversary countdown has its own identity. The photos are completely interchangeable, duplicated when they shouldn’t be (as in the case of “A Classical”) and now the covers for “LOVE again” don’t look like they all go to¬† the same release. Get your acts together, guys. I know you can do better than this with this “natural lighting and sepia filter” concept. Come on.

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