Written by @ngeyuns
Graphic by Ace Phan
Hikaru Utada’s eighth full-length album BAD Mode was born out of a crucial time for not only Utada themselves, but the world as well. Amidst the global pandemic, Utada took this period of social isolation to craft ten resonating tracks that illuminate their ideas of self-love, acceptance, and personal growth. In an era where connections are forced to be socially distant, Utada presents the album as if it's their own personal diary reflecting on the relationship they have with themselves. This album is delivered to their fans after they came out as non-binary during Pride Month last year. The listener catches a glimpse into Utada’s roles as a mother to their young child, friend, lover, and Japanese superstar who has been in the music industry for more than two decades. Utada takes us on an adventure that explores every aspect of themselves, for the first time in both English and Japanese, showcasing their Japanese American identity. It is without question that this album is one of the most raw and vulnerable that they have released so far.
The title track, BAD Mode, centers around the frustration and uncertainty that the pandemic brought upon those who were isolating. The upbeat tempo and driving bass juxtaposes the somber lyrics about comforting their disheartened friend or lover. About halfway through the song, the listener experiences an interlude that feels as though they’re being whisked away into the world that Utada has introduced in this first track. As they sing, “How about we ignore texts/ watch Netflix / Stay in our pajamas all day / order something on Uber Eats,” the listener is transported back to the days of the pandemic where we spent much of our time at home with our loved ones.
君に夢中 (Crazy for You) highlights the infatuation someone feels in a romantic relationship and the almost clumsy nature of falling head first into a love that could change their lives. Beyond this interpretation, Utada is also speaking to their own career as they caution that “Talent comes with side effects / Success makes a shadow follow you”. In this moment of reminiscing, Utada grasps with differentiating their celebrity status and the Hikaru Utada that exists in their private life. The ghost of the real Utada Hikaru haunts this current empty shell of the singer to the point where they are obsessed with finding themselves again. As they get closer to uncovering their most authentic self, they lose their grasp and their true identity slips further away.
On Time, Utada wishes they could actually turn back time and re-do their wrongs and catch the missed opportunities they had with someone who was more than a friend but not quite a partner. Singing of the chances that weren’t taken in the relationship that could have been more, Utada croons “Let’s stop noticing things after they’re gone”.
One Last Kiss and Face My Fears are tracks that are associated with major franchises like Kingdom Hearts and Neon Genesis Evangelion respectively, certifying the continuity of Utada’s legacy as a global superstar.
PINK BLOOD was written for the anime To Your Eternity, but it defines the height of the realization that Utada has with themselves in this album. Four tracks into the album, this is where they realize the importance of self-love and putting your priorities first. Above percussion that drives the rhythm of the otherwise tame song, they throw away their self-doubt and blame and decide that it’s time for a change. The singer’s airy and heavenly voice declares the beginning of their journey for personal growth, “Because I realized the only one who can heal me is myself”.
Not In The Mood is downcast in its musical production as its lyrics describe the observations Utada makes at a cafe. Emulating the ambiance we feel sitting in a coffee shop, the song is simple in nature. Despite this, the lyrics express the daily reflection we always have when someone asks us how our day went when nothing truly eventful has happened.
誰にも言わない (I Won’t Tell Anyone) includes an ethereal soundscape that accompanies lyrics about wholly jumping into a love that leaves someone blind to the potential emotional pain they might feel.
Find Love is an all-English house track about the longing to find a true love and the complications of sharing all of their affection with their partner if it isn’t a real love. In this process, Utada sings that they are focusing on their own health as they wait for the day where they find their love.
Somewhere Near Marseilles – マルセイユ辺り – whisks the listener to France as Utada plans a rendezvous with their lover and guides the listener through every aspect of the planning process. With Utada in London and their lover in Paris, they suggest meeting in Marseilles to spend some time together.
Each of the songs off this carefully organized album reflect a snapshot of Utada’s life where they experienced anxiety, uncertainty, or the averageness of everyday life. In each track, Utada’s vocals shine over the instrumental with a newfound confidence and fervor that we haven’t seen from them before. Unlike previous albums under their belt, this album isn’t filled with heavy basslines or the usual pop-esque tunes. Rather, fans of the superstar receive an album that shows how well-versed the Japanese American superstar is in this stage of their career. This album is a reminder for its listeners that personal growth is a challenge that many are reluctant to face, but it’s a great leap that is ultimately worth the journey.