Utada Hikaru: ‘First Love’ – Album Review

Released: March 10, 1999

First Love, the debut album from the ever so graceful Utada Hikaru, is a portion from a large success story. Having originally debut in 1997 to unsuccessful reception and performed in English language (she was born and raised in New York City), Utada (the daughter of producer Teruzane Utada and singer Keiko Utada) was already a star on the rise. She released her first A-side single “Automatic” / “Time Wil Tell” in December 1998, which sold over a whopping 2.5 million units in Japan (making it the second highest selling single by a Japanese female artist). But that didn’t stop there; after selling a million units with every hit she smacks out into the public, the accompanying album sold over 10 million units worldwide, making it the best-selling album by any Asian artist. And want to know something else? After nearly 16 years since its release, First Love is STILL the best-selling album by any Asian artist. Pretty remarkable huh?

What’s surprisingly unique about First Love is that it’s not any random J-pop album. Hell no. The album is a cross-over between groovy R&B, a slab of pop tunes, and the odd catchy dance hit that even Western countries could envy about. It opens with the sultry “Automatic” that brings out Utada’s straightforward yet powerful vocals, a very rare attribute that many Japanese pop singers nowadays would totally be jealous off. Alongside this is the jazz-influenced pop tune “In My Room”, the funky disco hit “Paint It, Black”, and chill-out piano riffs in “Time Will Tell”, and the trip-hop influenced “Give Me a Reason”. Weirdly enough, though First Love is a pretty diverse set of genres, these songs fit together and manage to complement each other without becoming imbalanced or overpowering.

“Movin’ on Without You”, an iconic Japanese dance hit, still sounds incredibly fresh and current, whilst adding a bit of disco and house flair. The main tool on First Love is Utada’s vocals and songwriting, which, if you read the album booklet, its primary produced, composed, and written by Utada herself. This brings a strong connection between how she expresses it, and how it’s read on black and white. Songs like “Never Let Go”, “B&C”, and “Another Chance” may sound like the dull moments, it still shines because of her vocals and the songwriting. And the album’s only ballad, “First Love”, is everything a ballad should be; precious, gentle, and brilliantly performed.

Overall, First Love is a rarity within the J-pop scene. But in saying that, First Love is a rare pop album that showcase some stellar vocals, honest and light songwriting, mixed with catchy and polished production and composition. To other people that don’t have this album; this is a strong recommendation that you will not regret.

Track list (Bold means best tracks)

  1. Automatic
  2. Movin’ on Without You
  3. In My Room
  4. First Love
  5. Amai Wana ~Paint it, Black~ ~Liam’s favorite~
  6. Time Will Tell
  7. Never Let Go
  8. B&C
  9. Another Chance
  10. Interlude
  11. Give Me a Reason


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