Credit: nmskalmn at AHS
How long can Ayumi be QUEEN?
She has dominated the Japanese pop scene for years, but Ayumi Hamasaki could soon be bumped out of top spot by fast-rising newbies like Kumi Koda and Ai Otsuka
THERE is only one J-pop queen throne, but three contenders.
Chameleonic popster Ayumi Hamasaki has been the reigning queen all this while until sizzling sex bomb Kumi Koda sashayed along early this year and nearly bumped her off the throne.
Competition intensified recently with the meteoric rise of singer-songwriter Ai Otsuka, who is said to be Kumi's biggest rival at the upcoming Nihon Record Taisho, Japan's version of the Grammy Awards.
That all three singers are contracted to Japan's biggest and most powerful record company Avex Trax only increases the rivalry.
But who will get to wear the J-pop queen tiara eventually?
The A-Nation concert held in Tokyo's Ajinomoto Stadium on 27 Aug held a clue.
It was a six-hour pop extravaganza starring Avex artistes ranging from pop groups like TRF, Every Little Thing and TVXQ to solo acts like hitomi, BoA and Ami Suzuki.
But there was only one finale act, and the stage belonged to Ayumi.
The 28-year-old's performance, at 40 minutes, was reportedly the longest. She belted out seven hit songs and had the 50,000-strong crowd singing along.
Every artiste had his or her own merchandise booth and Ayumi's apparently attracted the longest queue.
She was also the only artiste who got ferried in an automated cart around the stadium to get closer to her fans and shake their hands.
Mr James Kang, marketing director of Warner Music, who was at the concert, said: 'Ayumi is the undisputed queen. She got the queen treatment and also the loudest applause and screams.
'She was charismatic on stage and displayed showmanship befitting her 'royal' status.'
Most of the 60-plus Chinese media invited to the show agreed and their views were reflected in reports that ranked Ayumi's performance as No 1 among all the Avex artistes.
But it was Kumi, 24, who charmed the socks off reporters at the pre-concert media conference with her candid replies.
China's News Times reported that she laughed heartily when asked about her sexy image.
She also talked about being 8kg heavier when she started and how she disliked herself so much that she started dieting to lose weight.
'The sexiness that I'm pursuing is not the kind that will only make the men think I'm sexy, but also the women,' she said.
'I don't know if you watch animated (shows), but the female protagonists are always portrayed as strong. I think they exude both coolness and sexiness and that's what I hope to be like.'
She certainly did set out to be sexy at the A-Nation concert, judging by her two drool-inducing outfits, a mint-green bra top with hot pants and a black bra top over torn jeans.
Not to be outdone, Ayumi raised her own sex factor by appearing in a sequinned black and white swimsuit-like outfit and, for another song, a white cropped T-shirt over army-green shorts.
Talk of rivalry started months ago when Kumi flaunted her long legs on her album cover and Ayumi followed suit on her CD single cover.
More recently, Ayumi donned a wedding kimono for an advertisement while Kumi is set to appear in a wedding gown for her new single.
But in terms of sex appeal, Kumi won hands down with her tantalising dance sequences at the A-Nation concert.
Mr Kang said: 'Her dance for the song Butterfly was really hot.'
He added that even 50-year-old obasans (Japanese for aunties) in the crowd were screaming and clapping along to Kumi's performance.
'I was shocked that the Japanese aunties were open-minded enough to embrace a sex bomb,' he said.
'But Kumi also makes a strong feminist statement on stage. She's constantly telling women to believe in themselves and do what they want to do.'
Interestingly, Kumi's brazen ways have also inspired a Korea-based singer to follow in her footsteps. (See other report.)
Meanwhile, Ai's cutesy charms not only won cheers from the teenage crowd, but from the media in China too.
Lauded for her creativity and songwriting talent, the 24-year-old reportedly made a good impression with her laughter and easy-going ways.
Recently, she made a huge splash in her first straight-to-DVD movie, Tokyo Friends, fuelling talk that she was fast becoming a threat to Kumi's status.
Mainichi Daily News reported that Avex assigns individual support teams to its A-list artistes and that Ayumi had the biggest team of 30 members. Kumi had about 20 and Ai, fewer.
But with the success of Tokyo Friends, which sold an impressive 50,000 copies, Ai's team reportedly got beefed up to the same level as Kumi's.
Apparently, Kumi was also furious when Ai got second billing after Ayumi at an Avex concert in June.
A TV network insider told Shukan Shincho: '(Kumi) Koda and (Ai) Otsuka are bitterly opposed to each other and make little secret of their rivalry.
'Koda goes around saying that Otsuka has no talent. And Otsuka says that Koda... 'acts like a cheap, nightclub hostess'.'
Avex, however, denies talk of any rivalry.
A spokesman told Mainichi Daily News: 'They belong to the same record company, so there's no question of a dispute.'
But it is not so clear how long Ayumi can hold on the J-pop queen's throne before being usurped by either Kumi or Ai.
By Chang May Choon