In September 2003, Ai Otsuka made a major debut with "Momo no Hanabira (Petals of peach branch)". Since then, with her successive hits and successes, she has shown a presence that couldn't be deflected attention in the J-POP scene. She celebrated her 15th anniversary on September 10th this year, and her 15th anniversary all time best album "Ai am BEST, too" will be on sale on January 1st, 2019. This time we will feature her in the first and second part. In the first part, we talked to Avex Entertainment George Aburai, who has supported her activities as A&R for many years, A&R Chifumi Kyono and Masaaki Gyobu who work as management. From the viewpoint of the production side, we will unravel the real image of Ai Otsuka and her essence as an artist.
Co-creation of the life
and the talent called Ai Otsuka
"A person who nurture 'Ai Otsuka' with objectively looking at herself at all times." Aburai, who has known her since her debut and has been working with her for over 10 years, looks back on encounter with Otsuka.
Aburai "It was impressive since I met her, but Otsuka is a person who has both staff and artist sides within her. Like 'If we are expressing this kind of thing, we can't do with this Ai Otsuka, do not you think?', she was objective with herself as a producer. In her case, since her debut, she was designing the future for herself like 'I would like to put out such an album, I want to debut in this way.' Today, social networks have become popular and DIY artists have increased, but it was interesting that she drew her own future image arbitrarily in the era when normally production side and staff were laying rails for artists."
Ai Otsuka debuted with "Momo no Hanabira" and broke through as a star at the following "Sakuranbo (cherry)". Not to mention her subsequent success, she will build a solid position in the J-POP scene as a female singer-songwriter. In 2010, she published "Neko ga mitsuketa akai fu-sen (Red Balloon found by a cat)" as a picture book writer. She experienced marriage and childbirth as one lady, and in 2013, which is the tenth anniversary of her debut, she held an annual piano repertoire live AIO PIANO vol.1. Just during the period of the expression of the artist Ai Otsuka has innovatively expanded, Gyobu who also worked as a manager of Do As Infinity, and Kyono, who just entered the company and was admitted his enthusiasm for being in charge of female singer-songwriter, were assigned as management of Otsuka.
Gyobu "When she got in charge, I was thinking that she was not the person who raised her opinion so much. However, she has a firm belief in herself, and from the viewpoint of management, it is better if she discloses it. We can talk each other and she frankly listens to us as well. She inputs and outputs properly as well. It is very comfortable to engage in a relationship that allows you to work hard toward one goal.”
Kyono "She seems to be not thinking, but actually, she thinks so much. She is cheerful and seemingly playful with her Kansai nature (laugh), but she is thinking enormously in her head, so I felt that it's impossible to have a conversation with her if we are not thinking well."
Aburai "It is like that since the past, but if I give some theme to her, she is thinking about it all the time, and she sends me e-mails and LINEs around the clock. That's why I will be kicked off if I only understand halfway, and she knows when I speak on the surface. Because I cannot see it in a moment, I thought 'Is she a rogue person?', but in fact, she is truly seeing things. She is a person who rather stays in the work place at all times. It's not a pain at all for being in a 24-hour studio for her, and she's someone who enjoys busyness. Now that she has a child, it may be a little different, but she's been so stoic as we would like to say 'Hey, let's take a break.' since her debut. "
Otsuka's songs backed by that steady attitude are supported by many listeners, and a new wind was blown into the Avex which used the so-called "dance style" of the 90s to the early 00s as the backbone. They say that the staff at that time, such as Aburai, felt that wind directly.
Aburai "When she debuted, I was in charge of her 'Chaku-Uta (truetone)' delivery, but when the cassette tape of 'Momo no Hanabira' was sent from the production team, I remembered that the music staffs responded it. Speaking of Avex, while there was an image of entertainment and dance music, everybody thought that 'We are going to produce a singer-songwriter from our company!' There is an atmosphere like 'It would be interesting if she or he is artistic, can self produce and has a little oblique mood.' As an impression of the staff, this has been going on all the time.
Work ≠ character
Team work to create value
with human power
"However, the songs that hit decide the image of the artist in the world. Speaking of her, I think there is of course a gap in that way." With respect to the part which was told continuously, when comparing the story told so far with the public image of the artist Ai Otsuka, the difference comes up little by little.
Aburai "It's same to other people, but it's not uncommon for artists to be bound by images of their hit songs. Speaking of Otsuka, it is an image of 'Sakuranbo', such as young, cheerful and seems to like pink, or something like that."
Kyono "I always liken Ai Otsuka to the house. I think she is an artist who seems pretty when looking at the outside wall, but is very deep once you go inside. If they enter Ai Otsuka's house, we win. However, as people in the world usually judge from the outside wall after all, it's quite tough until you let them enter the house. "
Aburai "When the album is 'house' that Kyono says, it hasn't changed that there are also thick dark songs and songs saying sharp things as you follow lyrics since her debut. People who like music or seeing her properly often evaluate that 'she is a little oblique', and from the staff's point of view, she has an impression that Mad and Pure, just like our company. However, since there are more opportunities to contact artworks than characters for general listeners, it seems that she is 'cheerful and pretty person'. Her appearance is pretty but…, she's not like that, is she? She is rather manly, I guess."
She has true Kansai character, and frankly jokes Aburai and Gyobu who came from same Kansai. And for women, she's like an older brother. One female statue told from Aburai and Gyobu gives a new impression to the name Ai Otsuka, we thought that we knew through her songs and SNS.
Aburai "She likes to take care of people so much. When one of the staffs was struggling with a love affair, Otsuka told him the advice as 'Why don't you change your outfit a bit?' and his visual improved indeed. I can see the people's aura somehow (laugh), but energies of people also get better with her influence. She is a person who advances such things anyway. Also, people don't know much about it, and I don't think she talks about it by herself, but she gives lotteries to staffs annually. She says 'If it comes up, allot it to promotional expenses (laugh).' Saying that, 'Thanks for this year as well.' together with their names and messages."
Gyobu "She asks me 'Who took care of you this year?'. Not to mention staffs who are usually involved, but also to the promotion department and to the tie-up department if they get tie-ups. She says that 'It's a grand prix for working hard.'"
Aburai "She is bashful but friendly. She is shy but says thank you. She is not ductile but has a pure heart, but she doesn't want to say that. She's complicated."
Gyobu "As a conclusion, she's a contrary person (laugh)."
When you listen to the past songs after learning of her figure seen from the staff side and her backgrounds, you will be grasped your heart by the musical aspects and ironic expressions studded in the "pop and cheerful" songs released so far. Aburai says that the artist called Ai Otsuka who cannot be told on the surface, "She is like an actress projected on the screen."
Aburai "Otsuka and I records secondary audio for the live DVD every time, but she said that the word 'music actress' was quite understandable. If you are an actor, you play a role in the screen. She also said, 'I'm not as myself as I'm singing.' That's why she can 'play' the early songs as well. She is not a type like the 'listen to my soul!', but she is making each work like 'This is an image of girl like this' with a feeling like making a movie as a background role, I think."
Fifteen years passed through
with full throttle Trust
relationship beyond the
boundaries of artists and staff
Continued running at full throttle from the beginning of the activity, this year will be her milestone for 15 years. Especially 2017 and 2018 were acclaimed progressive years as they have no time to be immersed in the emotion of the milestone: live production realized by efforts with creative company NAKED, collaboration at an art event FLOWERS by NAKED 2017 – Risshun (The first day of spring) -, participation in the world's first audio AR at “AWALK TOKYO Sampo (walk) by Ai Otsuka", and the first Asian tour of her own career. Indeed, as for the question "What was the most impressive thing in the past activity?", Gyobu and Kyono answered “now” after considering.
Gyobu "For me, it is Ai Otsuka LOVE IS BORN ~ 15th Anniversary 2018 ~. I wanted to do it for her 14th anniversary as she was going to play all the singles with original arrangements this time. But she said 'Isn't it for 15 years anniversary if we do it?". Moreover, she said she was going to play all the singles! It was about 2 years work, and I was thinking that 'There are about 29 songs, but is it OK?', so honestly I was glad that we could finally finish it. I was happy being able to realize it, and I believe that the audiences were also happy."
"To choose the best is difficult... Basically, whether it's release or live, the contents were all concentrated and everything was impressive. If so, now when we make the best album ’Ai am BEST, too', which is also the work of the 15th anniversary milestone, may be the best."
At the end, when I asked the same question to Aburai who has known her for the longest time,in contrast to the two earlier, he answered "It was the hardest when we met." After that story, he continued "She always gets her back to the wall. She is always trying to make current the best. When I watch current Ai Otsuka, I think that she's be able to do photosynthesis which takes in various things and makes new things very well." When Gyobu and Kyono heard it, they nodded as saying "I think she lives in a good way." On their facial expressions, I could see the reliability beyond the boundaries of one artists and staffs.
The core part of the artist Ai Otsuka, who lives stories as many as the number of songs as playing a role, is felt as if it's only a little glimpse after 15 years. In the second part, Otsuka herself will be welcomed, and she will tell her past, future and now.
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Artist Management, Group 7
Avex Entertainment Inc.
Music Label Division
Creative Director's Group 3
Avex Entertainment Inc.
Music Label Division
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