Tan Kee Yun
The queen is out to reclaim her crown.
With her delicate features, crystal clear vocals and an effortless sense of style, Ayumi Hamasaki ruled Asian showbiz in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The doe-eyed Japanese pop diva, now 36, was even dubbed the "Empress of J-pop" by fans.
But in recent years, things have not been smooth-sailing for Hamasaki.
Her album sales have been on a steady decline and her last few studio efforts registered subpar performances.
In an e-mail interview with M, Hamasaki addressed the topic of setbacks and disappointments.
She conceded to encountering her share of them over the past 16 years, but her answers, which were translated from Japanese to English, remained vague.
"Whenever I'm faced with situations like that, I step up to the plate.
"I am who I am today because I was able to overcome all of that. I am of the firm belief that everything happens for a reason."
While this pragmatic approach is admirable, the loss of status must have stung, considering that Hamasaki was both an icon and a cultural phenomenon.
At her peak, the superstar was outselling Hong Kong's Heavenly King Leon Lai on his home turf and earning millions endorsing cosmetic products.
In 2001, she raked in a whopping 345 billion yen (S$4.6 billion) in CD sales alone.
Flamboyant and daring, Hamasaki was also a magnet for controversy.
The bold babe went topless twice - well, sort of.
In 1999, she stirred up a minor storm when her Loveppears album cover showed her blonde tresses falling strategically over her breasts.
In 2002, she got tongues wagging by being photographed in the buff for her fifth release, Rainbow.
Like most music artists over the past decade, she has also suffered a drop in music sales. According to Japanese press, Love Again (2013) was her first album to sell fewer than 100,000 copies.
Her latest, Colours (2014), did even more poorly, selling a mere 39,295 copies in its first week.
Hamasaki will be in town on Oct 18, along with J-pop artists M-Flo, Sonar Pocket and Wagakki Band, for inaugural music extravaganza a-nation Singapore Premium Showcase.
Hamasaki remarked that while she has become older and wiser, her personality is still marked by an adventurous streak.
"This year marks my 16th year in showbiz, but it doesn't mean I'm going to become more conservative," she said.
"I want to continue evolving. If I don't hold myself to high standards, I wouldn't be Ayumi Hamasaki."
She mentioned her latest solo concert tour, where she incorporated an acrobatic act called aerial silk. This involves performing aerial acrobatics while suspended by a piece of special fabric.
"For me, the desire to evolve is very important," she said.
"Also, when it comes to fashion, I like to try out new styles so I never restrict myself to just one look. There are many other things I would love to attempt, which will remain a secret for now. If I tell you, it will spoil the surprise, no?" she teased.
Married life has changed one aspect about her, though, she said.
Online newspaper Japan Today reported in March this year that she got married to a medical student from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), who is 10 years her junior.
It is Hamasaki's second marriage. She and Austrian actor Manuel Schwarz divorced in 2012.
"Before (my current marriage), I was a workaholic. Whenever something was required of me, I would respond 24/7," she said.
"I'm still based in Japan most of the time, but when I'm in Los Angeles, there is a clear line between work and play.
"Sleeping well at night and being able to incorporate some sort of routine into my daily life is definitely a plus in many ways," she said.
Hamasaki added that she is "still learning" how to strike a balance between work and family matters.
"One thing I've learnt is that I definitely have to prioritise my tasks."
Her last trip to Singapore was over a decade ago, for the MTV Asia Music Awards 2002.
The pop singer said she is looking forward to meeting local fans again.
"Of course I'm really excited! I'm sure there are many people there who have not seen me live," she said.
"My live shows are not just about the songs - they are all about how I can translate my music onto the stage with my band, performing team, and dancers.
"My upcoming performance in Singapore, where I'll be showcasing electronic dance music tracks from my latest album, is no exception."
WHAT: a-nation Singapore Premium Showcase
This article was published on Oct 8 in The New Paper.