December 8, 1999. Nobody could predict the future of this unknown girl who just turned 17 and debuted with “Love, Day After Tomorrow”. She went on to top a million in sales, repeatedly put out top 10 hits, and sold 3,500,000 units her first album, “Delicious Way”. Her first few years were blessed with amazing success. While attending university, Kuraki started seriously playing live and increased her exposure. In recent years, she has been involved in social work. Mai Kuraki will celebrate her 15-year anniversary in December 2014.
BARKS will look back on Mai Kuraki’s last 15 years and bring you her first long interview. BARKS editor-in-chief Tetsuya Karasumaru and director Tokiko Nishimuro took part in a three-way discussion with the artist that traced her thoughts at specific times in her life. We also asked her about her big plans for the coming year.
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[Talk Series Vol.1: Childhood~1999 [Mai Kuraki’s musical foundation and her debut]]
■In elementary school, I’d go to karaoke with my friends
■When I was complimented on my singing, I wanted to sing even more.
Karasumaru: This will be long. Thank you very much.
Kuraki: Thank you very much. I’ll probably be looking back and trying to remember…
Nishimuro: I will be here as the person in charge of remembering (laughs). She might not remember the exact details of things.
Kuraki: I had so much going on (laughs).
Karasumaru: First off, what were you like as a child? Why did you want to become a singer?
Kuraki: I was a tomboy as a child. I liked going outside and climbing trees and capturing insects. I have an older brother, and we’d play outside together a lot. For some reason, my mom asked if I wanted to learn piano when I was four years old.
Karasumaru: Even though you like capturing insects more?
Kuraki: That’s right (laughs). I went to music school and started playing the electric organ. That’s when I thought music was really fun. The girl that was capturing insects (laughs)…
Karasumaru: That is big. A lot of people who take lessons at a young age say that their parents forced them to do it. You didn’t hate it.
Kuraki: Right. I found it really fun that I could make sounds and play with those sounds. I also loved playing recitals in clothes that my mother made for me.
Karasumaru: I wonder why your mother wanted you to learn music?
Kuraki: My grandparents loved music, especially western artists like Mariah Carey and Michael Jackson. We also had a karaoke machine at the house.
Karasumaru: Ah, the kind you put the cassette tape in…
Kuraki: That’s correct. When our relatives would come over, my grandfather would lead, and we would all sing. I think my mother encouraged music because we had that background. At first, I wondered what piano was all about. Then I started singing and playing movie themes and anime songs, and began to like it.
Karasumaru: That was in elementary school, right?
Kuraki: At that time, I wanted to sing before doing my homework when I came home from school. In elementary school, I would go to karaoke with some of my friends. When they complimented my singing, I wanted to sing even more.
Karasumaru: Your first audience was your classmates.
Kuraki: That’s right (laughs). I started liking music class too. I must have liked expressing myself through music. In middle school, I started watching and analyzing Mariah Carey and Michael Jackson DVDs. I thought to myself, “I want to be a singer that can move people like they do.” That’s when I decided to be a singer.
Karasumaru: What kind of music was popular during your middle school years?
Kuraki: A lot of anime songs. Like the song from “DORAEMON”. Also SMAP, DREAMS COME TRUE, and Toshinobu Kubota.
Karasumaru: There weren’t that many middle school girls who liked Mariah Carey.
Kuraki: That’s right. I didn’t have many friends who listened to western music, so we had a lot of conversational gaps. But my family listened to western music, and we’d listen to it in the car, so it was normal for me. Then I started getting interested in R&B music. The first CD I bought with my allowance was Whitney Houston’s self-titled album.
Karasumaru: You were a unique child.
Kuraki: Is that so (laughs)?
Karasumaru: It’s a bit eccentric if you compare it to most kids of that time.
Kuraki: Then I started to withdraw within myself… (laughs).
Continued in [Mai Kuraki x BARKS Talk Series] Vol.1 (Childhood~1999). “Looking back on it now, everybody was working part time or involved in school clubs. I made a demo tape while in a school club” (Part 2 of 3)