Arama They Didn't

10:22 pm - 01/30/2013

What is the obstacle preventing Crystal Kay from success?



In Japan there is an artist who goes by the name of Crystal Kay. Some of you J-Pop aficionados may have heard of her. Signed to Sony at the tender age of 13 and still releasing music now.

Crystal Kay shares the same linguistic trait as Hikaru Utada in that she speaks fluent English and Japanese. But unfortunately Crystal has not reached anything even remotely close to the meteoric levels of success that Hikaru has enjoyed, despite being active for the same amount of time, embarking on more tours, starring in a J-drama and releasing more material. Fans have spent many years speculating as to why Crystal's success has not been bigger than it probably should be. But after 12 years, a label change and an amazing album which fell to the bottom of the charts quicker than a cinder block in the Yokohama bay we need to address the elephant in the room and ask the question: Is Crystal Kay's lack of success in Japan down to her ethnicity?

It's unfortunate that not every artist who puts out consistently solid music (I will cross Spin the music off the discography) gets the recognition and sales that their fans feel they deserve. I'll give you a Western example of a non-seller I love. Brandy. I love her. But she's constantly been a commercial flop for 7 years straight despite releasing stellar albums and showing a clear form of evolution between each release. All the while lesser talented chicks like Rihanna manage to be one trick ponies, exhibit lesser musical talent and yet get hit singles, hit albums and enjoy global stardom in a third of the time. The examples are interchangeable. But everybody in music knows that talent does not equate to success. There are many other factors which fall into the equation of an artists success. But in this case, you cannot help but wonder if Crystal Kay's lack of success is down to the colour of her skin, seeing as she's not faltered with her image and music in the time she's been active.


We all know that image is a large part of music. For an industry where it's about what the ears see, a huge emphasis is placed on image. After all, it's the album covers, the magazines and the music videos that the eyes see before the ears hear the music. Japan is not as heterogeneous a society as the West, despite their musical range disclaiming as such. Crystal Kay is labelled as Japanese, but looks black. Her mother is Korean, her father is a black American. To Japan and as her ancestry would have it, Crystal is not Japanese at all, regardless of her being born in the country, speaking the language and having a Japanese passport. Being 'Japanese' is a huge part of the Japanese music business; whether it's an ideal or a representation of a sub-culture. The country is proud of its heritage and in most cases would always support 'their own' in favour of whomever they'd deem an 'outsider'. And it's unfortunate that it may just be the case that Japan sees Crystal this way; regardless of her proficiency of all things Japanese and the country having always been her home. Hikaru Utada has always openly stated she feels like an alien because of her life being evenly divided between New York and Tokyo. But when Japan sees Hikaru Utada, they see a Japanese girl. When Japan sees Crystal, they don't.

Artists such as Ayumi Hamasaki has not helped matters for Crystal, oft seen as being the Japanese ideal of beauty. A round head, large child like eyes, pert lips and smooth hair. A look which Pamyu Pamyu has taken to bolder extremes and a template which Kumi Koda has famously followed to a tee to secure her own successes. Even Hikaru Utada fits into this bracket. Naturally conforming to this ideal, as opposed to actively chasing it and adhering to it as her peers had done. Big dark brown eyes, smooth hair and a round face - something her album covers have always highlighted. Your cute Japanese girl next door. Identifiable to the masses. Crystal on the other hand looks foreign. Crystal's skin is darker, her face is not round, her eyes are smaller, her hair is of a different texture. And despite speaking perfect Japanese and being Japanese by birth rite, to the nation's eye she isn't. Whether it had been a subconscious effort or not, a couple of Crystal's album covers had gone to lengths to downplay her ethnicity. Color change! had her look essentially white. As did her Best album, alongside a lightened hair colour popular amongst Japanese girls at the time. A stark contrast from Call me miss... and All yours which had Crystal looking much more au natural and playing up her ethnicity if anything.



Crystal Kay's media promotion has always been minimal in comparison to her peers. Where her contemporaries appear regularly on TV shows, variety shows, enjoy a slew of endorsement deals and have morning news segments dedicated purely to 30 seconds of their latest music video, Crystal is lucky to get a spot on a music show where she can just perform her shit. Her biggest endorsement deal is a brand of coffee which nobody in Japan drinks and wouldn't even bother to pick up if it were on a timed sale for 5 yen. Meanwhile Namie Amuro is the face of cosmetics, Ayumi Hamasaki is the face of Panasonic cameras and every other act is endorsing a beverage from Suntory, a car or Nintendo. Crystal may just be too dark, too different and too 'gaijin' to be the face of a brand which is catered to the Japanese. A country which buys into what it can identify with. It speaks a lot about Crystal Kay's method of promotion too. Being pushed extensively through radio, despite radio airplay meaning nothing in Japan on the whole. The one form of media engagement where appearance means nothing. A conspiracy? Far from it.

To chalk ones lack of success down to race is a card oft avoided because it is a touchy subject and very much a grey area. But in Crystal Kay's case, we can no longer deny it plays a part into why she's continued to struggle her ascent to higher levels of success than the continual flat-line she's been on for years. Crystal always seems to have to fight that extra bit harder in her career purely because the nation refuses to just accept what she does based on the fact that she doesn't look like them. For all of the Japanese Crystal can speak and the 26 years she's lived in the country, this means nothing. As she will always be seen as non-Japanese. Not one of them.

Many thought Crystal's defection from Sony would fix everything and give her career the boost it needed, as we all thought Sony were the ones holding Crystal back from national success. But at Universal the same thing is happening. Granted, many more doors are opening for Crystal now and she's more active than she's ever been, but Crystal's success is still stifled. Which tells us outright that Crystal's lack of career upswing is bigger than Sony.



You would think after 14 years things would change. They are changing slowly, as more black / mixed race artists make their way onto the ORICON charts and established Japanese artist feature non Japanese talent in their music videos and live performances. Crystal Kay has paved the way for artists such as Emi Maria and Thelma Aoyama and is a beacon of hope that you can be mixed raced and be a pop star in Japan. It's just a shame that Crystal Kay's sales and mainstream media attach rate isn't backed by big numbers to really drive this message home and show younger mixed race boys and girls in Japan that there is racial equality in the industry. As the current conviction is that you can have a career, but you won't ever be as big as somebody who were pure Japanese or Korean and doing the same, despite being less talented.



So how can Crystal fix this? One would be to try and seek other markets. The UK would be a viable place to start. It's a smaller market, but a versatile one in which anybody can have a hit single or album if the song is right. Crystal performing at the Londo Distant worlds event was a foot in the door and she's sure to get some European exposure as a result - much in the way that Europe woke up to Hikaru Utada as a result of her being tied to the theme song to Kingdom Hearts. Another may be to not conform to the Japanese ideals, but go against it. Play up the fact that she is by all Japanese accounts 'Western'. Release a cover album as lesser hoes such as Beni and Thelma Aoyama are doing and sing the shit out of Western classics. If Japan won't take note of you singing in their language, hit them with amazing renditions of songs in your second tongue! Embrace the digital market. If your physical release in Japan is going to get thrown straight into bargain bins. Ease up on it. Go digital. Release your singles via iTunes worldwide. Go one better and record each of these singles in English and Japanese. Put yourself up for the themes of video games. Play up to the fact that you are bilingual. Hit up Square Enix to sing the theme of the next Final Fantasy game for the Japanese and NTSC and PAL releases. Ayu, Kumi and Sayuri Sugawara could NEVER! Do select small venue gigs outside of Japan. Announce an intimate venue tour of Europe, or select dates in the US. Leave your footprint on the world, not just in Japan. Seek other audiences you feel will be into you, instead of focusing energies into one which couldn't care less and hope this has a halo effect. Seek endorsement deals with global brands who aren't so fussed about skin colour. Coca cola. Nintendo. H&M.

Crystal may not want to admit that Japan seems to be ignoring her due to the colour of her skin. But it's time to address this now, as process of elimination by the way of losing Sony is revealing this could very much be the case. And going down this same road and releasing amazing albums on their own is not going to fix things. Crystal still has options, but she and her team need to make the call whether they are willing to call the shots on them and look further than Japan for the sake of bigger success.

source: Random J Pop

Opinions? Agree? Disagree? I always thought it was a mixture of promotion, image and style of music. I think she did accomplish a lot.

Also for curious people, her best selling single is Koi ni Ochitara (2005.05.18) with 295,456 copies. The song was the theme for the drama of the same name that starred SMAP's Kusanagi.
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orenji_cloud 31st-Jan-2013 02:49 am (UTC)
I thought she was half black half korean, not japanese.
lovelycandygirl 31st-Jan-2013 03:03 am (UTC)
her mom is korean. I agree with the OP.

I think I would be a hit in Japan b/c of my looks. ;.;
cilsi 31st-Jan-2013 02:58 am (UTC)
I've already been a fan of her works before knowing her ethnicity or skin colour. I was surprised because she doesn't look Japanese at all when I first saw her, but I see no reason why she has to be inferior among other Japanese pop stars.

I know I'm not supposed to give critics about racial issues, but Japanese people have certain preferences of physical beauty.
mrs_koki 31st-Jan-2013 03:01 am (UTC)
Going based on race alone. It also depends how much a mixed Japanese person looks Japanese. Take Junno for example, He's half American and half Japanese and he's doing great with his solo works...all because he looks more Japanese than American. In Crystal's case...her genes have an even split almost, so the difference is more pronounced.


Personally, I think what they're doing to her is ignorant. anger

Edited at 2013-01-31 03:03 am (UTC)
carmine_pink 31st-Jan-2013 07:55 am (UTC)
Junno as in KAT-TUN's Junno is half-American? I didn't know that.
love323able 31st-Jan-2013 03:14 am (UTC)
I do like that persons promotional ideas, her management should take notice
liniang 31st-Jan-2013 03:14 am (UTC)
I think it's not only for her "mixed race", but for her looks/skintone And, yes, it's unfair and despicable.


(I listened to some of her singles but I didn't like them. Her voice is PERFECT and I love it but her music is not for me)
turtle_yurippe 31st-Jan-2013 09:29 am (UTC)
I agree (also about her music). Becky is "mixed race", too, and not half as good a singer, and she's everywhere you look.
nemuyoake 31st-Jan-2013 03:27 am (UTC)
I don't know her nor her songs, but I think it's because she doesn't make enough TV appearances. She doesn't ''play'' the game of ''selling'' herself like the others. I watch TV a lot, and I don't know her, but other Japanese singers (even beginners) make some appearances in a multitude of shows.

If she brags about being a Japanese national (I don't know if she has a marketing strategy like this), then, maybe, it can irritate Japanese people here in Japan, because they indeed don't think that a person who is born from two foreigners can be a ''true'' Japanese national. Even the ''halves'' are only ''half'' Japanese nationals for them (even if they won't openly say it). But I don't think it's because of her skin color. I may be wrong, though...
lady_mercury 31st-Jan-2013 09:51 pm (UTC)
Crystal Kay's mom is a zainichi Korean, meaning her mom was born and raised in Japan.
motorway065 31st-Jan-2013 03:28 am (UTC)
It's really a mix of factors that have held her back. Her looks, yeah, that's a big one. If she were lighter skinned/looked more "Japanese" then she'd be a bit more accepted.

That also plays into why people made such a big deal over Utada being a fluent English speaker but not Crystal -- people would assume Crystal speaking English by default since she looks foreign, whereas (back then) having a full Japanese who could speak fluent English like Utada was a rarity.

I don't think Crystal's songs have had much opportunity for notability, too. With Utada, it was all "oh American producers wanna work with her!" and she got a couple of songs by Jam & Lewis and Darkchild! With Crystal...well, Yoko Kanno did her debut song. Kanno's not a nobody but somebody who's primarily known for anime stuff with occasional j-pop offerings isn't as impressive as superstar Western producers. (Yeah, I know about Kirakuni, but that song was done well after Jam & Lewis were relevant anywhere.) Kuraki debuted a year after Utada did with both of them having a single out at the same time, so the media could play up a rivalry story. Don't think there was ever a chance for that with CK.

That, and I just don't think her songs are THAT good. She's an enthusiastic performer with a lovely vocal tone, but out of her entire discography, I can only really remember two, maybe three songs. Competent and never bad, but rarely excellent.

She's had some success, and going from having albums hitting the top 5 to being lucky if they crack the top 50 is really common. (Look at how the SPEED girls fared after the first breakup.) Her sales could be better but I don't think it's that dire.

And as a final note, I never understood why people thought things were going to change when she changed labels. As far as I know she didn't change management, so nothing was really going to change.
crimsonbreeze 31st-Jan-2013 03:31 am (UTC)
Race is definitely not the reason. If that was the case, Dante Carver wouldn't be that popular at all.

In any case, I blame managements and such. She does absolutely no promotions of her releases, how can people notice her? Especially when her market faces such a rough competition... I mean, just look at it: Jamosa, Jya Me, Aoyama Thelma, CHiE, ICONIQ, just to mention some. And, analyse it, they are all more or less in the same situation: Few sales, no promotion, etc.

I guess it's more of a competition thing. If she really wants to bring more listeners to her market, she needs to step out and offer something more attractive, because currently, her target audience has waaaaay too many singers to choose from. Just my two cents. I love Kuri myself and would love to see her more, I just think she should try to find new managers that can bring some fresh air to her image.
lady_mercury 31st-Jan-2013 10:31 am (UTC)
Dante Carver is token black man in a series of weird ass commercials in which his "father" is a talking dog. He's not known for anything else but the black guy in those soft bank commercials. I haven't seen him do anything else beyond Soft Bank, except appear for 2 minutes in the Yajima movie. If Dante Carver came out in Japan as Dante Carver the guy that speaks Japanese and can act, I doubt he'd have success.
asweetsymphony 31st-Jan-2013 03:39 am (UTC)
My brother and I have just been discussing this last week. lols. Anyways, I think Crystal Kay should go try the American market. I think she has the talent to do it. I love her song After Love. Check it out people.
dramajewels 31st-Jan-2013 03:46 am (UTC)
I also don't think race plays as big a factor as this article portrays. I am not a fan of hers simply because I don't like her music however I think she's beautiful. I think the marketing of an artists has to be specifically showcasing their strengths and cannot be all over the place. If her team can focus her marketing strategy to allow her to show her charms, including being of mixed race and being born in Japan, she can again more fans. Some artists don't achieve success to the levels that some fans would like and since the music industry is a subjective one, its the reality in which we live.
eevaleena 31st-Jan-2013 04:12 am (UTC)
I always thought she's at least half-Japanese ^^; Guess not. Anyways, I'm not really familiar with her music or songs, but I've heard her songs for Hagane no Renkinjutsushi, MOTHERLAND (I love this song the most from all HagaRen OP/ED!) and Boyfriend? I think. She sang it on CTKT upon Kame request. Anyways, I always thought she had great voice, but at the same times wondering why she's not that popular. Tho, I agree with some of the comments that her skin colour/race NOT the factor.
nansuki 31st-Jan-2013 04:24 am (UTC)
Is she at least selling more than Meisa Kuroki? (please be yes)

I would think her beautiful looks & voice would make her stand out more & rake in the sales, but...hmph.
Maybe she should do some kick-ass covers (even if it might be against her style) just to capture people's attention?
What if she comes to USA & makes it big?! >D

/i may be speaking out of line here since i haven't heard much of her songs.
And she kinda reminds me of Yuna Ito, good voice + not popular. =/ Although Yuna has been around for less time.
imangelofmusic 31st-Jan-2013 05:13 am (UTC)
+1
yukkiz 31st-Jan-2013 05:56 am (UTC)
MTE !! .In term of marketing ,It must make DIFFERENTIAL PRODUCTS to get public eye
Anymay, I think Misuchiru = Unique (Sakurai voice) & Inspiration song more :)

Edited at 2013-01-31 06:04 am (UTC)
aksara05 31st-Jan-2013 04:32 am (UTC)
She is not popular because of her race? well, i definitely don't think so

she used to be famous. Her album used to sell well. She has a no.1 album. a few top10 singles. It just that her fanbase has declining faster than some artist. Boa didn't sale well these days. So do Mai Kuraki, Hitomi Shimatani, nami tamaki etc. Not even Ayu and Kuu could escape this diminishing sales period.
umbrellaphone 31st-Jan-2013 04:45 am (UTC)
How avex pretty much abandoned (imo) Shimatani makes me sad even til now :(
uledy 31st-Jan-2013 04:37 am (UTC)
I think it's incredibly naive to believe that race, ethnicity, and nationalism are not contributing factors to Crystal Kay's lack of commercial success. To name people like Jero and Dante Carver as examples that race is not a determining factor is to ignore the essential common elements that contributed to their success: the spectacle of their acts and their tangible otherness. Crystal Kay doesn't provide Japanese audiences with either of these safe, unimposing attributes. While she is definitely not seen as Japanese, she's not seen as a complete "other", forcing her into this weird alternate category that I'm sure many people are unable to grapple with.

I also think her identity as a darker skinned woman is another obstacle that successful Black men in Japan do not face. There are certainly different standards of beauty for men and women and unfortunately there's a higher standard for women that Crystal is unable to meet.

Someone mentioned that she should go to the US. She really should...she may be able to do something there...
sadistic_dance 31st-Jan-2013 04:49 am (UTC)
To name people like Jero and Dante Carver as examples that race is not a determining factor is to ignore the essential common elements that contributed to their success: the spectacle of their acts and their tangible otherness.
This is a really good point actually. Her ethnic background/race aren't treated as a novelty like theirs is.

Someone mentioned that she should go to the US. She really should...she may be able to do something there...
I feel like Amerie had a similar sound especially around her comeback but she lost a lot of popularity as well.
bleed_peroxide 31st-Jan-2013 04:38 am (UTC)
I'm rather dubious on that, to be honest. I mean, Jero is doing fine and he's black, is he not? The thing that stands out with him isn't so much his skin color but rather that he's doing something different - he's singing traditional enka music, but his vocals are a bit unique to the genre and add a flavor that really makes it stand out. He does the genre justice, but he does something special that nobody else has done before.

Crystal Kay? Well... not so much. The fact is that her music is... okay. She has quite the lovely voice, and she's gorgeous to boot.- nobody's denying that. But I've listened to her stuff and, besides having nice vocals, it just doesn't really stand out from the rest. It's Anysong #983. Just listening to it, I just hear a nice tune with a singer that actually has talent. It's not bad, but it's not consistently excellent. It all kinda blends in after a while. I really do think it's a combination of factors, not simply race.
sadistic_dance 31st-Jan-2013 04:41 am (UTC)
How good is Jero doing though? Like he had that one MASSIVE hit and what else? Same for Thelma Aoyama.
sadistic_dance 31st-Jan-2013 04:39 am (UTC)
I always thought it was a promotional problem with her or rather her label/management. As time went on it seemed like that kind of didn't know what to do with her.
Also J-Urban/Hip-Hop isn't as popular as it was in the early 2000s. I think people may still think of her as an artist strictly in the genre and don't pay attention.
crimsonbreeze 31st-Jan-2013 03:30 pm (UTC)
Pretty much this. Besides, that market is soooo clustered now that, unless you have a killer song coming out and a marketing team doing everything only for you, I doubt anyone can be truly successful there anymore.
mister_robatto 31st-Jan-2013 04:48 am (UTC)
I don't think race plays as big of an issue as it seems. I think it's just piss-poor management. I think it would be much more beneficial for CK to play up on her bilingualism and release more English material as well as set up base overseas. Say if she were to become successful overseas I think that success could permeate back to Japan.
45s 31st-Jan-2013 05:01 am (UTC)
This is the most intelligent story posted on arama and I'm not surprised at some of the extremely naive responses :-/.

Thank you, op
fukkthedumbshyt 31st-Jan-2013 06:01 am (UTC)
Exactly. This place annoys me so much sometimes. People suggesting Dante Carver and Jero need to read Uledy's comment above, sit, and let it marinate.
nightz7sign 31st-Jan-2013 05:08 am (UTC)
Well done and really not far off at all.
Though while musically Japan has taken a hit in the urban department, it's like the article said: She'll be successful but just not as successful as her counterparts.
So the suggestions made for going against the grain and embracing her heritage on a more global scale are very viable options. If done right, she could in a sense "earn" more attention from the Japanese market if she becomes successful overseas.
visionfactory1 31st-Jan-2013 05:15 am (UTC)
Take OLIVIA for example, she has the same characteristics as of CK except for the fact that she is white and her best-selling single sold just 50k. Get it, the problem is not the racism, it's just that people are not interesed in CK's product (music+image+promotion).
crimsonbreeze 31st-Jan-2013 03:31 pm (UTC)
THIS SFM.
yukkiz 31st-Jan-2013 06:07 am (UTC)
For me ,she doesn't have specific character ! .Not having UNIQUE in her way much for making people interesting
Moreover ,she is lack of famous song !! .Honestly ,i don't know her song at all

Edited at 2013-01-31 06:09 am (UTC)
baboona 31st-Jan-2013 06:28 am (UTC)
you don't know Koi ni Ochitara? that was a huge hit
blovesit 31st-Jan-2013 06:24 am (UTC)
WANNA KNOW WHAT YOU'RE FEELING KIMI NO KOTO http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPW0IDzpNRk
baboona 31st-Jan-2013 06:28 am (UTC)
rappu de hajimaru kedo kore wa kurisutaru kei no kyoku desu!
mushroomesque 31st-Jan-2013 06:27 am (UTC)
But she was popular! She was very popular between 2002-2007, with multiple platinum albums/hit singles, it's just that she's past her peak popularity now.

If anything, her career surprised me at how successful she's been.
baboona 31st-Jan-2013 06:30 am (UTC)
mte, she has been very successful (and deservedly so).
baboona 31st-Jan-2013 06:37 am (UTC)
what she needs is for R&B to make a come back in Japan (dance music just isn't what she excels at) and some effective promo, a good drama tie-in would do wonders for her. just don't expect her to have the sales she did when the industry was still somewhat alive.
ohprecioustime 31st-Jan-2013 09:53 am (UTC)
this

she needs a drama tie-in song, Superman did decently digitally and it was barely used in that drama...wtf@them using Gaga's Judas instead

anyway she needs a theme , too bad in general drama theme songs have been really bad lately (ofc Misia's Deepness is da exception) or are handled by the whatever terrible JE group is starring in it
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