fly to high

Which J-pop Lady Can Make It In America?

With Hikki working on her second English album, the question really still stands: if one j-pop diva or female group would make it in the English music industry, who would it be? After all, basing on the American charts, popular songs by female artists are rather limited. Pretty much most are R&B/hip hop hits (Rihanna, Beyonce, Fergie, Danity Kane, Mariah Carey, Leona Lewis), a smattering of pop rock (Colbie Caillat, Natasha Bedingfield, Paramore) and occasionally, a big pop song that makes it (Miley Cyrus).

So if all our favorite j-pop girls give it a try, who has the best chances of breaking into the market?

Utada Hikaru

I love Hikki and I love “Exodus,” but let’s face it – “Exodus” was brilliantly experimental and alternative but nowhere near mainstream. If she does her next English album in her Cubic U style or in her Japanese music style, she’d have a chance, but her idea of American mainstream R&B is a little too alternative. Unless she completely changes her image and sound, she won’t make it in the urban music genre she’s aiming for. But she does have beauty, quirkiness, and her language – she just needs to tailor herself to be more mainstream. Chances: 60%.

Ayumi Hamasaki

Ayu may be the queen of Jpop on the island, but only her very rock influenced songs would have a chance. The pop, the ballads – they’d all have to go. She definitely has the confident diva attitude as long as she tunes down the cute, but there’d also have to be an overhaul of image too – some of her visual trademarks, like her gaudy nails, princessy hair, shiny costumes, just won’t go over well. Chances: 30%.

Koda Kumi

Hell, Koda Kumi did a duet with Fergie; to be painfully honest, she’s not that much of a looker but has the music style and sluttiness to make it through the modern industry. Polish up the English, cut away all the perky bubbliness, do away with the ero-kawaii for just 120% ero, and call up Fergie to get Will.I.Am to produce some shallow hip-hop song for her – I can see it working. Chances: 80%.

Otsuka Ai

I love Ai-chin, so it pains me to say – this just isn’t going to happen. Well, her happy hyper songs have absolutely no chance. If promoted correctly – say in a movie soundtrack or something – a ballad of hers might have a chance, but only if she improves her voice 200% live and gets a completely different, more mature image. Unfortunately, English speakers just aren’t ready for intricate pop ballads and high voices like hers. Chances: 1%.


I’d say YUI actually has a pretty decent chance if she could get the English down – she has the guitar-strumming singer-songwriter vibe down for some songs and a hardcore rock chick image down for the other. She’s shy, which hurts her a bit, but she commands the stage well when she performs. The only thing that might not work out well is her voice – you usually don’t get such high, sweet voices in pop rock – but she does have the pretty face and the musician vibe. Chances: 60%.

Aoyama Thelma

This girl has the voice for R&B – she’s the right type of voice to do all those hooks on the hip hop songs, you know, that sweet but powerful backing to some guy’s aggressive rapping – but she doesn’t have the gorgeous looks to gain attention or the star presence to make up for it. I mean, look at her performances – there’s hardly any attitude or presence at all. Her voice would work, but unless she gains 500% more attitude no one would pay any attention. Chances: 40%.


Ayaka has the looks and voice, most definitely. She also has the bohemian gypsie image down pat. To make it though, she’d have to get some good songs – none of those boring ballad singles that she’s put out recently. It’s also hard to pull off her image and music these days unless she writes her own music and plays an instrument – so might want to work on that. Chances: 50%.


She can sing and dance. Her voice isn’t really suited for hip-hop or R&B, but – I can actually really see this working. But she’d really have to get some new songs – none of her ballady or pop-dance songs would even remotely work. She also needs more attitude – when she sings, she just doesn’t sound aggressive or strong, more poppy and cute – which just won’t work. Chances: 30%.

Morning Musume

Hmm. Well, supposing the current lineup does more R&B shaded songs, like “Resonant Blue” but with a much more aggressive beat, it would work – if you cut out some members or give them complete personality changes. The girls can look and perform fiercely, but some things – like Reina’s incessant winking and Koharu’s creepy bug eyed toothy grin – will have to go, permanently. Just don’t smile, look sexy, dance to a song with a good beat – they might be able to pull it off. Chances: 35%.


Not to say that they’re a Japanese female technopop idol trio, but just being technopop will be enough to put them out of the running. Forever. But they’re on this list because they have a terrific chance of making it big in the English speaking electronic music industry – a lot of their songs are sure to be club hits. But as for mainstream – Chances: 0%.


JYONGRI has impeccable English skills already; her style and image, not so much. Most of her music is synth backed pop, which isn’t bad, but might need to be toned a bit more to a Westernized pop style at risk of sounding retro and outdated. Looks-wise, JYONGRI isn’t the most beautiful girl out there, but she could look unique and fierce (read: Possession PV) and using a forward-tilting synthesizer could help her gain a unique image somewhat, if she can actually truly play it while performing. Chances: 40%.


Well, in a way, PUFFY has already made it as Puffy AmiYumi. Their Cartoon Network deal has given them some good songs – I’ll be honest, I didn’t know PUFFY did the Teen Titans theme and when I watched it I was jammin’ out to it. But they haven’t gotten major prominence yet – they have a pop rock kind of thing going on. If they can improve the English more and get a good song out – who knows, maybe. Chances: 70%.

Berryz Koubou

It’s not going to work even remotely for at least another five years, unless they all learn English and get a Disney Channel show a la Hannah Montana, and put out bad pop songs that little children love. Chances: 15%.


Same as Berryz Koubou… except I see Berryz as more likely to be liked by the tween crowd. Chances: 10%.

Amuro Namie

Namie can do it. She’s sexy, full of attitude, and her music is hip-hop enough to be accepted. Her personality is a bit bland live, but her performances have spirit because her singing and dancing are near top-notch. Her current image is dark, exotic, and dominating – very commanding, and very fierce. If she has good English and gets some good songs, I can see her doing well. Chances: 75%.

Kimura Kaela

Kimura Kaela has her model looks to benefit her. She has a great hipster image – and while most hipster pop music isn’t mainstream, sometimes one becomes mainstream. If she gets lucky, she could work out well. Chances: 50%.

Leah Dizon

Leah Dizon can’t really sing and can’t really dance… but she’s beautiful, sexy, an import model. And seeing what hot (slutty) models can achieve in the American music industry… it’s almost scary how decent of a chance she has. And if she’s not breaking into the market as a singer, she could always become a video girl in a hip hop video – she’d fit right in, really. Chances: 60%.

Nakashima Mika

Nakashima Mika has a beautiful ethereal voice. Her jazzy, pop works would never make it overseas; the rock songs she does, however, do have potential, especially if she starts to front the vocals of a rock band instead of being a solo artist (just… a legitimate one, not an almost-joke one like MICA3CHU). But her image right now wouldn’t work – she might make it as a goth rock chick or something, but she just looks way, waaaay too creepy for mainstream audiences to handle. Chances: 10%.

Tsuchiya Anna

It helps that Tsuchiya Anna already has legions of Nana fans under her belt. Her English isn’t perfect, but her rock music would definitely have a shot at making it. She also has the edgy rock image that’s very appealing. Chances: 65%.

Goto Maki

Now that Gocchin is with avex, she seems to be going to divalicious R&B image even more than before? Well, he supposed sensei is Beyonce, after all. But if she is going for the diva route, she’s going to have to whore it up much, much more. She has the sexy image down in Japan, but “Some Boys! Touch” wouldn’t even raise eyebrows; she’d need an upped image and upped dance moves. Chances: 40%.

Yuna Ito

Yuna Ito has the English and the voice and the beauty. But her style isn’t very in wish modern popular music – I mean, while Koda Kumi is slutting it up with Fergie and Goto Maki is following Beyonce’s bootyliciousness, Yuna’s counterpart is Celine Dion. And Celine Dion isn’t really top 40 hit material these days. If she gets lucky, she could make it with a well advertised and placed ballad – but she’d have to work on her upbeat songs, because she’s really bad at those. Chances: 45%.


Chatmonchy rocks out, hard. What really hurts them is that Eriko’s distinct vocals, too high and shrill sometimes even in Japan, is definitely too high and shrill for American audiences. If they get a good song, they might catch on, but it would take a lot of effort to get audiences to like such high pitched vocals matched with rock. Chances: 10%.

Angela Aki

She’s already tried and failed; that doesn’t put Angela off to a great start. Angela has piano pop that would make it paired with her great voice, but her image isn’t very interesting or attention grabbing and she doesn’t have the model-esque looks. Her music also tends to blend in – they’re calming, but few are extremely striking as to become that one big hit. But her music speaks for itself – she could make it as the next Vanessa Carlton with a few hits of her own, if she’s lucky. Chances: 50%.

There’s more ladies of course, but that’s all I can think of (or bear to go through) right now. I’m still rooting for Utada, big time, because I love her music and hope that she gets success, but who knows – maybe one day Fergie will return a favor to Kuu-chan or the rest of the world will pick up on Namie’s fierceness and I’ll hear one of them on my local radio. 🙂

16 Comments so far
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Interesting post – I stumbled on it because I’ve got a perpetual Google Alert set up for Puffy blog posts 🙂

I agree with a lot of what you say here, except maybe Angela Aki, who I just think is way too much of a Tori Amos disciple to make it here. Also, Morning Musume’s chances I would rate at closer to 0% 🙂

I actually still think Utada has the best chance – her English is perfect, and she’s got the right voice and style – but she just needs a better album than Exodus. I actually think the dumb lyrics were more of a problem with Exodus than anything else. (“You’re easy breeze and I’m Japanesey” – what??) I think Exodus may have doomed her forever, unfortunately, but I still can’t see that any other Japanese artist has a better shot than she does… except maybe Puffy 🙂 if they can sort out what kind of band they actually want to be here, of course.

Comment by Jeff

this was an interesting read!

i’m actually rooting for koda kumi because i saw her perform at an anime convention in houston a long time ago. she had a really cute personality and her dancing rocked. i’m sure that if she can get the english down and managed to sign with a company/person that could produce awesome (mainstream, i guess) music, then it would be hard to not notice her.

she could use her duet with fergie! what’s a collab for, right? come on koda kumi! work it! 😀

Comment by cynthi

YUI could definitely make it if her English were better. And it is already…from Ready to ‘Rove’ to Love is all, it’s already a huge improvement! Plus, she is a lot like Michelle Branch, I wonder if anyone remembers her…, who was quite a hit at that time.

and I cannot wait for hikki’s english album!

also, it’s sad, but i would have to agree that koda kumi has a fairly good chance…that whore…seriously

Comment by Elizabeth

@Jeff: Not only did Exodus have some terrible lyrics, it also didn’t seem really mainstream. I remember seeing an interview during that time about how “Easy Breezy” was an American style song with an American style music video – but it wasn’t at all, lol.

@cynthi: Koda Kumi performed in the US before? It’s awesome that you caught it! I’m not that big a fan of her music, but with her image and collaborations it seems like her success is the most likely.

@Elizabeth: I love Michelle Branch! I’d love it if YUI could make it too, but she’s still looking at a lot of improvement on her English even with the improvements she’s already made.

Comment by oroitsme

My bets are on Utada. Like Jeff said, one of her main problems were lyrics that just didn’t make sense. Exodus was a bit of a set back, but I’m hoping she can pull something off (and I’ll definitely support!)

I actually think Crystal Kay could do make a wave on the American scene if she wanted to as well…Maybe she will try one day.

Comment by Jelz

This is a really cool thread. I’m def. rooting for Hikki :]

@Jelz: Yeah, I agree about Crystal Kay. I actually showed some of her mv to my math class and people really liked her.

Comment by Eisaykela

If Angela Aki did the type of songs that she does for the Japanese market I think it would work. I have her US indies album and it is nothing like her new stuff. It’s like…guitars and really slow paced.
Crystal Kay..I’m not a Crystal Kay fan, but I think if she wanted to do US she would have already.

Comment by Naru

To be frank, the only ones that I think actually have a chance are the following:

Utada – because she’s trying so hard, give her a good Timbaland song

Koda Kumi – BARELY, especially since there are so many singers just like her

Angela Aki – 50%, like you said. A new, Asian Vanessa Carlton

Namie Amuro – yes, ONLY IF she learns English, and I mean flawlessly.

Leah Dizon – in the leagues of with the urban-pop of today, or mesh her in with the Pussycat Dolls

Comment by JJ

I think you make some really good points here, but I completely disagree with you regarding Perfume. I know of a LOT of fans in the United States (myself included) that would disagree with Perfume’s number.

Comment by autism109201

I disagree with your comment about Perfume
because Perfume have a lot of fans arround the world ^^

Comment by Wendoly

koda kumi could really make it in the u.s. but only if given the right material,her rendition of of “venus” on the Trick album left so much to be desired,maybe a song tie-in with a mega popular nintendo wii game could crack the bubble and get things going,sooner or later someone will be in the billboard 100,judging by current u.s. sales it would only take a few thousand units soldto do it

Comment by donboydeluxe

Out of all the people you named I think hikki, ayu, kumi, and namie for sure have the best chance. Though I think that hikki would need people to write songs for her even though I realy like her new album and ayu would need to go back to her more Loveppears style. Also kumi and namie would need to totally master english like you said. Also I think Crystal Kay looks just not asian enough to become a hit and she has that r&b edge in her voice.

Comment by reihirosuzuki

I agree with all, except Perfume, they may be technopop but they have showed that they can incorporate new styles into their music and dance routines. I would give Perfume at least 20% And like you said they would totally hit the ”tecnho vibe” at the clubs… so I guess that should count for something ^_^

Comment by Liz

I disagree about Kumi not being much of a looker.
Chick’s gorgeous.
And, imo, it’s a toss up between Kuu and Namie.

Comment by Nari

I read some of the things you wrote under some of the bands and singers I like. I would just like to say you are very disrespectful! First of all they don’t need to improve anything! These bands aren’t trying to just please and fit in with the American audiences!
These are Japanese bands who don’t have to learn English but they do anyway and they don’t have to be mainstream! If they want to stand out and do their own thing then that is fine, that is what they want to do. Who gave you the right to judge them and say they have things they need to work on. They don’t! I don’t see you going out there and learning Japanese or making any music with style. So you have no place to put them down. There are no American bands who try to sing in Japanese and get judged on how they would make it Japan. Because no one needs to judge anyone for writing music and doing something they have a passion about. It has nothing to do with how well they live up to your stupid American music standards!
How dare you say what you did about Chatmonchy, Chatmonchy is the best band, each of their songs has such a good meaning with beautiful music and very catchy lovely sound to it. Chatmonchy is a big part of my life. Eriko’s voice is not too “shrill” so many Japanese singers have voices like that or even way way higher. That is just A popular thing in Japan. If you don’t like it then listen to some of your crappy mainstream American music.
These bands don’t need to make it in the U.S. because then a lot of idiots would listen to them. They are not trying to make it in the U.S. and they aren’t trying to appeal to stupid American listeners. You don’t know Japanese so you don’t know what kind of message they are trying to give out! That’s why it’s for Japanese listeners! Because the bands are Japanese!!
Japanese bands each have their own unique and wonderful styles and songs, that’s what makes Japanese music so much better. All Japanese music is wayy better than any American music. If you really can’t appreciate that then don’t listen to it!!

Comment by Nene

and one more thing. Don’t ever compare Japanese singers to American singers. It’s like comparing gold to trash. Japanese singers take time to write something nice and make art, while American singers are just lazy!

Comment by Nene

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