I like conspiracy theories, and so I was happy to explain Utada Hikaru‘s attempt to release an album in America as a convoluted way to sell records in Japan. As a commenter noted:
“This effectively was a massive label swindle, where universal music/island records was able to steal away toshiba-EMI’s biggest artist, simply by having her drop her first name and sing in english.”
True enough. But the one thing that I have ignored is the fact that Utada only getting to #160th on the Billboard has a detrimental effect on her image in Japan. Someone Japanese asked me out of the blue today, “Is 160th high or not? Because that’s where Utada’s CD was.” I said, no, it’s not particularly high. And he kind of smiled and said “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
So they make all this fuss about Utada selling in America, which initially sells a lot of copies in Japan. But then when she didn’t actually sell in America, that information boomeranged back into Japan and now everyone sees the effort as a failure. In the past, they only did this U.S.-debut gambit with washed up stars who no longer make headlines, and I am sure the free flow of information on the Internet isn’t helping with the cover-up work. Utada also has the disadvantage that a lot of the press doesn’t particularly like her and want to see her fail.
So, in the end, Universal made out with a lot of money, and everyone else lost. Not really a conspiracy as much as a ingenious power play by a Western label working on the Japanese turf.