Because of her constantly changing image and tight control over her artistry, Hamasaki's popularity extends across Asia; music and fashion trends she has started have spread to countries such as China, Singapore, and Taiwan. She has appeared in or lent her songs to many advertisements and television commercials. Though she originally supported the exploitation of her popularity for commercial purposes, she later reconsidered and eventually opposed her status as an Avex "product".
Since her 1998 debut with the single "Poker Face", Hamasaki has sold over 50 million records in Japan, ranking her among the best-selling singers in the country. As a female singer, Hamasaki holds several domestic records for her singles, such as the most number-one hits, the highest sales, and the most million-sellers. From 1999 to 2009, Hamasaki had at least one single each year top the charts. Hamasaki is the first female singer to have eight studio albums since her debut to top the Oricon and first artist to have an album debut at number-one for 11 consecutive years.
Life and music career
Born in Fukuoka Prefecture, Hamasaki was raised by her mother and grandmother. Her father had left the family when she was three and never again came into contact with her. Because her mother worked to support the family, Hamasaki was primarily taken care of by her grandmother.
At age seven, Hamasaki began modeling for local institutions, such as banks, to supplement the family's income. She continued this career path by leaving her family at fourteen and moving to Tokyo as a model under SOS, a talent agency. Her modeling career did not last long; SOS eventually deemed her too short for a model and transferred her to Sun Music, a musicians' agency. Under the name of "Ayumi", Hamasaki released a rap album, Nothing from Nothing, on the Nippon Columbia label. She was dismissed from the label when the album failed to chart on the Oricon. After this failure, Hamasaki took up acting and starred in B-movies such as Ladys Ladys!! Soucho Saigo no Hi and television dramas such as Miseinen, which were poorly received by the public. Growing dissatisfied with her job, Hamasaki quit acting and moved in with her mother, who had recently moved to Tokyo.
Hamasaki was initially a good student, earning good grades in junior high school. Eventually, she lost faith in the curriculum, thinking that the subjects taught were of no use to her. Her grades worsened as she refused to put her mind to her studies. While living in Tokyo, she attempted to further her studies at Horikoshi Gakuen, a high school for the arts, but dropped out in the first year. Because Hamasaki did not attend school or have a job, she spent much of her time shopping at Shibuya boutiques and dancing at Velfarre, an Avex-owned disco club.
At Velfarre, she was introduced to her future producer, Max Matsuura, through a friend. After hearing Hamasaki sing karaoke, Matsuura offered her a recording deal, but Hamasaki suspected ulterior motives and turned the offer down. He persisted and succeeded in recruiting her for the Avex label in the following year. Hamasaki started vocal training, but skipped most of her classes after finding her instructors to be too rigid and the classes dull. When she confessed this to Matsuura, he sent her to New York to train her vocals under another method. During her foreign sojourn, Hamasaki frequently corresponded with Matsuura and impressed him with her style of writing. On her return to Japan, he suggested that she try writing her own lyrics.