Next Level is the tenth studio album (eleventh overall) by Japanese pop singer-songwriter Ayumi Hamasaki, released by Avex Trax on March 25, 2009 in Japan. It was released as a CD only version, a CD+DVD version, and a limited edition 2CD+DVD version with the second CD containing live songs taken from her New Year's Countdown concert. Additionally, it is the first album by Hamasaki and one of the first albums in the world to be released as a USB flash drive. The 2GB flash drive includes the 14 songs of the album in MP3 format along with their lyric data, and six music videos in MP4 format. The flash drive edition is priced at ¥6800 (approximately US$68 at the time of release).
The album is certified Double Platinum for shipment of 500,000 copies.
At a price of 6,800 yen, the USB version is said to be a bargain, as typical USB drives typically sell for much less. The USB is packaged in a case the same size as a normal CD case, making it easy to display in stores. Oricon included the USB drive version in its sales tracking. Hamasaki explained, "As the way we listen to music changes from day to day, I looked at things from the listener's perspective and decided to sell it this way."
On May 21, 2009, it was revealed that the Tokyo Metropolitan Police were investigating a publicity event held in April. Hamasaki made unexpected appearances in Shibuya to promote the release of her new book and the album "Next Level", but apparently either she or her manager failed to obtain the necessary permits for the event. The PR event happened on April 7, in front of the 109 Building in Shibuya. Approximately 8,000 people gathered to see Hamasaki, resulting in temporarily blocked roads. Before her appearance at 109, she also paid unexpected visits to a few major record stores, going from store to store by car while fans followed her on foot, which led to chaotic conditions in the streets. Buses and other modes of transport were subjected to traffic delays.
Even though the events officially took place in stores, police determined that the scope of the event required a permit for the use of the roads. Because that permit was never obtained, authorities stated they plan to send the matter to the prosecutor's office for Hamasaki and her manager to be questioned.
Aside from the singles "Days/Green" and "Rule/Sparkle", two other music videos were made for "Curtain Call" and "Next Level". "Next Level" and "Curtain Call" were both directed by Stanly Izumi Kim and Luis Hernandez and filmed in Los Angeles.
The PV for "Next Level" featured Ayumi singing in her car while driving along an open road near the coast of a beach.
The PV for "Curtain Call" depicted Ayumi wearing a little black dress while barefoot. She starts off singing at a set. When the first verse is over she walks away and the production staff and crew close down the set. She walks through different sets and crew (including different seasonal themes such as rainy, autumn and winter). In the climax, she stops and behind her sparks a wall of fireworks. The curtain closes and the camera moves away from Ayumi and she is seen being attended by her hair and makeup crew. The whole video in entirety was done in one take. Originally, when she filming the black dress had a long and heavy part, but she said to her crew she wanted the heavy part to be cut off.