Ai (singer)

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植村 愛 カリーナ
Ai Carina Uemura

(1981-11-02) November 2, 1981 (age 40)[1]
Los Angeles, California, United States
NationalityAmerican (jus soli, expatriate)
Japanese (jus sanguinis)
  • Singer-songwriter
  • rapper
  • record producer
  • spokeswoman
  • actress
Years active2000–present
Hiroyuki Noguchi
(m. 2014)
Musical career
OriginTokyo, Japan
Associated acts

Ai Carina Uemura (植村 愛 カリーナ, Uemura Ai Karīna, born November 2, 1981), known mononymously as Ai (Japanese pronunciation: [ai], stylized as AI or A.I. //), is a Japanese-American singer-songwriter, rapper, record producer, spokeswoman, and actress.

After being discovered by BMG Japan in 2000, she released her debut album, My Name is Ai (2001). Signing to Def Jam Records Japan in 2003, Ai became the first woman signed to the label. She released two studio albums under the label, Original Ai (2003) and 2004 Ai. With the release of her third studio album, Ai rose to mainstream prominence in Japan. Signing to Island Records in 2005, Ai released her fourth studio album, Mic-a-Holic Ai (2005). Its second single "Story" became one of the biggest singles of the 2000s in Japan, peaking at number 8 on the Japanese Oricon singles chart, and was the sixth single in history to receive a triple million digital certification by the Recording Industry Association of Japan (RIAJ).

Ai's fifth studio album, What's Goin' On Ai (2006), featured the top-ten singles "Believe" and "I Wanna Know", the latter receiving a Gold certification from the RIAJ. Her sixth studio album, Don't Stop Ai (2007) saw similar success, which received a Gold certification. In 2009, she released her seventh studio album, Viva Ai, which charted in the top ten of the Japanese Oricon albums chart. Ai's compilation album, Best Ai (2009), became her first number one album and was certified Platinum. In 2010, she released her eighth studio album, The Last Ai, which marked her last release under Island Records.

In 2011, Ai left Universal Music Group and signed a global publishing deal with EMI. Her Gold certified ninth studio album Independent (2012) served as her international debut and first release under EMI Music Japan. To promote the album, Ai toured in Japan and her hometown, Los Angeles, California. Her tenth studio album Moriagaro (2013) marked her first release under EMI Records Japan following EMI Music Japan's absorption into Universal Music Japan as a sublabel. Her fourth compilation album, The Best (2015) peaked at number 3 on the Oricon Albums chart and number 2 on the Billboard Japan Hot Albums chart, later being certified Gold by the RIAJ. Its successor, The Feat. Best (2016) charted within the top 30 of both the Japan Hot Albums and Oricon Albums chart.

Ai's eleventh and most recent studio album, Wa to Yo (2017) experimented with traditional Japanese and electronic sounds. Its second single, "Kira Kira" was nominated for the Grand Prix award and won the Excellent Works Award at the 59th Japan Records Awards. Her sixth compilation album Kansha!!!!! - Thank You for 20 Years New and Best (2019) was issued to celebrate her twenty years in the music industry. Further celebrating her twenty year anniversary, Ai released the extended plays It's All Me, Vol. 1 (2020) and It's All Me, Vol. 2 (2021).

Early life and education[edit]

Ai was born in Los Angeles in 1981.[1] Her father is Japanese and her mother is American of Italian and Native Okinawan descent.[2] She moved to Kagoshima in Japan when she was 4, and went to elementary school and junior high school in Japan.[2][3]

Ai was motivated to become a singer in her early teens, after singing at a cousin's wedding, having many people ask her if she wanted to be a professional singer, and hearing a gospel performance at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles in 1993.[3][4] After graduating from junior high school in Japan, Ai returned to Los Angeles for high school, enrolling at Glendale High School, however found high school difficult due to never formally studying English.[5] After making it through the audition process, she switched to the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, majoring in ballet.[5] She became a member of the school's gospel choir.[3] In 1998, she performed in a gospel choir at a Mary J. Blige concert at the Universal Amphitheatre, performing of "A Dream."[2][3] In the same year, she appeared as a dancer in the music video for Janet Jackson's song "Go Deep."[2][3]


1999–2004: SX4, BMG Japan, move to Universal[edit]

In 1999, she joined an Asian girl group called SX4, who were produced by George Brown of Kool & the Gang. Ai was a member of the group for two years, and later in 1999 the group were offered a record label deal.[5] While on her summer holiday in Kagoshima, she performed Monica's "For You I Will" on a local radio station, which led to her being scouted by BMG Japan.[4][5] She decided to take the offer, and after leaving SX4 and graduating from high school in June 2000, moved to Tokyo and debuted as a musician later in 2000.[2][5]

Ai debuted under BMG Japan with the single "Cry, Just Cry" in November 2000.[1] Between then and November 2001, she released three singles, culminating in her debut album, My Name Is Ai. However, the releases were not very commercially successful, and the album debuted at number 86.[6]

In 2002 she moved to Def Jam Japan as the first female artist signed to the label.[1][3] Ai has said that she felt more at home under Def Jam, as many of her co-workers shared her musical tastes.[4] Her first album under the label in 2003 Original Ai debuted at 15 on Oricon's album charts, and her second, 2004 Ai, debuted at number three.[6] In 2004, she won the Space Shower Music Video Awards' award for Best R&B Video, with her song "Thank U."[3]

After moving to Def Jam, Ai increasingly began collaborating with musicians, especially Japanese hip-hop and rap artists (though under BMG Japan, Ai had collaborated with Mao Denda, and Soul'd Out rapper Diggy-Mo'). She was featured as a rapper on the Suite Chic single "Uh Uh,,,,,", a collaboration between Namie Amuro, Verbal of M-Flo, and music producer Ryōsuke Imai in 2003. Other musicians Ai collaborated with in this period were Afra, Boy-Ken, Joe Budden, Dabo, Deli, Double, Heartsdales, Ken Hirai, M-Flo, Sphere of Influence and Zeebra. Ai's collaborations featured her either as a rapper or a singer.

2005–2010: "Story", rise in fame[edit]

In 2005, Ai released the ballad single "Story", which became the biggest hit of her career. It was a sleeper hit, charting for 20 weeks in the top 30 in 2005 and 2006, however went on to sell over three million ringtones, one million cellphone downloads, and 270,000 physical copies.[7][8][9] Ai later performed "Story" at the prestigious 56th NHK Kōhaku Uta Gassen New Years music concert.[10] Her next studio album, Mic-a-holic Ai, was the best selling album of her career, being certified double platinum by the RIAJ.[11]

Ai's first single of 2006, the ballad "Believe", was also a success: it debuted at number two,[6] and sold more than one million ringtones.[12] The song was used as the theme song of the Kenji Sakaguchi starring medical drama, Team Medical Dragon. Her next two albums, What's Goin' On Ai (2006) and Don't Stop Ai (2007) were also greatly commercially successful, being certified platinum and gold respectively.[11][13]

In 2009, Ai released her greatest hits album, Best Ai. It was the first number one record of her career.[6] In 2010, Ai collaborated with many artists such as Namie Amuro, Miliyah Kato, Chaka Khan and Boyz II Men on her 10th anniversary album, The Last Ai.

To the end of Ai's career with Universal, her album sales began to decrease. Viva Ai (2009) debuted at number 10, and The Last Ai (2010) at 14 (despite her gold hit from the album, "Fake" featuring Namie Amuro).[6][14]

2011–2016: Independent, Moriagaro and The Best[edit]

In June 2011, Ai signed with EMI Music Japan.[15] She collaborated with The Jacksons on December 13 and 14, 2011, at the Michael Jackson Tribute Live tribute concerts held in Tokyo. She performed the vocals in the third act for Michael Jackson's songs. She also performed and released the theme song for the event, "Letter in the Sky" featuring the Jacksons.[16][17] In November 2011, Ai released the song "Happiness", a collaboration with Coca-Cola for their winter 2011 campaign. The song was a hit, being certified gold in two different mediums.[18][19] The song revitalized the sales of her ninth studio album, Independent, which has sold more than 60,000 copies.[9] Independent was Ai's first album to be released internationally outside of Asia.

On April 1, 2013, EMI Music Japan was completely merged into Universal Music Japan as a sublabel by the name of EMI Records Japan as a result of Universal Music's purchase of EMI in September 2012. Ai's tenth studio album, Moriagaro, was released in July 2013, serving as her first release under EMI Japan, although was not released outside of Asia.

Ai's single "Story" was featured in the Japanese dub of the Disney film Big Hero 6 in October 2014.

In November 2015, Ai released a compilation album, The Best, to celebrate fifteen years in the music industry. The compilation album was reissued in mid-2016.[20] A third compilation release of tracks with featured artists titled The Feat. Best was issued in November 2016.[21]

2017-present: Wa to Yo and twenty-year anniversary[edit]

Ai teased her eleventh studio album, Wa to Yo on social media in April 2017. [22][23] Wanting to "convey the goodness of Japan" to the rest of the world and "the goodness of the overseas to Japanese people", Ai collaborated with several producers, artists and songwriters from both Japan and the west.[24] The lead single "Justice Will Prevail at Last" was released in May 2017.[25] Wa to Yo was released in June 2017 and was her second international album release outside of Asia.[26] The album was reissued in October 2017, titled Wa to Yo to. The album peaked at number 11 on the Oricon weekly chart.[27]

In early 2019, Ai traveled to her hometown, Los Angeles, California, to record new material to celebrate twenty years in the music industry and for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. Her fourth compilation album, Kansha!!!!! - Thank You for 20 Years New and Best, was released in November 2019, serving as her first international compilation release.[28] Ai's extended play, It's All Me, Vol. 1 was planned to be released on the start of the 2020 Olympics, but instead was released on July 8, 2020 after the event was postponed to summer 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The lead single of It's All Me, Vol. 1, "Summer Magic" was her first single to be released internationally.[29] Its Japanese version was included in an advertisement for the Amazon Echo.[29] In November 2020, "Not So Different" was released digitally as the lead single for Ai's extended play, It's All Me, Vol. 2. In December 2020, Ai partnered with One Young World and released a special music video of the song in support of the project.[30] A remix of "Not So Different" featuring Japanese rapper Awich was released on December 11, 2020 as a promotional single.[31] The second single, "Hope" was released on January 30, 2021 with its music video premiering the same day. Ai partnered with deleteC, a non-profit organization in Japan aiming to support cancer treatment.[32][33] It's All Me, Vol. 2 later was released in February 2021.[34] In March 2021, Ai released her fifth compilation album, Self Selection "Hip Hop".[35] In June 2021, Ai's previous releases with her former label, Universal Sigma, were made available internationally.[36]

On June 28, 2021, Ai released "The Moment" featuring Japanese rapper Yellow Bucks.[37] On the same day, she performed the song with Yellow Bucks and DJ Ryow on CDTV, a Japanese TV channel by TBS.[38][39]

Other ventures[edit]

In April 2011, Ai presented a music documentary, Ai Miss Michael Jackson: King of Pop no Kiseki, that was recorded for Music On! TV. In the documentary, she traveled to the United States and interviewed members of the Jackson family in their home.

For the American musical comedy Glee's season two episode Britney/Brittany, Ai dubbed the voice of Britney Spears in the Japanese release.

Products and endorsements[edit]

As is standard for Japanese musicians, Ai has featured as a spokesman, or has her music featured, for many products. Ai's songs have been used as TV commercial songs, drama theme songs, film theme songs and TV show ending theme songs.[40]

Ai has worked on four major Coca-Cola TV commercial campaigns, two featuring her own songs ("You Are My Star" (2009), "Happiness" (2011)) and two featuring collaborations (K'naan's "Wavin' Flag" (2009), Namie Amuro's "Wonder Woman" (2011)). She has also been featured in two Audio-Technica campaigns (using "My Friend (Live Version)" and "I'll Remember You", a campaign for Japan Airlines ("Brand New Day") and Pepsi Nex with "I Wanna Know."[40]

Ai's most high-profile work for a TV drama was the theme song for 2006's primetime drama Team Medical Dragon, "Believe", which was one of her greatest hits, selling over one million ringtones.[12] Ai also sung the theme song for the drama's second series, "One." Ai also worked on the theme song for the 2010 primetime drama Keishichō Keizoku Sōsahan, "Nemurenai Machi." Other program theme songs include the Japanese theme song for the American drama Heroes ("Taisetsu na Mono"), and the 15th ending theme for the children's animation Crayon Shin-chan, "Crayon Beats").[40] In 2005, Ai's song "Alive (English Version)" was used as an insert song for the South Korean drama Delightful Girl Choon-Hyang.

Many of Ai's songs have been used in films. Her "Story" song was remade (also with its English version) for Disney's box office Big Hero 6 in 2014. She performed the theme song for Departures (2008), the winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2009. She has also sung the theme songs for Crayon Shin-chan: The Legend Called Buri Buri 3 Minutes Charge (2005), Pray (2005), Lalapipo (2009) and Berserk Golden Age Arc I: The Egg of the High King (2012).[40] Her music has been featured on the soundtracks of TKO Hiphop (2005), the musical film Memories of Matsuko (2006), in which Ai cameoed to perform the song, and Heat Island (2007).[40]

Personal life[edit]

On March 6, 2013, Ai announced her engagement to Hiro, the leader and vocalist of the rock band Kaikigesshoku. The pair had been dating for 10 years, and wed in January 2014.[41][42] On August 28, 2015, Ai gave birth to her first child, a baby girl.[43] On July 24, 2018, it was revealed Ai was pregnant with her second child.[44] Her second child, a boy, was born on December 29, 2018.[45]

In 2019, outdoor advertisements for Ai's single, "Summer Magic" were displayed at Shinjuku Station. The advertisement displayed a search result of her name, which showed top results for artificial intelligence (AI), while a cut off photo of Ai herself appeared on the bottom of the search result. On Twitter, Ai revealed her distaste of artificial intelligence being the top results when searching "Ai" on search engines.[46]


Ai logo as of 2017

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Result Award Category Nominated work
2004 Won Space Shower Music Video Awards Best R&B Video "Thank U"
Nominated 2004 MTV Video Music Awards Japan Best Buzz Asia – Japan "After the Rain"
2005 Nominated 2005 MTV Video Music Awards Japan Best R&B Video "EO"
Nominated Best Collaboration "Watch Out" With Afra and Tucker
2005 Won Space Shower Music Video Awards Best Female Video
2006 Won 2006 MTV Video Music Awards Japan Best R&B Video "Story"
2007 Won Space Shower Music Video Awards Best Female Video "I Wanna Know"
Won 2007 MTV Video Music Awards Japan Best R&B Video "Believe"
2008 Nominated 2008 MTV Video Music Awards Japan Best R&B Video "I'll Remember You"
Won Best Buzz Asia – Japan
Nominated Space Shower Music Video Awards Best Female Video "Brand New Day"
Won MTV Student Voice Awards Respect Award General Award
2009 Nominated 2009 MTV Video Music Awards Japan Best Video from a Film "Okuribito"
Nominated Best Collaboration "Crazy World" (with Anna Tsuchiya)
Nominated Billboard Japan Music Awards 2009 Artist of the Year 2009 General Award
2010 Won Billboard Japan Music Awards 2010 International Collaboration Artists of the Year "One More Try", "Through the Fire" (with Chaka Khan)
2011 Nominated 2011 MTV Video Music Aid Japan Best R&B Video "Nemurenai Machi"
Nominated Best Collaboration "Fake" (with Namie Amuro)
2012 Nominated 2012 MTV Video Music Awards Japan Best R&B Video "Independent Woman"
2017 Nominated 59th Japan Records Awards Grand Prix Award "Kira Kira" (with Naomi Watanabe)
Won Excellent Works Award


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  46. ^ 株式会社インプレス. "「AI(エーアイ)の登場で一番迷惑しているのは、AI(アイ)です。」 AIさんが切実!?なメッセージを新宿駅で公開". ネタとぴ (in Japanese). Retrieved September 15, 2021.

External links[edit]