Yuko Ando

Yuko Ando is a good example of the post-Ayumi Hamasaki generation of J-pop singers. She's not content to leave her career in the hands of her managers, being a singer/songwriter and working on her own covers, booklets, and promo video herself, and she's also persistent enough to eventually score high on the charts even though her early stabs at success went nowhere. Ando initially intended to be a film director, and scored small roles in 2000s movies Mamotte Agetai and Saimin, as well as the series Ikebukuro West Get Park, but it was her singing that impressed Koike Soukou, the Oricon editor, when he heard her auditioning for a role in a musical. Her performance level proved to be high enough for her to be signed by Cutting Edge, a sublabel of Avex Trax, where Ando debuted in 2003 with the EP Sally. It didn't chart, although the title track was used in the Taiwanese TV drama Meteor Garden.

Her first release to scrape the Oricon was the EP And Do, Record (2004), which rose to number 54, owing this to the boost it got from the anime series Gilgamesh that featured her song "Wasure Mono No Mori." Ando's first single, "Mizuiro No Shirabe" (2004), however, only charted at number 139, and her debut album, Middle Tempo Magic (2004), peaked at number 63, although it eventually outsold And Do, Record. Her two next singles failed to enter the Top 100, but "Samishigariya No Kotobatachi" (2005) scored number 35 thanks to a feature in a Hitachi ad. Commercials proved to be the lucky ticket for Ando -- her song "Nouzen Katsura" was featured in a popular sake ad, and clicked well enough with listeners to propel her second album, Merry Andrew (2006), into the Oricon Top Ten.

Ando supported Merry Andrew with a huge tour before getting back to the studio, where she again proved that she was better with albums than singles, as her third full-length, Shabon Songs (2007), charted better than the singles "Texas" and "The Still Steel Down" (both 2006), which barely made it to the Top 50. However, "Unabara No Tsuki" (2007) scored number 12 on the Oricon, making it Ando's highest-charting single, and "Parallel" (2008), though only rising to number 20, outsold all of her singles, except "Samishigariya No Kotobatachi." Ando's fourth album, Chronicle, came out in 2008 and entered the Top 20. ~ Alexey Eremenko

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