Ayumi Hamasaki has seen better days as a J-pop superstar, but she still carries some clout. So it should have been noteworthy that her newest release, the five-song "Trouble," would arrive on streaming services a bit earlier than in stores. That's a win for fledgling in-Japan operations such as Spotify and Apple Music, right?
Not really. "Trouble" is no slouch, having grabbed a fair amount of attention when it was released Aug. 6. It's performing well enough on streaming services and sits at No. 24 on Apple Music's top album chart at the time of writing (not to mention being a particularly introspective set from someone going through all sorts of tribulations). But the rollout behind Hamasaki's latest is really just a reminder of all the other big releases still unavailable on these platforms.
Streaming services were supposed to change Japan's music industry, or at least that was the line trotted out by tech evangelists and people who were sick of overpriced CDs. In 2018, though, a couple of years after the major streaming players debuted in this country, the status quo remains largely unchanged. The only digital music destination that's flourishing is YouTube, which has become the default go-to for younger viewers wanting not just music, but all forms of entertainment. Unfortunately, the streaming experience remains incomplete.