In a land where most recording artists have a shelf life shorter than sushi, a spunky Japanese diva known as Misia (pronounced Mee-sha) has shown remarkable resilience since her unheralded debut in 1998. The 23-year-old's CD singles consistently top Japan's pop charts, and her album sales are strong, bucking a decline in the world's second-largest music market. The demure star stands just 153 cm, but she's no lightweight. Swinging her trademark dreadlocks, Misia belts out R&B ballads in five throaty octaves that put Japan's bubblegum pop idols to shame. And her loyal fans in Asia love her for it.
Indeed, Misia, whose name is derived from the words "Asian" and "Messiah," is one of the most bankable stars in Japan's $6.5 billion music industry. It is largely thanks to Misia that R&B has become accessible to a Japanese audience. In a sign of her drawing power, state-run broadcaster NHK made Misia's song Never Ending Story a de facto national anthem by using it as the theme for its coverage of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Misia's latest album, Misia: Greatest Hits, has sold 2.3 million CDs--almost as many as her best-selling album, 1998's Mother, Father, Brother, Sister, which moved 2.6 million copies. Hoping to tap the Misia magic, major Tokyo-based label Avex Inc. snatched her last October from industry titan BMG Entertainment's talent roster.
For a major star, Misia keeps a low profile. Industry observers credit her manager Hiroto Tanigawa and production company Rhythmedia Co. for reducing the risk of overexposure. Mystery is part of Misia's allure. Few fans know much about her other than that she hails from the southern Japanese city of Fukuoka. Her official bio lists only her stage name, blood type (O), and date of birth. Web sites dug up the nugget that the singer, whose real name is Misaki Ito, was a high school trumpet player who found her voice after sitting in on her older sister's private singing classes. Misia's big break came during a stint as a business major at Seinan Gakuin University in Fukuoka, when she won a local talent contest. Now, all of Japan--and Misia-savvy fans in other parts of Asia--are singing her praises.