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Tuning In: AMU has been working his whole life for this

There’s nothing like turning the volume way up on a song you love. A song — favourite or just discovered — offers a three-minute reprieve from the toils of your commute; from your co-worker’s incessant humming. It offers resonance, too. Crooned lyrics that soundtrack a feeling you can’t quite put into words. A belted chorus that touches something no other medium can do quite as well; quite as quickly. In “Tuning In”, we delve into the lives and loves of the people behind those tracks — and the ones they love, as well.

What, exactly, is It?

It is what the French call a certain “je ne sais quoi.” Perhaps It is an unrelenting swagger; an inescapable charisma. It could be something you’re born with; or perhaps it’s earned, manifested, forged through a set of experiences, an exposure to the right amount of cool, a blessing imparted on those deemed worthy by another, one with plenty of It to go around.

Whatever It is, two things are for certain: you have It or you don’t have it; and you know It when you see it.

Get it?

amu

The first thing you notice upon meeting Haniuda Amu, better known as AMU, is that he’s got plenty of whatever It is. From a killer sense of personal style, to a perfectly coiffed head of hair, to carrying himself with the poise and confidence of a performer twice his age — 23, by the way — AMU is one of those rare individuals that seems to have been created to be a star.

He’s well on his way. From cutting his teeth as a singer and dancer in Japan’s “Johnny’s Association” to performing with the group ANTIME, the Tokyo-born rock ‘n’ roller is now paving his own lane with a mix of catchy tunes, infectious beats and dance moves modeled after a group of idols including Justin Timberlake, Michael Jackson and Bruno Mars.

But there’s another side to AMU, which quickly becomes visible between test shots, between sleeve adjustments and smoothing down jacket wrinkles — it’s a side of humility, a quiet work ethic and a perceptible sense of joy derived from knowing he gets to do what he loves: entertaining, performing, using his talents to make people happy. You’re rooting for him before you even know why.

Whatever It has been bestowed upon him by the universe, AMU’s not taking it for granted; he’s earned his way here, and he’s just getting started.

On a drizzly October afternoon in Hong Kong, Lifestyle Asia linked up with the artist to learn more about his background, his journey and what comes next.

Photo: Nathan Erickson

Who is AMU?

A rock ‘n’ roller.

When did you realise you were musical?

I don’t think I’m a musician. I’m simply a person who is very into “entertainment”, which is hard to comprehend the definition.

What was your first instrument or training with music?

I learned to play a piano when I was four or five, but I wasn’t very interested in that. Now I’m keen on learning music instruments and I love playing music.

What’s the first song you’ve ever learned by heart?

Sergio Mendes’ “Mas Que Nada”. In 2006, I was crazy about watching the FIFA World Cup. This song was the theme song, and I was listening it on the way to a soccer school. Woo, that was a good memory in life.

Can you pinpoint a formative moment when you realised you were good?

[Laughs] Usually, I’ve never thought that I was good. I used to avoid watching my performances. However, my last solo stage at Chuang (the audition program from Tencent 創造營), I found it quite satisfying myself. That was just roughly a minute stage, but I strongly think that I presented my stage experiences from the past ten years at that moment.

What’s a song or performance that had a really important, lasting impact on you, both personally and as an artist?

The music video of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller“, is the best of all-time to me. It always reminds me what entertainment is and keeps me chasing my dreams. Of course, there’s a lot of songs that got me inspired, but “Thriller” is definitely the masterpiece of my life. “Captain EO” is another song that I love as much as “Thriller”.

“Music is literally my oxygen. Without it, I can’t breathe.”

AMU

Who are some of your favourite artists?

Michael Jackson is my icon since I was a kid. He is super unique. Whenever I perform, I always remind myself to keep the audience who don’t know me to feel entertained. Michael taught me the universal feeling of this.

Johnny Depp, he inspired me a lot. He’s a first class actor, but also a great musician. However, he has been very low profile always. When he does music, he never uses his “actor” name. I think his attitude in music is very professional. I learned from Johnny Depp that creativity is the key for everything, not marketing, nor capitalism.

Zhou Shen. I had an opportunity to work with him at Chuang 2021 and spent four months with him. I’ve never met any artist who could sing like him. He’s definitely the greatest singer that I’ve ever seen; whatever he sings, I get goosebumps. He always performs perfectly in any situation. Personal condition is extremely important within showbiz, because the audience would only care about the performances. It is why I am very inspired by him, with the way he takes control of his own mind for perfect performances, any time, under any circumstances.

What does being an entertainer mean to you?

I think the most important thing is to understand oneself. Performances and stages are basically the life of artists, we need to know who we are and what we want to be, so being a musician is a way to recognise myself further. Music? Music is literally my oxygen. Without it, I can’t breathe.

Is there anyone whose work you’re currently really excited about?

I can’t wait to listen to INTO1’s new album; I know they’re really working hard on it. On top of that, I really love their debut song “INTO1”.

What’s your creative process?

My creative process is “inspiration comes first”. All great things come from past great things. One of my favourite artists, Justin Timberlake, has been inspired by Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson was inspired by James Brown, and James Brown was influenced by classic blues artists. I always find my future keys from the greatest in the past.

What’s your favourite lyric, ever?

Ever… oh, then, my most favourite lyrics of all-time would be Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”. Every time I listen to the lyrics, the meaning could change, depending on my situation at that particular moment. I still don’t really know the exact meaning of the lyrics, but I love that.

Taylor Swift. Thoughts?

[Laughs] What an interesting question. I love her works — I went to her concert in Miami. Her career planning and development are so impressive and admiring. No matter what people say, I’ll keep listening to “Mean”. That’s one of the memorable songs in my life.

What are your five most-played albums?

On Apple Music, Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience — if I could only choose one album to go to Mars, I’ll take this with me — Machine Gun Kelly’s Tickets to My Downfall, Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin IV, Bruno Mars’ Unorthodox Jukebox and the Star Wars soundtrack.

Do you have any pre- or post-show rituals?

I usually drink rum before my performance.

Photo: Nathan Erickson

What was the toughest challenge you’ve had to overcome in your career?

When I was a member of Johnny’s Association, a historical Japanese boys’ group entertainment company, I was also a high school student. Back then, I needed to handle two lifestyles: as a student, and as an entertainer.

At Johnny’s, I had to remember around ten choreographies in just two days for a concert, and the dance teacher was like a scary monster; at school, I had to study more than ten subjects for exams and my dad has been very strict on my studies. My dad told me if I failed even just one subject, he would stop me from continuing my entertainment career. I couldn’t hang out as a normal student for three years.

What’s next? What are you working on?

I have a new ballad song with a Chinese taste which just came out a week ago, and I have another dance song on the way. I have many ideas for my next song, and I hope I could bring some surprises and rock the audience with my upcoming song.

Anything else you’d like to say about you, your music and your journey?

I can have such an exciting journey in China only with the great support from my dearest fans. Even saying “thank you” is not good enough to express my exact feelings. I really love you all so much with deep appreciation. I’ll be there for you all soon, so be prepared for that.


This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Hair: Mann Wong of Hair@M
Venue: Hair@M

Nathan Erickson
Editor-in-Chief
Made in Seoul and based in Hong Kong, Nathan has covered food, fashion and music from New York to Paris to Oaxaca. He enjoys street photography, buying too many hooded sweatshirts and he'll never turn down a tequila soda. Catch him on weekends hiking trails all over Hong Kong in hopes of finding his idol, Chow Yun-fat.