Ayaka is a J-pop artist specializing in acoustic music with bluesy elements -- both Sheryl Crow and Japanese pop stars Hirai Ken and Dream Come True are often named as influences. Born Ayaka Iida in Moriguchi, Osaka Prefecture, in 1987, she began her career by playing cover songs at school concerts, but soon decided to go professional, began to write her own material, and enrolled in the music school in Fukuoka, another graduate of which was the popular J-pop singer/songwriter Yui. Ayaka debuted in 2005, when, despite not yet having any releases, she was invited to do the theme for the TV drama @Human (the song was titled "Mikazuki"). By the end of that year she was already reported to have Lyor Cohen, the CEO of Warner Music Group, clapping to her performance, comparing her talent to that of Mariah Carey and Hikaru Utada, and predicting her worldwide fame.
Signing to Warner, Ayaka did the theme song for the high-profile TV drama Rondo, with the track, entitled "I Believe," selling one million units in digital downloads and 220,000 when released as a physical single. She recorded two more singles during 2006, including a limited release of Melody ~Sounds Real~, which had a rock-oriented sound that earned Ayaka a good deal of critical acclaim due to the versatility she exhibited. Her debut album, First Message, was delivered in 2006 as well, despite numerous setbacks, and went on to sell 350,000 copies in its first week of release and more than one million in total sales. More singles followed in 2007-2008, including "Winding Road" (2007), done with her labelmates, the popular folk-rock duo Kobukuro, with whom Ayaka also collaborated live and on another single, "Anata To" (2008), and "Why," tied in with the PSP game Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII. Ayaka's second LP, Sing to the Sky, came out in mid-2008 and scored number two on the charts, its sales exceeding 500,000 units. ~ Alexey Eremenko