Ayuma Hamasaki talks to TIME's Lisa Takeuchi Cullen

Ayumi Hamasaki, Ayu to fans, is the most powerful figure in Japanese pop music. She's sold more records than any other musical act for two years running in the world's largest music market outside the U.S. Her frequent makeovers determine the course of fashion. Her huge black eyes peer out from billboards in every corner of the country. Fans memorize her lyrics, transform into Ayu clones and swear she's changed their lives. At 23, she rules Japanese youth culture—and therefore influences all of Asia's.

Though Hamasaki rarely gives in-depth interviews, TIME's Lisa Takeuchi Cullen sat down with her...

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