JAPANESE pop queen Namie Amuro's life has been nothing short of dramatic.
There was her pregnancy and secret marriage to boy band TRF member Maruyama Masaharu at the height of her success in 1997; her mother's shocking murder two years later by a family member; and her unforeseen divorce in 2002 - a real roller-coaster ride.
But in front of the media here, the 34-year-old superstar put up a brave front, playing down whatever misery she has experienced so far and focusing on the high points instead.
Amuro was in town yesterday to promote her latest studio album, Uncontrolled, which was released last week to commemorate her 20th year in showbiz. It is her first visit to Singapore.
In an interview with The New Paper at Marina Bay Sands Hotel, the Okinawa native - who is best known for hits like Can You Celebrate?, Body Feels Exit and A Walk In The Park - was unfazed when we asked her what she felt were the highs and lows in her two decade-long career.
"I don't think there were any bad things that happened," she said through a translator.
"Of course, there were many high points, like my concerts and tours."
Likewise, during an earlier press conference, Amuro was equally restrained, never once letting her guard down.
When quizzed if she had to make any sacrifices to reach where she is today, she shook her head.
She insisted: "Over the past 20 years, I've tried my best to meet the expectations of both myself and my fans, I've really enjoyed myself and there were no sacrifices whatsoever."
Amuro's reticence was matched by the strictness of her management, which had barred all questions regarding her personal life.
So one has to read her tattoos to get an idea of what is important to her.
The oval one in English on the top reads: "My mothers love live with me (sic). Eternally in my heart. RIP. MAR.17 in 1999."
That was the day her mother, Mrs Emiko Taira, was repeatedly rammed by a car driven by her husband's brother, Kenji.
Kenji, a construction worker, then attacked Mrs Taira with a hatchet and killed her.
Her husband, Mr Tatsunobu Taira, who is Amuro's stepfather, had triedto fend off his brother's attack with a steel pole but failed.
Kenji was later found dead in his car after apparently poisoning himself.
The other big tattoo on Amuro's arm, just below the one in memory of her mum, is "Haruto", her 14-year-old son's name.
She separated from his father in 1999 and divorced him in 2002. She has single-handedly brought Haruto up.
As much as the sassy single mum tried to avoid bringing up her past, her loyal fans appeared to be fully aware of everything she has been through.
Said MrRyan Lee, 33, who works in the publishing industry: "Part of the reason I like Namie so much is her perseverance through all her ups and downs.
"She has risen and fallen, but she just continued to persist... She's one of the most hard-working artistes around."
Nearly 20 of her local fans were present at the press conference held at club-restaurant Ku De Ta, having won themselves an exclusive chance to see their idol in person.
When Amuro arrived on Thursday evening, about 300 of them turned up at Changi Airport to catch a glimpse of her.
Gushed Ms Karlyn Neo, a 27-year-old administrator: "She was extremely friendly when she stepped out from the arrival area, waving at us and even stopping to autograph a guy's poster."
Ms Neo and her friends had booked a limousine cab to "chase" Amuro from the airport to her hotel.
Perhaps, it's also Amuro's independent streak that makes her stand out from her J-pop peers.
The singer told The New Paper: "I titled my new album Uncontrolled, because it kind of represents the way I've led my life, or how I intend to do so, be it in the past or future.
"I'm never controlled by others... Whenever I do something, I just follow my own heart."
Amuro was predictably diplomatic when asked if she viewed the emergence of K-pop as a threat or competitor.
"K-pop is a breath of fresh air in the music industry, it stimulates everyone to do better," she maintained.
"I've been to some K-pop concerts myself... Overall, I think K-pop's (popularity) in Japan is a great musical exchange for both countries."
Amazingly enough, Amuro, who is one-quarter Italian, looks just as youthful and gorgeous as she was in the late 90s.
With her cappuccino-toned skin, brown dyed hair, mini-skirts and platform boots she has inspired legions of girls across Asia to mimic her distinctive style, but she declined to be labelled a fashionista.
"I don't think I'm a trend-setter at all. When I'm not working, I like to be in T-shirts and casual attire... It's very, very different from what people usually see me in," she said.
The pop queen also gamely shared some of her secrets to looking so good.
"At home, I like to take hot baths, it helps me to relax," she said with a smile.
"I also think it's important to always control one's feelings and keep calm in any situation. Being agitated doesn't help."
And no, Amuro doesn't put herself on a rigid diet either.
"I love fried chicken," she said.
Indeed, she is looking forward to tucking into Singapore's famous chilli crab and visiting the Night Safari while she is here.
Fans like Ms Neo are hoping that Amuro will spring a surprise on them by turning up at tonight's Amuro Night event at Dragonfly club at 10pm.
According to Amuro's record label Universal Music, Amuro Night will feature a dance performance by Amuro's official troupe of dancers. However, the star herself is not slated to be there.
But an excited Ms Neo is hoping for a "miracle".
"Amuro Night was also held in Hong Kong and Taiwan, when Namie went there for her promotional tours... She made a spontaneous special appearance at both. I really hope she will do the same in Singapore!"
For other fans like Mr Itsuki Wong, 30, it has been a 15-year wait to see Amuro in the flesh. The engineer took leave from work to make the press conference.
"It's a dream come true to finally see her. I just love her performances, she is very attractive and mesmerising on stage," he said.
This article was first published in The New Paper.