Formerly the backing group of Japanese pop idol Namie Amuro, Max emerged from Amuro's considerable shadow in the mid-'90s. The four-piece all-girl outfit sold a million copies of their second album and registered 19 consecutive Top 20 hits -- every one with its own dance routine -- between 1995-2002 on the back of their Eurobeat sound beloved of Japanese teenage pop fans. Successfully auditioning in 1992 at the Okinawa Actors Schools while in their early teens, Minako Ameku (Mina) and Nanako Takushi (Nana) were among those plucked alongside Namie Amuro by Toshiba EMI to become members of the all-singing, all-dancing group Super Monkeys. After seven singles, Amuro left to pursue a highly successful solo career, while Mina and Nana, joined by Ritsuko Maeda (Lina) and Reina Miyauchi (alongside Mina, the group's main vocalist), would follow Amuro to a new label, Avex Trax, to form the girl group Max, an acronym for "Musical, Active, eXperience." Debuting in 1995 with a remake of Whigfield's infuriatingly catchy smash hit "Saturday Night," Max remained Amuro's backing dancers through to the beginning of 1996. Even though the group's debut album Maximum, which featured covers of Eurobeat songs, hit number one on the Oricon charts after its release at the end of 1996, it was not until the following year, when the four girls starred in their own movie Ladies Max and registered their first number one single (and first non-cover) with the movie's theme song, "Give Me a Shake," that the band finally stepped out of Amuro's shadow. By the end of 1997, Max had played to 8,000 fans at National Yoyogi Stadium in Tokyo, performed at the Nippon Budokan, and released their second, gold-selling album Maximum Clips, Vol. 2 which mixed up the dance-pop with a smattering of ballads.
The following year saw Max pick up the "Best Pop Album of the Year Award" at the Japan Gold Discs Awards (in which the Recording Industry Association of Japan awards prizes to the year's biggest selling records) and their third album, Maximum Groove reach number one, despite a change of direction that found the group taking on some R&B and hip-hop influences, as evidenced on the Top Ten hit single "Never Gonna Stop It," for which the band earned their first production credit. In 2000, Mina left Max to be replaced by Aki Maeda, who, like her new bandmembers, also hailed from Okinawa. The band took time out to regroup, and by the time they re-emerged in 2004, the four-piece had undergone an image makeover. Their cover of Atomic Kitten's "Be with You," Max's first single in almost a year, failed to dent the Top 30. In the same year, the group performed for the first time in the United States at Texas AnimeFEST. Max marked their tenth anniversary in 2005 by releasing the single "Nirai Kinai," which the band themselves described as "Okinawan Euro," because of its use of traditional Japanese instrumentation (the shamisen, a traditional, three-stringed instrument) mixed with pop influences. Max's seventh album, Jewel of Jewels (2006) gave nods to bossa nova, Latin, and summery pop vibes among the dance-oriented R&B. ~ David Hickey