Gaga and Bieber’s days are numbered: we’re in the age of the virtual pop star

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Virtual pop star

If you think pop stars are becoming more and more fake, accusing them of not writing their own material, and think that, God forbid, they can’t play an instrument and lip sync whenever they do a live show, then you are right, it’s true. But, there’s something out there that’s even more fake, but way cooler than the traditional fake human pop star: virtual pop stars.

At the forefront of this new craze in music is the holographic star Hatsune Miku, one of the brightest stars and musical exports from Japan.

You might have heard of Miku by now. I only did recently, but I find this new evolution in music fascinating. There have been numerous developments and new trends in how music is produced in studio, the influence of electronics on sounds and the artist’s voice as well as thousands of sound effects you can mix with, but the best one yet is the evolution of the live experience.

A good example is the use of hologram technology to elevate the live experience to a level we haven’t seen since live performance started. The best example I could find is the eerie presence of the late and great Tupac on stage at Coachella 2012.

Being there in person must have been a goose bump experience, as Tupac was eerily brought back from the dead to perform in front of thousands and millions more watching online and from their television screens.

The nice thing about it is that the audience becomes part of two worlds, the virtual and real. Miku embodies this super real entity even more than the use of hologram technology because a hologram is just a sort of projection of a real person, whereas Miku is holographic, but totally virtual, a projection of man’s ability to create idols whether mythical, real or virtual.

Hatsune Miku (初音ミク) “is a singing synthesizer application with a humanoid persona, developed by Crypton Future Media. It uses Yamaha Corporation‘s Vocaloid 2 and Vocaloid 3 synthesizing technology.” The name of this virtual super star just as fascinating, it is “a fusion of the Japanese for first (初 hatsu), sound (音 ne) and future (Miku (ミク) sounds like a nanori reading of future, 未来, normally read as “mirai.”

She originally started as a corporate mascot back in 2007. Crypton Future Media wanted a mascot to go with their virtual voice program. Japanese graphic designer Kei drew the 16-year-old girl with flowing blue hair. And that’s how she was born.

One of Miku’s best features is that the nature of the Vocaloid software she was born from gives fans a chance to create their own songs. In essence she is a crowdsourced star. The software in return supports amateur artists and their work. Miku embodies a very liberal outlook on the future of the music industry, her fans say she is “for the people, by the people.” In the years since she was created, she has generated over US$120-million with the help from her fans by doing things differently.

Like the software that controls her, Miku is constantly evolving, and could give even Madonna a run for her money. This fact makes it hard to classify her as something specific, and it seems that even her fans struggle a bit too. One of her fan sites reads: “She’s rather more like a goddess: She has human parts, but she transcends human limitations. She’s the great post-human pop star.”

Ah, post-humanism. What will come next, robot super stars? Humans with DJ decks built into their abdominal area? Maybe.

Like any big super star you must have a Facebook fan page. Hers already has over 800 000 fans (889 713 likes to be exact). At the Manga Festival you’ll also find a fair share of Miku merchandise from key rings to CDS and probably stickers too. Crypton Future Media chief executive officer Hiroyuki Itoh estimates that there are 3 000 Hatsune Miku songs on Japanese iTunes and Amazon.

In an article for WIRED magazine James Verini interviewed some of Miku’s fans who had this to say about her: “It’s a good thing” Miku isn’t human”, said one. “She’s not going to die. She’s not going to turn into Miley Cyrus, where she gets drunk or something.” Now that is a funny but they make a valid point: technology can create the perfect idol to look up to, the only way she’ll fade into obscurity is if they pull the plug on her.

By all accounts Miku’s live shows are something to behold. Have a look at this YouTube video with over 19-million views. It’s a little bit crazy to see a crowd of humans singing along and waving their arms to a holographic virtual being, but hey, as they say “you got to go with the times.” I might add that I do find the synthetic character very endearing.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/reed.vangalen Reed van Galen

    Pfft. “Could even give Madonna a run for her money.” What a load of crap.

  • BarryD

    Pffffft. I’d watch a live show of Miku’s over Madonna’s any day of the week. Get with it man.

  • Talita

    Virtual pop stars can be turned into anything and evolve into many different characters, hence the reference to Madonna who is famous for evolving and stepping into different characters over the decades.

  • MonkeyMarcel

    Mind blown.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/darkesssoul Linh Le

    In all honesty, I think one of the statement that was raise is crucial. “It’s not about whether you are for or against the technology, but whether the technology generates meaningful human activities”

    In my opinion, with Hatsune Miku definitely. Her fans don’t sit around and worship like we see with mainstream popstars. Many of them take to their computer and constantly produce professional grade music because they’re inspired by her. She also pushes other realm such as animation with the free-ware animating software called MMD, as well as art, new take on marketing, etc.

    Just for those few things alone, Miku is probably a better time investment than mindlessly worship other pop-stars out there.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lewis-Kilgo/100002911272012 Lewis Kilgo

    Aside from that word “fake”, which is an insult to most Miku fans, you wrote a nice article here. However, the most important thing about Hatsune Miku which you didn’t mention, is that her music is completely crowd-sourced. Miku is just one voicebank for Yamaha’s Vocaloid software, and by far the most popular. The software gives musicains access to a vocalist without the expense of a professional recording studio, and has been a huge boon to indie musicians in Japan. The last “official” count that I saw, 2 years ago, stated that over 40,000 original songs had been composed using Miku’s voice alone. When you add derivative works such as art, music videos, and fandubs, the number was over 250,000. This could very easily be the biggest indie artist movement in the world.

    My good friend Scott in Canada runs and excellent fan site (unofficial but well researched), and is a good source for understanding the Vocaloid movement. He covers many of the other Vocaloid characters as well.

    http://www.mikustar.com/

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lewis-Kilgo/100002911272012 Lewis Kilgo

    Interesting side note: Zedd, who is producing Lady Gaga’s upcoming ARTPOP album, has taken an interest in Miku. This is Miku’s English voicebank, still in beta testing, and hopefully being released sometime this spring.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lewis-Kilgo/100002911272012 Lewis Kilgo

    I remember Madonna’ first appearances on MTV, and the near-loli cuteness of her costumes. Yep, I’m showing my age :D

  • maynke

    How long until we can look forward to a world tour by Sharon Apple?

  • Alan Douglas

    It’s an amazing world that Miku opens up.

    She give fans like myself an incredibly vast and diverse body of music to explore. To a Miku or vocaloid fan, the idea that people actually have to wait for their favourite musician to release new music seems quaint, if not utterly archaic. Original Miku songs are released around the clock, and every few days I discover a new one that I absolutely love.

    And if you’re an aspiring musician, then for the $150 to buy her software, you can have a world-renowned pop star at your disposal 24/7, singing whatever songs you create, in perpetuity. Miku gives thousands of indie musicians (not to mention artists and animators) the opportunity to connect with her millions of fans around the world. I honestly can’t think of anything else like this in the history of ever.

  • Les

    I think an important, crucial fact to mention is that her songs are completely fan-produced. Her voice is a software sold to the public; she’s transcended this far because of her role as the mascot/virtual singer, but her music is written by the fans who purchased the software. In other words, her hits are “By the people, For the people.”

  • jrharbort

    I’ve been afraid to read this article, particularly after the very large number of articles in the past making novice assumptions and mistakes (such as Wired and CBS, reading the comments on both should make things self explanatory).

    Other than that, I’m glad you have taken an interest to Hatsune Miku’s character. But what you’ve touched here is only the tip of the iceberg, and the community and concept behind Vocaloid is much deeper and more complex. I would highly encourage you to take the time to learn more, on your own time of course.

    To correct an earlier statement from Lewis, the estimate song production count as of two years ago was estimated at over 100,000. It is now believed to be well over 200,000, but it is simply impossible to keep track at this point because of the pace and number of sources. It doesn’t end with music, either. The only rivaling community would be the one revolving around Touhou, but that’s a completely different can of worms.

    – jrharbort (Writer @ http://www.mikufan.com/ )

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mauricio-Gonzalez/100002309975782 Mauricio Gonzalez

    I remember when i first heard about Miku and the whole Vocaloid thing… i was all like “thats stupid man…”
    Then i opened youtube and saw World is Mine, then Rolling Girl, then i saw Luka…
    Then i found an awesome community of talented people in music, artwork and digital animation.
    Then i noticed i became a huge fan of vocaloid.
    And then i noticed how stupid i was at first, i almost lost something awesome because i dint wanted to give it a chance

  • Talita

    Hi Lewis, yes that a is a crucial fact and probably one of the most noteworthy. Appreciate the extra insights you gave! Thank you for your comment, I’ll check out the link you supplied.

  • Talita

    Hi Les, yes that’s what makes Miku so unique!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lewis-Kilgo/100002911272012 Lewis Kilgo

    Thanks for the correction, Johnny. I believe the numbers I quoted were from a twitter post by the CEO of Crypton that was posted on a message board, and were likely out of date at the time. A 46- year old’s memory doesn’t help either :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/christian.d.angeles.5 Ryner Lute

    I remember when I found out Vocaloid. Miku was the very first Vocaloid I’ve ever seen and as I started watching more and more videos, I have grown liking Vocaloid since I was 10 years old. I know that Vocaloid will be the very popular Pop Stars in out days.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Frannie-VanDee/740825445 Frannie VanDee

    rad

  • anonymous

    comments here are cancerous just like this article.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ivyking.chan Ivan Chan

    your are cancerous too

  • anonymous

    What the fuck did you just fucking say about me, you little bitch? I’ll
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  • lordscales91

    Hatsune Miku is not a singing synthesizer application, it’s a “voice”, technically called a voicebank, for Yamaha’s singing synthesizer application Vocaloid 2 and 3. You made that litle mistake, but don’t worry that’s natural, in fact most people ask “from which anime she cames from” when they see her for the first time. For the rest, it’a vert good article, nice work

  • http://www.facebook.com/benjamin.schiffli Benjamin Schiffli

    Give it up anonymous. You’re probably just a 12 year old Beiber fan who didn’t care for him getting called out as the talentless hack he is. I spent 6 years in the Navy and I don’t care much for a person like you to drag our name through the dirt like that. I was an engineer aboard a ship and have no particular skill in fighting. If you’re the badass you claim to be, feel free to come prove me wrong. You won’t need any spies to track me down. You have my name and I live in Perrysville, IN. I assume you know how to find my address by use of a phone book. I’m not particularly worried since you’re not even man enough to post online with your real name.

    As for Miku, I’ve been enjoying the vocaloids for several years now. I got the opportunity to fly out and see the live concert at Anime Expo a few years ago. It was one of the most entertaining shows I’ve ever attended. I don’t think it will be long before the vocaloids start going more mainstream in America too, since you don’t have to worry about them going out, getting drunk and doing stupid shit like a lot of real stars do.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jcharles.f.laframboise J Charles F Laframboise

    Kudos for the article about Hatsune Miku and Voc@loids: best one I’ve read yet. You nailed the important distinction from meatspace divas and gave props to the crowd-sourced nature of their repertoire. You also recognized how their live performances are as genuine (if not more-so) than anything you’d overpay for from the current roster of allegedly live pop-tarts. I’ve rocked to her creator’s works for about 3 years now and already have some faves like OSTER Project. I just wish I spoke Japanese: there’s so much more to appreciate but for the language barrier!

  • Sarah

    I really enjoy many of the songs produced by Miku’s fans. Through this software, and adorable character, people are able to write songs much deeper in thought and gorgeous stories compared to most of the ‘popular’ music out there. Many people will argue that because Hatsune Miku isn’t a real person she isn’t as good as human musicians (which in some ways this is true), but she brings out the creativity and imagination of thousands that probably never even considered writing songs or creating art of her. As a fan of the Vocaloid characters and songs, I am most definitely proud to be a part of it.

    I admire the dark stories illustrated through Rin, Len, and Gakupo’s voices.

    I enjoy the sillier songs from Luka, Miku, and Gumi.

    I’m happy, just knowing that people are creating such wonderful things. Through the voice programs, through MMD, through art, it doesn’t matter. It’s wonderful to have such an imaginative fan base.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lewis-Kilgo/100002911272012 Lewis Kilgo

    Thanks for the kind words. Authors who respond to their comments section are all too rare these days. I would like to point you to a potential colleague, who also happens to be a guest writer for Mikustar. You may enjoy his insights into the changes that are happening in the music industry.

    http://musicalfuturist.com/

  • warden

    No feeding the trolls..

  • http://twitter.com/JakeWasHere1982 Jake Was Here

    He’s a troll. He was never in the Navy, that’s just a copypasta that losers from 4chan like to use to screw with people.

  • anon

    Hatsune Miku has been around for a while, her voice is actually what was used for nyan cat.

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