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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.