we meet post human hologram popstar hatsune miku
Hatsune Miku is a downloadable voice synthesizer turned platinum selling popstar.
Once simply a piece of software, 16-year-old Hatsune Miku has undoubtedly reached idol status. In her hologram form, she has already performed on David Letterman's Late Show, supported Lady Gaga on tour and collaborated with Pharrell Williams. We speak to Miku's creator and chief executive officer of Crypton Future Media, Hiroyuki Itoh, to find out more about our favourite post-human popstar.
Able to generate a super-cute robotic human singing voice from any melody and lyrics inputted to Yamaha's Vocaloid software, Hatsune Miku is, on a basic level, one of many vocal samples available to aspiring producers. Unlike the majority of her Vocaloid contemporaries, Miku has managed to break free from the network and into the rest of the unassuming world. With no official backstory, other than being 'from the future', users and fans are given free reign in dreaming up tales surrounding their preferred star, and they certainly do… extensively."From the moment she appeared in 2007 she was very unique," says Hiroyuki. "Her voice was recorded by a voice actress and not a singer, making her stand apart from others. Her appearance very characteristic and she acted as a vector for people's creativity at a time when nothing equivalent was available. Soon she became a symbol and a beacon of that creative movement, not only in the field of music but also illustration, animation, literature, even science and technology. Some of the Vocaloid characters that followed have been very successful, but none have reached the universality of Hatsune Miku."
Taking things to another level, Crypton Future Media have done a Princess Leia/Tupac/Kate Moss and gone holographic. While still very much existing in other formats, the resulting concerts act as a showcase for the idol. A showcase that fans are buying into and the media obsessing over worldwide. "It seemed fun to bring Miku out of the virtual world and into the physical, to allow her fans to get together and 'meet' her," Hiroyuki says of her hugely popular shows. "For that, concerts with 3D graphics projection were the closest we could think of. They have been such a success that they are now an essential part of the phenomenon, and maybe the most visible one." While in some cases the songs performed are by well-known producers, most are made by emerging artists and fans, creating and sharing their work on Crypton Future Media's Piapro (peer production) website and the video-sharing Nico Nico Douga. It is through these platforms that they are able to reach a wide audience with the potential of having their tracks selected for concerts, and even launching successful music careers of their own. "If artists want to sell their music featuring the Hatsune Miku character, they enter a license agreement with us and release it, just like any other musician would." Hiroyuki explains. They also have their own label, KARENT, that specialises in such music, helping new producers release their work. Arguably Miku's most famous track, World Is Mine, is j-pop meets classic rock and tells of how she is "the number one princess in the world, so make sure you know by heart how to treat me, got it?" before telling listeners, "I just want you to think I'm super cute." Which we do, obviously.
With a sexy, aqua-haired 16-year-old anime character representing the Hatsune Miku brand (all virtual 5ft2 and 92lbs of her), you might think that typical fans are lonely ComicCon boys who thought they'd found their utopian goddess. But Mikufans appear to be more diverse. "Many different genres are represented in her music and some fans are more into illustration or Cosplaying, so it's really broad in terms of tastes. At the centre of her fandom however is a young generation, raised with the Internet and social media." Luckily, this audience is global and has seen hundreds of thousands of tracks and videos created and uploaded worldwide, topping Japanese music charts since 2010. But as Hiroyuki explains, 2014 was her most eventful so far. "Last year she opened for Lady Gaga's ARTPOP Ball tour, went on her own MIKU EXPO tour in Indonesia and the U.S, was remixed by Pharrell Williams, and debuted on American TV with a performance on the Late Show with David Letterman." Phew.
Her U.S. shows were a true marker of her ever-expanding market. "Fans had been waiting for those events for a long time - some even travelling from Mexico and Canada to be there. There's now a huge fan demand for Miku concerts all over the world. We would love to try different formulas too, and pioneer new styles of entertainment." To fully comprehend a Hatsune Miku concert, you should really attend one. Luckily there's plenty of footage on YouTube, where you can watch thousands of screaming fans waving their glowsticks as Miku performs with her live (human) band, her long signature pigtails flowing behind her. The audience sing along, enchanted by the utterly charismatic creature showing off her best moves in front of them.
As technology evolves even further, it will be interesting to see where Vocaloid development goes. People have only really been using the internet for the past twenty years, and it has already changed our lives and culture drastically. As it continues to develop, and older technologies become redundant, surely Hatsune Miku and friends will be recognised as the future of music? Her very name predicts it, translating as 'first sound of the future'. "I think singing voice synthesis will become more commonplace in a near future, like electronic music in the 80s. But I trust it will remain an irreplaceable tool of independent musical creation and collaboration, and participate in shaping tomorrow's cultural environment." her creator Hiroyuki predicts.
Her rise and rise is comparable to that of an actual IRL human 'idol'. To start with, she was named one of TIME Magazine's most influential characters of 2014 alongside Kim Kardashian's Hollywood game character. She endorses a long list of brands and products, appearing in adverts for the likes of Toyota Corolla and Google Chrome. She has been in several popular Japanese animes, and, as Katy Perry did with The Simz, Hatsune Miku has released a series of videogames with Sega. Knowing that opera was cool way before the Shia LaBeouf drama, Miku performed her very own, The End, in Paris last autumn complete with digital costumes by Louis Vuitton. With the airbrushing and autotuning of popstars going without saying these days, their music more often than not being written and produced for them to lipsync to, why not take it one step further? A Vocaloid is never sick, never needs to be paid, never goes off the rails or needs checking into rehab, never makes mistakes, never gains weight and almost certainly never dies. Vocaloids make the perfect popstars. Welcome to the age of Hatsune Miku and the age of the digital pop star.