Thousands of fans stand around a standing room-only auditorium, waving green glow sticks and wearing fan merchandise in anticipation for the main event. The lights go down, the band plays and the main performer appears.
Miku Hatsune is truly a virtual pop star. Although she does not really exist, countless fans worldwide, especially in Japan, admire her singing. She is only fictional, and yet there she is, singing and dancing in front of tens of thousands of adoring fans.
The word “hologram” really doesn’t work for this situation. But alas, that’s the word people have been using to describe the star of a recent phenomenon. Actually, the performance that many articles have been focusing on lately was actually a projector and a giant glass screen. Sort of like movie theaters and amusement parks. It’s a very old trick, modified for the purpose of the concert, like what was used for the popular “band” Gorillaz.
Though effort should be given for the attempt to describe what’s going on, especially since it’s all so overwhelming when research. The main point of the craze is being entirely missed in the confusion. Yes – Miku Hatsune is, in fact, a virtual pop star. However, she’s not just a cute, singing cartoon.
Miku is, beyond doubt, the center of an online movement that can forever change the way users view creativity, collaboration and, most importantly, music. Sound like a bit of a far-fetched claim? It really isn’t. Let’s take a few steps back and get all the facts.
First of all, who – or what – in the world is Miku? “She” is actually the mascot of an impressive vocal synthesizer, VOCALOID, created by YAMAHA. Crypton Future Media Co. hired actress Fujita Saki to record unusual combinations of phonemes, the building blocks of human speech, in a “cute” voice; these phonemes were processed in the second version of the VOCALOID program. Artist KEI was hired to create art to match, and a star was born. Since then, over a dozen other Vocaloids with characters attached have been released by Crypton and other companies, with Sony being the most recent (and perhaps most famous) company to join the bandwagon.
Of course, like many things, it took a few months for Miku to catch on, but she finally had her big break when a user created a video of a deformed-yet-cute Miku “singing” a popular Internet meme, “Ievan Polka,” while swinging a leek around. Experienced musicians saw the increasing popularity of Miku as an opportunity to become popular as well, and they released their songs using the Japanese video site NicoNicoDouga. Crypton also created an “official” site, PIAPRO.jp, where artists can share and collaborate on works.
What’s most impressive about the Vocaloid phenomenon is the creativity and talent that has been uncovered. Hundreds of thousands of songs have been created, primarily released on NicoNicoDouga, covering most of the music spectrum from cute J-pop to dark metal, catchy techno to calm jazz. It’s not just music, either; there are possibly more fan pictures of the Vocaloid mascots than there are songs, and thousands of costumes and music videos have been made for them as well.
While many fans and people taking their first look at the trend like to keep their focus on the great music and the mascots, the people that lack the most deserving credit are the musicians, called “producers” in the Vocaloid fandom, and artists behind the famous works. The quality of so many of the songs is far beyond impressive, especially considering that most of these producers do not have careers in music, just an interest that drives them to start writing.
Maybe Americans aren’t willing to pay money for tickets to watch a projection backed by a live band yet. (Well, maybe they are, given Gorillaz’s case.) But are they willing to use Vocaloid as a base for their works? Crypton and tens of thousands of fans seem to be hoping so. At the New York Comic Con & Anime Festival, the CEO of Crypton announced that if enough fans (39,390, to be exact) “liked” their Hatsune Miku Facebook page, they would create an English version of the popular software; aside from this, an American store for fans online was said to be considered. It was also reported that their Twitter hinted at progress in its development.
(EDIT: Since the submission of the article, the fan page has reached the fan count indicated, and an announcement is anticipated.)
Of course, if the program is released, it will definitely not go unnoticed. Already, this movement is infamous online for its reputation of having a fanbase of squealing, over-hyped fangirls, which overlaps into the American “otaku” (Japanese anime and manga) culture. They, as well as hundreds of thousands of fans in Japan and other countries, flock to conventions and stores in costumes of varying qualities, buying merchandise to display their devotion. Still, at the mention of the word “Vocaloid” in online forums, both admiration for the trend and hatred aimed at the fans flare up, as well as confusion. Many fans are shunned online for their obsession.
A growing number of more cool and collected fans, though, are hoping that people look beyond this stereotype. These are the fans that, despite the giant commercialization in music, have gained hope in the future of music after seeing their favorite Vocaloid producers rise to fame from nothing. To them, it’s truly an underdog story that many of them hope (and sometimes, even work) to achieve.
These fans hope that people begin to view the Vocaloid phenomenon as an artistic revolution, one that could forever change the way music, art and online collaboration work.
Crypton Future Media, Inc.’s official “What is the “HATSUNE MIKU movement” ?” article.
“VOCALOID; a history” essay written by user “Crossfrown” on VocaloidOtaku.net forum