Disclaimer: Please bear in mind that this paper is now over a year old and was developed when I first became interested in Vocaloid. This was also intended to be an introductory biography to help my class, none of whom ever even heard of Miku or Vocaloids before, be introduced to and understand the concept. Finally, I've added pictures and videos that I obviously could not present in the original essay. This proved challenging since a lot of essential Vocaloid videos have been getting removed from YouTube. Beyond that, I hope you enjoy reading this.
Her concerts have proven to be the highlight of the day, selling thousands if not millions of tickets to adoring fans of all different ages, genders, nationalities and faiths. They are a marvel of sound and light as the many hands waving their glowing sticks about contrast the laser lights and projections up on the stage. The booming music envelopes everything throughout the venue. Hidden in the shadows, the musicians wait to begin the next fan-favorite song in the setlist with an adoring audience cheering and singing in the background. And then she appears, as if from another world, materializing from nothing more than particles of light. A young teenage girl with long blue pigtails and a simple futuristic school girl outfit steps forward. She waves to the screaming crowd and then picks up the microphone and speaks a few humble words of Japanese to her already incorrigible audience. They cheer once more, frantically and wildly shaking their glow sticks again in awe of the show. Like a girl from a fairy tale, she smiles and does a little twirl that results in her outfit magically changing into something completely new; a fashionable red dress with a little crown now perched daintily on her head. You would not know that it was all designed specifically for the next song. And so she sings, “The world is mine…” and the crowd goes insane. She is one of the most popular celebrities in all of Japan. Fashion designers have lined up to create the outfits you see her wear. She has been a hit for almost a decade and yet has not aged a single day. Hatsune Miku is the world’s most incredible singer and she is not even real.
Vocaloid is a computer synthesis software program developed by the music technology corporation Yamaha. The object of the software is to create songs by utilizing a series of sounds, named after the program itself, to simulate the sound of a person singing. These “Vocaloids,” which are developed by Crypton Future Media, are created by sampling the voice of an existing person, often an actual voice actor or singer, and then creating a unique sound and generally a character design to go with the voice. While she is not the first of the Vocaloids, Miku is hands down the most popular. Her iconic voice is sampled from Japanese voice actress Saki Fujita and her simple Japanese anime-inspired design was created by manga, or Japanese comics, artist Kei Garō. Unlike other Vocaloids at the time, Miku was not intended to just be a musical instrument but rather to be a character in which people could believe, relate and fantasize in just about any way they wanted. After her physical appearance was created, Crypton created a fact sheet about Miku that included fictional information about the character, such as that her birthday is on August 31st, that she is sixteen years old and she stands about 5.2 feet in height. Miku is of course not real, but there is enough established information for the viewer to take the character’s traits and interpret them as something new.
Miku truly rose to stardom with the use of the internet, specifically the Japanese equivalent of YouTube, NicoNico. On this video service, a user posted a video of Miku swinging what was widely believed to be a leek, but rather was a Welsh onion. In the video she did this while singing the Finnish folk song, “Ievan Polkka.” After this, Miku became an online sensation and soon many more people started engaging in the use of Vocaloid software as well as the Miku Vocaloid herself. The true mastery behind Miku’s current success is that her music, videos and artwork are created by many different artists of very many different backgrounds. The artistic direction of Miku and therefor the Vocaloid franchise is largely created by her own fans and actual professional or up and coming composers, manga artists and filmmakers. In this sense, Miku can never die, let alone age or go out of style because she is constantly changing with her creators and fan base.
No two Miku songs or videos are ever the same, be it lyrically, musically or visually. For example, we can compare two of Miku’s most popular songs World Is Mine and Tell Your World to show not only the artistic difference but the musical difference between their directions. World Is Mine, the hard rocking megahit of a song featuring Miku singing about herself being a princess and telling her audience how to treat her, was composed by Ryo, a member of the Japanese composer group Supercell. In it Miku sings of how she owns everything, how she demands respect and admiration but insists that she is not spoiled or conceited. Her voice was composed in such a way to make her sound less like a program and more realistic, all set to a Japanese rock backdrop of sound. The video mostly uses a series of manga drawn still images to convey the story that Miku is actually singing to a young man with whom she is infatuated but demands much from him because of her spoiled demeanor.
Tell Your World on the other hand is a far more emotionally driven techno-ballad that was composed by the Japanese composer duo Livetune. In it Miku sings an upbeat but far more vague and somber set of lyrics presumably about a loved one with whom she has lost contact and nostalgically recalls memories of them. The music video, rather than using manga images such as in World Is Mine, was animated in the CGI program MikuMikuDance, conveying a series of images involving the titular Vocaloid subtly dancing or flying. As she sings, she is completely surrounded by a vast flurry of abstract shapes and colors which flare about throughout the video. These songs not only convey very different lyrical content but their music videos also carry varying degrees of artistic expression and different narratives along with the music. Other composers have created covers of conventionally mainstream songs using Miku’s voice such as with the Katy Perry song “Roar.” From a musical and artistic point of view, the possibilities surrounding Miku are virtually limitless.
But what could be the downsides of such an unconventional musical sensation? There is some debate over whether or not there is merit to an artificially produced singing voice with even more debate drawn to whether there is reason or even sense in paying to see such a performance live and in concert. In TheFineBros YouTube channel, a video titled “Elders React to Vocaloids!” where, as the title suggests, older people who likely grew up with traditional musical concerts are shown videos of Miku and other Vocaloids performing on stage with varying degrees of reaction. Largely everyone who witnessed the clip expressed initial shock but as the Fine bros. explained what they were seeing, the reaction became more and more polarized with some liking Miku’s design and others looking appalled at the thought of paying to go to one of her concerts. One gentleman was quoted as saying, “It’s just the great technology, it—it just… it blows my mind away.”
Others were not quite as enthusiastic, with one of the women reactors saying, “That was so cold. The voices were so cold and distant. It was like hearing a machine sing it.” Perhaps there is indeed a disparity between Vocaloid fans and those ignorant of it, especially for people who are more set in traditional ways. Interestingly however, this is not the first instance of a digital music star. The UK based music group The Gorillaz, is also comprised of digitally created characters, drawn and animated by Jamie Hewlett, performing contemporary pop songs with singer Damon Albarn as the singer character 2D. Controversies about the performance of animated characters seem to be minimal with this group due to the vocal performances being performed by actual people. But is there really a huge difference between the two? A real person composed Miku to sing. Someone wrote her lyrics and made her outfits and dance moves. Is it truly that different because the performance is automated?
Since I first discovered Miku and her fellow Vocaloids in the Project Diva video game series, I have been nothing but hooked on the characters, the stories, the artwork and the music. I have learned to appreciate new art styles and musical genres because of the geniuses who created Miku’s success and rise to stardom. The work and craftsmanship behind this perpetual art and music project is what drives me to continue down the creative path I seek to walk. The mad scientists who created these amazing animations and songs only further inspire me to pursue drawing and animation. Maybe someday I will make the next popular Miku animation. Maybe next time it will be your composition. And this will go on for as long as human imagination exists. Miku will live forever figuratively, literally, in the hearts of her fans and everywhere in between. All without ever being real.
Author's note: Thanks for reading! Looking back on this I realize it really does not cover as much as I would have liked to discuss from the entirety of Vocaloid and its entire community. There is a lot of different ground to cover, such as Utauloids and the plethora of covers and new characters out there. Maybe I could make it a bit of a series? Who knows. Let me know what you guys thought of this and thank you very much for your time.