Hatsune Miku Tours the U.S
A glimpse at the digital idol
by Michael Erazo
Photographs © 2016 by Michael Erazo and Crypton Future Media, INC.
Internationally popular, with over 2.5 million followers on Facebook, she has made her network television debut on the David Lettermen's The Late Show, been the opening act for Lady Gaga, and provided the song to everyone's favorite animated cartoon space cat with a pop-tart for a body “Nyan Cat”. A very impressive career considering she is a 16-year-old performer that's not human. Chances are you have seen this young virtual pop star with long, turquoise pony tails as she has risen in popularity in the West through an advertisement with Toyota, appearing in rhythm games, and the escalation in concerts becoming available in various cities.
Who Is Miku?
She began as Crypton Future Media's first developed mascot. While they gave Hatsune Miku some background details (like her age, weight, and height), she was not provided a personality intentionally as they wanted their users to use their own imagination to figure out what kind of person Miku might be. One fan-written history of vocaloid explains: “The magic behind Hatsune Miku and vocaloid in general is all about harnessing the creativity of the fans, as all original works in multiple forms of art were all created by fans themselves.” According to this fan, video sharing websites such as Nico Nico Douga and Youtube lead to Hatsune Miku becoming the next sensation in Japan, and was able to singlehandedly transform the Vocaloid scene to grow in popularity worldwide through the internet.
What Are Vocaloids?
Vocaloids are a voice synthesizing software, or in other terms a singer in a computer. There is a lot of science behind creating them, but essentially they are human voices that are recorded in short samples and stored in a database that becomes part of a software for songwriters as well as producers to use as an alternative to a singing voice. Hatsune Miku was created using vocal samples from voice actress Saki Fujita, which are then altered by the synthesizer engine itself and constructed into a keyboard style instrument within the software. Hatsune Miku was first released in August of 2007 and included in Vocaloid 3 in 2013, where she came included with an English vocal library. Vocaloids aren’t exclusive to Miku, as she was the first of a series of Vocaloids called the "Character Vocal Series," which included other characters like Megurine Luka and Kagamine Rin & Len who had their own particular concept and vocal direction apart from Miku.
Miku's popularity has spawned merchanding, cosplay, and appearing live on stage to perform as a star pop idol. This virtual persona, along with other vocaloid fans have taken a liking to, uses a computer-generated voice and 3D CG graphics to perform on stage. A 3D model is rendered of them then projected using 4 projectors that create a 3D image of her on a transparent surface called DILAD, an adhesive rear projection screen, for the concerts to display the images. On July 2nd, 2011, Miku performed in the U.S for the first time at the Nokia Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. The Show was considered a success as it was sold-out and allowed for Miku to go on tour indefinitely.
While she is a phenomenon in her home country of Japan, most Americans might not understand her appeal. That may be changing as there are increasing demands for concerts overseas that have paved the way to Miku Expo, a world tour spanning 10 cities across three countries in North America. Miku's exposure also caught the eyes of big name companies as they endorsed her, from Toyota to Google's Chrome web browser. For the commercial of the 2011 Toyota Corolla, the long version of the CM (“Big Dream”) was ranked number 1 on the daily YouTube view ranking on the second day after it was released and the commercial still ranks as one of Toyota's most popular youtube channel video sitting at 1,741,344 views.
“I believe Hatsune Miku is so popular because of the unbelievably wide variety of music she sings in,” said Julius Chapman, 24, Astrophysics major at California State University, Northridge. Chapman considers himself a “pretty high level fan” of Miku as she is his favorite Idol. He suggested “ Everyone has their favorite genre of music and, chances are, there's a Miku song out there for them.”
Its all about the Fans
“The best part about Hatsune Miku is the community of creators and consumers,” said Chapman. “Anyone can purchase Miku and use her to create wonderful sounds to make that heart-to-heart connection. The number one reason I support her will always be the fans. By supporting her and encouraging them, Miku can continue to shine and continue to inspire the fans to be creative and to break down borders with their creativity. I have met and talked with some amazing people who also want to help inspire people using Miku. I don't support Miku because she's just some cute holographic girl, it takes a lot of real life people to make these holographic singers come to life.”
Chapman attended the 2014's Miku Expo in Los Angeles and said, “It was unbelievable. It was so fantastic to see our idol live in concert, surrounded by like-minded individuals all sharing a love for Hatsune Miku. I consider it one of the greatest moments of my life.” Chapman, who expressed his desire to return for the 2016 expo, believes the best part of Hatsune Miku is the community of creators and consumers that have formed around the software. “Anyone can purchase Miku and use her to create wonderful sounds to make that heart to heart connection between people through music. Artists, musicians, animators, fans and more are all bridged together through the voice and power of Miku.”
Nicholas Sollazzo, DeVry University graduate in Electronic Engineering Technology, has been to three concerts so far, including the first concert Mikunopolis, performed at the Nokia Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, which was her very first concert here in the U.S. “The concerts are spectacular,” Sollazo says. “They are amongst the most amazing one will ever go to. The lights, the sounds, the great songs, the great crowd and most of all the holograms themselves are incredible. What makes the whole experience even better is that the fans are 100% in on the concert.” Sollazo is refering to the fans bringing in glow sticks to the concerts. Having attended a concert myself, I saw Miku fans who have researched, rehearsed and work together to syncronize the timing of waving their glow sticks. Sollazo claims, “If you don't go home with your feet and back hurting from jumping, your arms hurting from holding that glow stick over your head and your voice isn't hoarse from singing, you didn't do it right.”
Conversely Dr. Ric Alviso, department chair of CSUN's music department said, ”I think she is a novelty the people will tire of at some point but she is also part of a continual evolution as people experimenting with the intersection of music and technology come up with new ideas to try to market them to young people. So today, its Hatsune Miku, tomorrow it will be another gimmick.”