She’s super cute: baby doll smile, impossibly tiny waist, a Rapunzelian pair of aquamarine pig tails, and a wardrobe just slutty enough for it to still be okay. Sixteen-years-old, 5’2’’, 93lbs. Her voice has been featured on gold records, she’s performed live to crowds of over 25,000 ecstatic fans, she even has her own video game, Project Diva, by Sega. By all means Miku is one of the biggest pop icons in the world. Strangely though, she doesn’t really exist.
Well, she does exist, in a metaphysical sense, but she’s not a living, breathing, conscious human being. Technically speaking, she’s software. Created by Japanese technology firm Crypton Future Media, Hatsune Miku is the most popular avatar in the Vocaloid series. The term Vocaloid describes a singing synthesizer program launched by Yamaha in 2003, which allows users to add synthesized human-esque vocals to their own music by inputting lyrics and a melody – a “singer in a box”, if you will. So Hatsune Miku, the pop star, is not the creation of one man or one corporation. Rather she is the virtual embodiment of a collective idea, a meme in human form. The entirety of her creative output – songs, videos, mythology, personality – is created by her fans. To date Crypton have confirmed little solid information about Miku aside from her age and physical measurements, thus giving her fans the freedom to mould her according to their own personal definitions of pop perfection, Internet stardom, and digitopian dream. She is a collective vision, a glimpse into a future that promises, “We can create something perfect, if we just let ourselves imagine.”
It seems almost pedestrian that this phenomenon would occur in Japan – a world where almost everything, down to the toilet paper, is advertised with a cutsie cartoon. A country that represents hypermodernism in all its multidimensions, and where the worship of animated idols has long been ingrained in the culture. It’s not weird that the Japanese like “futuristic” things, because in our eyes they’ve been living in the future for years now. What’s fascinating about Hatsune Miku, however, is that her appeal is becoming widespread.
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The Miku avatar originated in 2007. Her look combines aspects of anime and manga, and her voice is sampled from Japanese voice actress Saki Fujita. Miku became popular through the website Nico Nico Douga (smile smile video), a Japanese equivalent of YouTube. Users started posting their own music videos of Miku, both lending her voice to existing songs and singing original music. Popular original songs would then generate illustrations, animations, and remixes from other users, making Nico Nico Douga a place for collective collaboration. One particularly popular video of Miku holding a leek and singing ‘Ievan Polkka’ led to Miku now being commonly associated with leeks. Most of Miku’s songs are developed by fans via collaborative sites, and then refined by the people at Crypton.
Miku played her first live gig in Saitama, Japan, in August of 2009, projected to the audience as a giant 3D hologram. She ‘sings’ while a live band plays behind to her. Since then she’s played a number of sold out gigs in Japan, has traveled to Singapore to perform, and in September 2010 played her first show in America, performing at the J-Pop Summit Festival in San Francisco. Her concerts are epic events, with many of her fans showing up in cosplay Miku costumes, and with the remaining thousands screaming hysterically, frantically waving glow sticks in thrall of her towering figure. The whole scene is something straight out of a science fiction novel. Literally…
Words by Karley Sciortino