Miku! Not live!

The singer is part holo­gram, part avatar and might be the pop star of the fu­ture

The Washington Post Sunday - - ARTS & STYLE - BY MARK JENKINS

When Ja­panese pop idol Hat­sune Miku makes her Wash­ing­ton de­but at the An­them on Thurs­day, fans will be asked to use the of­fi­cial glow sticks for sale at the show in­stead of the reg­u­lar brighter ones. The thing is, if too much light shines from the au­di­ence, Miku might sim­ply dis­ap­pear.

That’s be­cause Miku is a holo­gram — at least when she per­forms in con­cert, backed by a quar­tet of flesh-and-blood mu­si­cians. She’s also an anime char­ac­ter, a video-game avatar, a bun­dle of so­phis­ti­cated “vocaloid” code and a fas­ci­nat­ing ex­per­i­ment in crowd­sourced pop art.

“She can be any­thing. She’s like the world’s Bar­bie doll. Peo­ple can dress her up how­ever they want, and that can be their ver­sion of Miku,” says Cien Miller, a Vi­enna woman who is more than just a Miku fan. She’s also one of the most suc­cess­ful “cre­ators” to com­pose songs for the turquoise­haired vir­tual vo­cal­ist and post them on YouTube.

Cre­ated by Sap­poro-based Cryp­ton Fu­ture Me­dia and re­leased to the pub­lic in 2007, Miku uses vocaloid en­gines de­vised by Yamaha. (That ex­plains the hair: Turquoise is Yamaha’s trade­mark color.) Miku’s musical abil­i­ties and

‘She can be any­thing. She’s like the world’s Bar­bie doll. Peo­ple can dress her up how­ever they want.’

sexy-cute like­ness (de­signed by manga artist Kei Garo) were made avail­able to the In­ter­net’s Ja­pan-smit­ten masses un­der a cre­ative com­mons li­cense.

“Hat­sune Miku is, first and fore­most, a soft­ware for mak­ing mu­sic,” says Riki Tsuji, Miku’s live-con­cert co­or­di­na­tor. “Any­body can buy Hat­sune Miku soft­ware, and us­ing that soft­ware, they just type in lyrics, punch in a melody, and the soft­ware will sing the song. When the soft­ware was re­leased, peo­ple started mak­ing their orig­i­nal songs us­ing the Hat­sune Miku voice, up­load­ing to mu­sic-shar­ing sites. It started this chain re­ac­tion of cre­ativ­ity.”

Miku wasn’t the first vocaloid, Miller says, but she “was dif­fer­ent be­cause of the copy­right rules. You can use her im­age and her voice for your mu­sic with­out fear of breaking any rules. It was the per­fect for­mula, be­cause peo­ple loved Miku, and if you used Miku, peo­ple would be in­ter­ested in what you were mak­ing.”

Peo­ple are quite in­ter­ested in the synth-pop songs Miller has cre­ated for Miku, which are posted on­line un­der the name Crusher-P (P stands for pro­ducer). Her break­through, “Echo,” re­cently hit 25 mil­lion views on YouTube. “It is the most suc­cess­ful English vocaloid song of all time,” says Miller, who, at 23, is a full-time com­poser of songs and video game mu­sic, thanks in large part to Miku, whom Miller first en­coun­tered when she was 12.

Hat­sune Miku trans­lates roughly as “first sound of the fu­ture.” Don’t look for “miku” in a Ja­panese-English dic­tionary, though. It’s a non­stan­dard read­ing of a word more com­monly ren­dered as “mi­rai.” That’s the pro­nun­ci­a­tion used in the names of prod­ucts such as “Hat­sune Miku and Fu­ture Stars: Project Mi­rai,” a Sega video game that stars a more child­like ver­sion of the idol whose con­cert per­sona is per­pet­u­ally 16.

The holo­graphic Miku made her solo con­cert de­but in Tokyo in 2010 and has toured ma­jor cities in Asia. She’s now on her third North Amer­i­can jaunt, and is sched­uled to make her Euro­pean bow at the end of the year.

The pro­duc­tion crew al­ways com­piles a set list that in­cludes songs in the lo­cal lan­guage, along with new num­bers and old fa­vorites. A De­cem­ber show in Malaysia, Tsuji re­calls, fea­tured tunes in English, Ja­panese, Chi­nese, In­done­sian and Malay.

It’s not as though Miku is want­ing for ma­te­rial in just about any lan­guage. YouTube and its Ja­panese coun­ter­part, Nico Nico, con­tain more than 100,000 songs writ­ten for her by am­a­teurs and fledg­ling pro­fes­sion­als.

“That’s just what we can keep track of,” Tsuji says. “The In­ter­net’s so big that it’s pretty much im­pos­si­ble for us to keep track of every sin­gle song that’s ever been up­loaded that uses the Hat­sune Miku voice.”

Miku’s man­age­ment doesn’t have to pay close at­ten­tion. In­ter­net mu­sic and video sites are quite good at de­ter­min­ing the most-heard songs and most­watched clips, and Miku fans make their picks with likes and hash­tags. “When­ever some­thing rises up and gets more pop­u­lar and hits our radar, we’ll be check­ing them out,” Tsuji says.

The cur­rent tour was pro­moted with a song­writ­ing con­test, and Miku will per­form the win­ning en­try every night. The other tunes she’ll sing were writ­ten by in­di­vid­u­als with no di­rect tie to Cryp­ton Fu­ture Me­dia. “We just con­tact the cre­ators and say, ‘Hey, can we use this song?’ ” Tsuji says.

Other parts of the show, such as the four-piece band, are more tra­di­tional. “We try to make the ex­pe­ri­ence as close to an ac­tual pop-singer per­for­mance as pos­si­ble,” Tsuji says. “Hav­ing those live mu­si­cians on the stage re­ally helps bring the il­lu­sion to life. We try to avoid the sense that you’re watch­ing a video pre­sen­ta­tion.”

Of course, Miku can’t im­pro­vise, re­vise the script or even flub a note. But that doesn’t make her much dif­fer­ent from many of to­day’s main­stream pop stars, who rely on elab­o­rate chore­og­ra­phy and, some­times, pre­re­corded vo­cals. And Miku has the ad­van­tage of em­body­ing not only the dreams of her fol­low­ers, but also their cre­ative skills.

Miller plans to at­tend Miku’s show at the An­them, even though she mostly writes songs for an­other vocaloid, Gumi. (She says she prefers Gumi’s vo­cal tim­bre and English de­liv­ery.) Miller has vis­ited Ja­pan twice, and even met with Miku’s cre­ators, but she has never been in the singer’s holo­graphic pres­ence.

“I’m very ex­cited,” she says. “I love her to death, and I al­ways will.”


The vir­tual pop singer on­stage at Hat­sune Miku Expo 2016. Fans are asked to use the of­fi­cial glow sticks sold at the shows be­cause the stan­dard brighter ones might cause Miku to dis­ap­pear.

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