Hatsune Miku is a complex creation that facilitates the discussion of several important questions that we will begin to see more and more of as we progress technologically and socially as a world.
Is it really about the person(s) singing the song, or is it the hundreds of man hours and money thrown into what they do that makes the act successful?
On the surface it may appear that Miku is the star of the show and the driving force behind this phenomenon, but behind the scenes is a team of collaborators that are really making the production happen. This can be said about any artist in the music industry today. Miku is known for the music, but ultimately those who are creating the music are members of the band Supercell, lead by Ryo. The band members are responsible for the branding, music creation, and illustrations associated with Miku, with the “help” of Sony, Sega, and Crypton Future Media, Inc., who are ultimately reaping all benefits from the music.
With all of this support it makes a strong case that all of the money is creating the popularity with the music taking a back seat. However, with many of the reviews, forums, and articles written in Japanese it makes it hard to gauge what the fans are talking about the most (the music, production, or concert experience).
What separates Hatsune Miku from the traditional Pop artist?
The American Music Industry has been grooming people for success for years, creating branding through body image, choreography, and catchy hooks. However, this practice is nothing new as it dates back to white artists singing the music of rhythm and blues music developed by black artists in order to increase the popularity of the music and create national icons (Peterson and Berger, 1975). However, Miku brings to light the fact that this form of media eliminates the need to find the right talent when it can simply be created. Discovering talent is passé, creating it is more cost effective for record labels when they can cut the talent out of the equation.
The gimmick of using a virtual representation of a person is what sets her apart from the traditional pop artist. Normally, it is sex and a catchy hook that sells records, but in the case of Miku, she (which I guess we classify her as a she, and not an it) brings something more to the table. Think of costume changes with a push of a button, no more money spent on choreographers/hair stylists/costume designers, and music and dance performed flawlessly and consistently. Record label would jump at the chance to have an artist who could do all of that, and with the popularity of Miku that may not be as far off as some of us may think.
How does lip-syncing play a role?
With instances such as Ashley Simpson’s catastrophe on Saturday Night Live and the infamous duo Milli Vanilli’s downfall in the mid 90’s acting as examples of when lip-syncing goes wrong, we see that traditionally Americans are unwilling to accept singers who do not perform the music themselves. Hatsune Miku proves the exception to rule, as she has performed several concerts within theUnited States. People are willingly paying money to see an artist that they know is fake, but when lied to as in the cases of Simpson and Milli Vanilli they retract all allegiance.
The comparison could be made to animated movies where voices are generated by actors, but the characters are fashioned to be lovable, and visually pleasing. The phenomenon of Miku is not surprising as she is a beautiful character, who is birthed from the culture of anime and several other Japanese traditions with cult followings here within theUnited States. It appears that she has the proper backing, several companies have their hands on this project, and that she has a cult following pushing her to the top, evident by her participation in a recentToyotacommercial. Companies are marketing to her followers, which mean that there must be enough of a culture developed around her to try to generate interest in a product using her as the spokesman. It may only be a matter of time until we are talking of the diffusion of innovation for Miku. Sega, Sony, and the other have adopted the technology, how long before others join in?
Peterson, R.A., Berger, D.G. (1975). Cycles in symbol production: The case of popular music. American Sociological Review, 40(2), 158-173.