Miku Hatsune isn’t like other Japanese pop stars.
According to Crypton Future Media, she is 5 feet 2 inches tall, weighs 93 pounds, and has been 16 years old since 2007.
Miku is “an android diva in the near-future world where songs are lost,” with a recommended vocal range between countertenor and mezzo-soprano, but which is theoretically infinite. She is the personification of a VOCALOID, a synthetic voice software developed by Yamaha Corporation. Crypton Future Media licensed this technology, meant for professional audio producers, and created a series of characters to go with the electronic voices. Hatsune Miku, also known as CV01 or Character Voice 01, was included in the Vocaloid2 series and sold 40,000 copies within a year.
Hatsune Miku Vocaloid2 software via Wikipedia
The Vocaloids are designed to be used to create original music, and Miku has now performed in over 100,000 professionally produced songs and literally millions of fan works. In 2016, she performed with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, and gave concerts in China, Costa Rica, Germany, the United States, Canada, and Mexico. As long as she has her distinctive synthesized voice, black and turquoise school uniform, and almost floor-length twin blue pigtails, it doesn’t matter which media format she’s represented in: from pure audio to holograms that perform live and in virtual reality, it’s all Hatsune Miku.
She’s made appearances in anime series, video games, commercials, and other media, but her hologram concerts are probably what Hatsune Miku is best known for now.
She’s made appearances in anime series, video games, commercials, and other media, but her hologram concerts are probably what Hatsune Miku is best known for now. Thousands of people pay for tickets to pack into a stadium and wave glow sticks to her music as she is projected on stage as a hologram.
A reporter for Polygon went to one of her shows on the 2016 North America tour and reported that her hologram appeared between eight and eleven feet tall, that she didn’t stop singing and dancing for three hours and changed costumes instantaneously, but other than that it was much like a concert by any human pop star.
You can also attend a Hatsune Miku concert in virtual reality by purchasing PlayStation VR’s Hatsune Miku VR Future Live. In this version, the concert is also a game, where you can choose songs and score up points to get to the special encore. The VR concerts promise special effects that are impossible in real life, and allow you to see her show from any angle in the virtual arena. Miku fans are used to seeing her projected, so she fits perfectly on a virtual stage, and the live concert experience, glowsticks and all, is replicated with surprising accuracy. According to a reporter from The Verge who tried the concert experience at home, “I got swept up in the crowd — even though that crowd was completely virtual.”
“Real,” (that is, corporeal) artists are rushing to roll out their own virtual reality concerts as well.
“Real,” (that is, corporeal) artists are rushing to roll out their own virtual reality concerts as well. For some acts, that simply involves placing a 360º camera in the front row of a concert or on a drone and allowing people to tune into a live or recorded performance to virtually attend.
For others, like Swedish megastars ABBA, the concert is a small piece of a larger VR entertainment experience. After not performing together for 30 years, the group is working with music business mogul Simon Fuller for a virtual reunion tour. Fuller describes it as “a groundbreaking venture that will utilize the very latest in digital and virtual-reality technology… which will enable a new generation of fans to see, hear and feel Abba in a way previously unimagined.”
This sounds like it will not be simply a performance, but an interactive experience with a completely digitized version of the band. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the members of ABBA performing as or with younger versions of themselves.
Björk has also teamed up with virtual reality artists to create 360º music videos and virtual reality experiences for the songs on her most recent album, Vulnicura, that are being shown at London’s Somerset House as part of the exhibition Björk Digital. For the opening of the exhibition, she appeared as a motion-capture virtual reality avatar with iridescent, golden skin and otherworldly costuming, and in many of her videos she regularly breaks the laws of physics.
ABBA and Björk’s digital representations attest to their ability to transcend the limits of space and time through virtual performances, and digitized performers have even blurred the boundary between life and death, as evidenced by Tupac’s 2012 performance at Coachella, despite being murdered in 1996.
The Tupac performance in particular raised a lot of public speculation about whether it was ethical to resurrect deceased performers as holograms or digital representations. Given the recent deaths of such colossal stars as Prince and David Bowie, who both presumably have a wealth of unreleased material, this issue is back on the table and not a question of “can” but “should?” Would we want to see these recently departed stars perform previously unheard music? Or would it be disrespectful to their families and their fans to continue their musical legacy posthumously? A reporter for MTV news speculated that it may become a common occurrence for pop stars to specify explicitly whether they would or would not like to continue giving performances after their death.
The question now is: will we create more virtual pop stars?
Given how convincing and enjoyable the Hatsune Miku virtual reality concert experience is, we know that the technology to create virtual reality stadium shows from scratch has reached the point of feasibility. The question now is will we create more virtual pop stars? Miku’s success came unexpectedly, and as improbable as it seems, her now-iconic image was not, at the time, designed for the mass otaku appeal she now enjoys.
There has already been another living (so to speak) example of a computer-engineered, realistic looking pop star. Eguchi Aimi, who joined the Japanese girl group AKB48 in 2011, was actually a composite of the “best features” of six of the other girls in the group, created to advertise Glico candy. AKB48 fans were instantly suspicious of this new member, and after fan backlash, the candy company were the ones who broke the news that she was never a real girl. In 2013, she was removed from the group’s website.
The parallels between Eguchi Aimi and Hatsune Miku outline what could be the future of entertainment. As demonstrated by ABBA, Björk, and Tupac, pop stars can already perform as digital representations of themselves, and Hatsune Miku and ABBA’s virtual reality concert experiences promise a level of intimacy with the virtual stars that consumers are already clamoring for. The only piece missing is exemplified by Aimi: engineering a virtual pop star who is convincing, who can earn the trust of their audience, and give a flawless performance every time.
The virtual reality concert experience is here, and the only thing it’s missing is more virtual stars.