Imagine you’re going to a concert, but you aren’t sure who is performing. Then you show up to the concert and BAM! You’re sitting front and center watching a digital hologram pop star who can sing, dance, and play every instrument imaginable. It’s like watching an idol anime like Love Live! but in real life. No, this is not Jem and the Holograms; this is the world of Vocaloid diva Hatsune Miku and her dedicated fans. Watching this concert was a mind-blowing experience that I will not forget.
I will admit, there was some heavy judgment hovering over this Vocaloid thing. The idea of watching a lifelike digital hologram in person kind of freaked me out (in a Skynet sort of way). But the Warfield in San Francisco was completely sold out—all those fans wouldn’t have been lined up outside the venue if it wasn’t worth it, right?
This may sound silly to you, but this was emotional for me. There was laughter and tears mixed in between uproarious applause. Hatsune and friends sang and danced their way into the hearts of the audience, mine included. For any newcomer, there is a desire to learn more about Vocaloid and the origins attached to it.
For starters, I learned that Vocaloid is a voice synthesizer software created by Kenmochi Hideki at Pompeu University in Spain in 2000. It was not created with the intention of commercial use, but once the Yamaha Corporation caught on to the student project, they commercialized the software and trademarked the Vocaloid name.
Think of Vocaloid as a “singer in a box”—a convenient replacement for a human performer. Voice donors contribute a basic sound to each Vocaloid package, but the user is the one that makes the unique sound. The software was originally available in English, with characters named Miriam, Lola, and Leon being among the first Vocaloid singers.
But the craze didn’t truly take off until Crypton Future Media created the 2009 Sega video game Project Diva, which included the first Japanese Vocaloid singers, Meiko, and Kaito.
What is so special about Project Diva is the addition of animation and personalities that are attached to the voices present in the game. Also, Project Diva was the first appearance of famed Vocaloid pop idol Hatsune Miku. Hatsune is a special case because she was specifically marketed to be more than just an animated program. The goal was to elicit feelings of affection and desire among fans. Her character design is a mix of moè and cyberpunk and this combined look is tailored to target diehard Japanese anime and manga Otaku who enjoy idol stories and shows. In fact, her entire look is inspired by the idol genre.
Most shows feature cute teenage girls with large round eyes and pigtails singing cutesy songs and chasing boys. But it is much more than that. These shows really dive deep into the heart of the idol business by showing how competitive and merciless it is. Being a fan of the idol genre, I’ve seen characters endure grueling training sessions of singing, dancing, acting lessons, and learning to play instruments. The training is extensive so that each idol is marketable across all forms of media. Upholding an attractive public image is important and that’s why these characters tend to be heavily focused on their looks. They are role models, and must be good examples for other young people. Popular idol shows like Love Live! School Idol Project and Wake-Up Girls! are great shows to watch if you’re an idol noob. Love Live! is about a group of school girls who become idols in order to raise enough money to save their school from closing.
Wake-Up Girls is a bit more realistic as it centers more on what it takes for agents to find idol talent, and how to groom them for success.
While Hatsune avoids the training aspect due to just being a program, she embodies all the characteristics of the perfect idol. The vocaloid program gives her the perfect voice, Project Diva animation has given her the perfect look, and the fans have turned Hatsune Miku into an international starlet. Crypton Future Media has managed to take real-life and anime influences and turned it into a profitable venture. This is not just Otaku but something everyone can enjoy. Expect Vocaloid music, culture, and idols to only grow in the coming years.