Japanese pop star Hatsune Miku is among the most successful contemporary Japanese performers, but she is also virtual: an avatar with a computer-programmed voice, who sings songs compiled of lyrics written by her fans.
The voice-synthesizing program that powers the popstar is the work of Crypton Future Media, which bills Hatsune Miku as 'a virtual singer who can sing any song that anybody composes'. And indeed her songs are generated by her own fans, arranged based on suggestions from as many as twenty different people. She originated as a way of showcasing the company's music software, but has since encouraged an entire movement of consumer-generated media, spread originally via the Nico Nico Douga sharing website and further facilitated by crypton via the Piapro portal for collaboration and posting.
The 10,000 tickets for the four Tokyo performances last week, each priced at 6300 yen (78 USD) sold out within hours, as thousands more watched telecasting of the performance in movie theatres in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, and others paid about 40 USD for their own access to the live video streaming feeds. The virtual popstar has also already sold out shows in LA, and aluminum plates with her image on it composed part of the spacecraft Akatsuki (launched may 21st, 2010) after a petition towards the project received over 14,000 signatures.
The story of hatsune miku is fascinating for the ways in which it engages with ideas of identity in contemporary society. Is Hatsune Miku a software program? A performer? A concept that is then remixed in sound and image by thousands of fans? Australian fan Daniel Noll offered an interesting insight into the phenomenon: 'she gave a lot of people that didn't have a voice, a voice to express their feelings and thoughts.'
video footage from a 2010 concert
preview of sega's hatsune miku game, which has just been released as an app for iPad and iPhone (japanese only, english version to follow)