At 93 pounds and just over 5'2", the 16-year-old diva was a full foot shorter than David Letterman last night during her network television debut. When her performance was met with applause, she snickered, swaying atop two impossibly thin legs. If it wasn't for her oversized irises, and gravity-defying pigtails—both electric blue—her reception might have earned her comparisons to similarly-statured starlet Ariana Grande, or Bieber protegé Madison Beer. But when the hologram performer of "Sharing the World" disappeared into pixie dust, she didn't return to a single green room or trailer, but she was still ready for an encore. One paradigm shift towards, and one mesa way beyond the Uncanny Valley—that's where Hatsune Miku, the hologram pop princess, lives.
From "Hatsu" (初) meaning first, "Ne," (音) meaning sound, and "Miku" (ミク), meaning future, the "First Sound of the Future", a.k.a., Hatsune Miku, is the premier singing synthesizer from Crypton Future Media. The holographic brainchild of Hiroyuki Itoh and Wataru Sasaki, Hatsune Miku was released on August 31, 2007 as a vocal library that builds on Yamaha's speech synthesis engine, Vocaloid, with its own visual identity. Based off the voice of anime voiceover actress Saki Fujita, Miku is a playable character, something like a cross between text-to-speech, Auto-Tune, and Sailor Moon. She's effectively the world's first participatory pop icon: anyone with a melody and lyrics can create their own Hatsune Miku music.
Today, with over 100,000 user-released songs and 1,000,000 fanmade artworks, in many ways, Miku is the perfect pop musician. She doesn't eat or sleep. She'll never get old. She's already opened for Lady Gaga's artRAVE: the ARTPOP ball, been remixed by Pharrell, and had albums debut at #1 on the Japanese charts. This month, hot on the heels of a major Tokyo performance, the Hatsune Miku Expo 2014 opens in both LA and NY, featuring "Universal Positivity," a major Miku art exhibition, software demonstrations, cosplay competitions, and four nights of widely-anticipated "live" hologram shows.
Explained Miku's co-creator, and Crypton CEO Hiroyuki Itoh, in an interview with The Creators Project, "I think [Hatsune Miku] is an ambassador between the 'read-only' world of the 20th century, in which people were only passive receptors of culture, and a new 'read-and-write' world, in which people can become cultural emitters as well." In interviews, Itoh doesn't refer to Miku as an icon, but as an event. "On the one hand you have musicians who think of her as a partner or platform for their own musical activities, on the other hand some creators consider her as a mere synthesizer. Hatsune Miku is at the same time a pop star, an idol, a creative hub connecting artists between each other, a technological innovation, a software, an interface, a concept, a creative motif, a symbol." If her sudden appearance was more like that of a messiah than Madonna, the devoted fanbase who create her catalog are her apostles.
BIGHEAD, one such apostle, and the composer of the Miku Expo theme song, "Sharing the World," told The Creators Project, "There are many moments I encounter when Hatsune Miku sounds much better than a human vocalist. Sometimes miracles happen with Miku that do not happen with human vocalists, something unintended, which turns out to become something really interesting." BIGHEAD claims that his introduction to Vocaloid composition came as the result of a bandmate moving away. After another friend recommended Vocaloid as the obvious alternative to finding a new bandmate, BIGHEAD sharpened his skill set by creating English-language covers of bands including Daft Punk, The Chemical Brothers and Wham.
Fast forward a few months, and Miku is performing "Story Rider," one of BIGHEAD's first uploads to the Japanese file-sharing site, Nico Nico Douga, on tour with Lady Gaga. "I got a real sense of belonging to the Vocaloid community when I saw so many comments and tweets by Vocaloid fans who were pleased with this outcome… If I hadn’t had the positive feedback from the fans, I think I would have stopped right in the beginning… the direct communication in this community really encouraged me to go further."
For "Sharing the World," BIGHEAD quite literally shared the composition process with the Vocaloid community. "In the beginning I felt pressure that this song in English should sound a certain way, but when the song was finally finished, this pressure dissolved because the positive feeling of having completed the song together with people who also like Hatsune Miku was much stronger," he explained. It was the sort of hands-on experience that could only have been made possible through such a malleable medium.
"Nobody believes the internet is a temporary thing. It has its place in the evolution of mankind as much as the use of fire or electricity, Itoh continues. "Soon it will participate in every aspect of our lives." In this way, Hatsune Miku isn't just a software, or a hologram, or even her own musician—she's the herald of a new kind of crowdsourced creativity.
Last night, when Hatsune Miku appeared beside David Letterman, it looked like there was only one lead singer on stage. But if you squint your eyes tight enough and listen closely, you'll hear a hundred thousand.
Hatsune Miku Expo 2014 takes place in Los Angeles on October 11 & 12, featuring a live concert at Nokia Theater, and the Hatsune Miku Halloween Party at Los Angeles Center Studios. October 9-19, the "Universal Positivity" art exhibition goes on display at Wallplay gallery, culminating in two nights of live concerts at Hammerstein Ballroom on October 17 and 18. Click here for more information, as well as for tickets.