One of the world's hottest pop stars is a Japanese teenager currently in the midst of her first extended North American concert tour. She's opened for Lady Gaga and has worked with Pharrell. This month she is featured in Vogue magazine, and she regularly has thousands of aspiring songwriters begging for her attention. More than 170,000 songs have been written exclusively for her, and her music YouTube hits number more than 100 million.
Her name is Hatsune Miku, and she is a hologram. Created by Crypton Future Media, Miku is the blue-pigtailed, doe-eyed, animated face of a revolutionary music-software program that gives creators the ability to produce original music with a synthesized voice.
The future of music touches down in Houston at NRG Arena tomorrow night, when the avatar and her flesh-and-blood backing band bring their unique show to town. NYC electronic artists Anamanaguchi open the show, which promises to prove unlike anything even the most veteran concertgoers have seen.
"The first concert, in Seattle, was a fantastic kick-off to the tour," says Riki Tsuji, a Crypton Future Media spokesperson. "We had about 3,600 fans come out to see Miku and friends perform. As our team is from Japan, we were nervous at first, but everything went off without a hitch, and we believe we were able to deliver an amazing concert for everyone who came out."
The show is best described as a live 3-D performance in which Miku comes to life via groundbreaking CG technology. She sings and dances alongside her band, like any other pop star, but her creators are aware of just how seminal this moment in entertainment history could be. The doors are unhinging with possibilities. Could CG pop stars take over the charts? Will they dominate tour ticket sales?
Tsuji said that that for now, Miku's team is mostly focused on having fun with fans at the live shows and less on the revolutionary implications of what they're doing.
"No matter what the event, it’s always nice to come out and gather with a lot of like-minded people brought together under shared interests. A distinct feature of Miku concerts that you won’t see in many other American concerts are the glowsticks and cosplays, an easy way for fans to show their love for Miku and her friends"
The shared interests Tsuji's referring to go beyond music. Miku's a fashion icon. The cosplay community is enamored of her. She has makeup tutorials online with millions of views. Her guest spot in Vogue saw her sporting couture created by Italian designer Riccardo Tisci. She's got endorsement deals with Coca-Cola, Google, Nike and Louis Vuitton, to name a few.
Music-wise, her act is allowing career musicians to tour the world. Her backing band includes Tsuguhito Konno on bass, Kensuke Ito on drums, Takahiro Misawa on guitars and MEG.ME on keys. The Internet composers writing her songs are looking to emulate the sort of success that came to Supercell, an 11-member J-Pop group signed to Sony on the strength of music they composed for Miku's virtual voice.
"For the North America tour, we’ve included the song 'Ten Thousand Stars' by Circus P, an American producer whose entry won the MIKU EXPO Song Contest we held in 2015," Tsuji shares. "This was the first time that we officially solicited entries to be directly incorporated into the concert set list; usually, we pick and choose from the huge list of fan favorites and go from there."
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We asked some real-life human musicians what they thought of this all, and, surprisingly, they were fine with it, by and large. Some saw the opportunities Miku avails to hard-working and underappreciated musicians as a good thing. At least one pondered how much different such a fabrication is from the Britneys and Katy Perrys of the world.
"One of the key differences between Miku and other pop stars is that her content is entirely crowdsourced," Tsuji says. "While most pop musicians may have a team of songwriters, lyricists, engineers and producers, all of Miku’s songs and artworks are created by users and fans, ranging from hobbyist musicians to industry professionals."
One interesting aspect of Miku is that Crypton developed her with no backstory. Aside from a few physical features and characteristics, Tsuji says her story is "left open for creators to interpret as they wish." In some ways, she's the perfect pop star — a blank slate onto which followers thrust their joys, fears and expectations, one that truly sings their song in the most literal sense. Whether she is the future of music isn't clear yet, but she seems to have the real and virtual universes in the palm of her computer-drawn hands.
Hatsune Miku performs Tuesday, May 17 at NRG Arena, 1 NRG Park. With Anamanaguchi. Tickets are available via Ticketmaster.