How Hatsune Miku Dominated Japanese Pop

Hatsune Miku

It’s been over thirteen years since Hatsune Miku burst onto the scene, and her popularity has since expanded beyond the realm of otaku pop. ‘Hatsune Miku doesn’t only appeal to musicians and artists but is also used by scientists and researchers,’ creator Hiroyuki Itoh said in an interview with JRock News. ‘It is an important aspect for us that Hatsune Miku can reach many mediums, beyond its core audience.’

Hatsune Miku’s sci-fi aesthetic is nothing unique. The most popular example of this has been with musicians like Tupac and Roy Orbison rising from the grave to rock the stage as holograms. Hatsune Miku’s style of computerized singing has also been done before by countless Vocoder-loving DJs in their tunes. Yet in the eyes of her millions of adoring fans, Hatsune Miku is more cutting-edge and futuristic than any of those musicians. And despite existing as merely an electronic simulacra, she seems more real too.

A Star is Born

Hatsune Miku’s real origins date all the way back to 1961, when a small group of scientists working at the Nokia-owned Bell Labs got one of their computers to sing the old tune ‘Daisy Bell’ through vocoder. This legendary experiment would be witnessed by Arthur C. Clarke, who used it as inspiration for HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Flash forward four decades later to the year 2000, where the ‘Daisy Bell’ experiment lived on at Spain’s own Pompeu University. The Yamaha corporation would sink its funds into budding scientist Hideki Kenmochi and his team at the prestigious Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona Spain. Hideki’s project, code-named Daisy (of course), would eventually evolve into the first official vocal synthesizer, the Vocaloid. 

Released in January 2004, Vocaloid would allow users to use synthesized vocals to create their own songs. The original release would come with the English-speaking Vocaloids Miriam, Lola, Leon, and would become praised by everyone from industry reps to even R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe. But it wasn’t until its successor the Vocaloid 02 came along a few years later until things really started to pick up. 

This edition of the series would be more Japanese-oriented and include fabulously-designed anime-inspired moe avatars to represent the Vocaloids. More notably, it would feature actual vocal samples based on real-life Japanese pop stars and, most important of all, mark Hatsune Miku’s debut alongside other Vocaloids. The improvements made from the previous Vocaloid, as well as Hatsune Miku’s charming aesthetic, would guarantee the product’s success.

Hatsune Miku

Her Rise To Fame

Vocaloid 02 would sell like gangbusters, with a whopping 40,000 units sold in less than a year of its release. But that would barely be the start of Hatsune Miku’s career. Her fame would continue to skyrocket with the release of the rhythm game Project DIVA

Released by Sega for the PSP in 2009 and then on the Playstation 3 in 2010, Project DIVA would have Miku steal the show by having her perform dozens of songs that the player would have to mash buttons to in musical syncopation. It would also include the track ‘The Disappearance of Hatsune Miku,’ which would become one of her most well-known songs.

The explosive popularity of Project DIVA would launch Miku to pop stardom. Her creators would make the move to pull her out from behind the computer screen and onto the stage as a virtual hologram. Backed by the band The 39’s, Hatsune Miku performed a sold-out show to hundreds of adoring fans at the Zepp Tokyo concert hall. 

From there, Miku would receive all of the usual celebrity endorsements, including her likeness being used for advertisements campaigns by Google and Toyota Corolla, the latter of which would introduce Western audiences to the moe pop star. She would receive even more attention in America when she opened for Lady Gaga during her 2014 ARTPOP tour, and then when she performed on The Late Show a few months ago. The latter is certainly worth watching, even if only to watch an out-of-touch David Letterman’s bewilderment. After the performance finished, Letterman would drily quip, ‘It’s like being on Willie Nelson’s bus.’

Hatsune Miku

Hatsune Miku Can Rock Too

It’s fair to say that Hatsune Miku has since become immortalized by the Internet. She has so many hit songs under her belt and tens of thousands remixing her music and making tons of fan art. But my personal favorite thing about Hatsune Miku? Her guitar pedal.

Developed by guitar pedal titans Korg, this pedal can imitate her vocal inflections to a T. You can easily add Miku’s scats, lahhs, and nyan sounds to add an element of doki-doki Vocaloid magic into your riffs and solos, leaving a lot up to the imagination. Which brings me to this simple request: Marty Friedman, if in the slightest off-chance you are reading this, please get this pedal. Could you imagine doing the ‘Hangar 18’ solo with this pedal? Far out.

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