Hatsune Miku: The Future of Manufactured Idols?

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What’s the first thing that goes through your mind, when you hear that over 3000 people at a time are attending concerts performed by a hologram?

If you’re a fellow science-fiction fan, then possibly this scene from chapter sixty-nine of Snow Crash (1992), Neal Stephenson’s cyperpunk classic (and where we get the word “avatar” from):

…[the light show] begins to simplify itself and narrow into a single bright column of light. By this point, it is the music that is carrying the show: a pounding bass beat and a deep threatening ostinato that tells everyone to keep watching, the best is yet to come. And everyone does watch. Religiously.

The column of light begins to flow up and down and resolve itself into a human form. Actually, it is four human forms, female nudes standing shoulder to shoulder, facing outward, like caryatids. Each of them is carrying a something long and slender in her hands: a pair of tubes.

A third of a million hackers stare at the women, towering above the stage, as they raise their arms above their heads and unroll the four scrolls, turning each one them into a flat television screen the size of a football field…

The reality however, is rather different. But Hatsune Miku (初音ミク) is no less impressive for all that:

Or rather, the technology behind “her” is. As the notes to that video put it:

Japan’s newest singing sensation is a… Hologram. No, that’s not a typo! It’s amazing where technology is headed these days! Over in Japan Cryton Future Media is actually starting projector concerts using a actual live band to compliment their virtual vocaloid idols like Hatsune Miku. Regardless of being a Hatsune Miku fan or not, just seeing what technology can accomplish is just amazing. While this technically isn’t a ‘true’ hologram (one where light actually takes up volumetric space rather than just a planar surface) like the one we’ve all seen of in Star Wars, it is still nevertheless quite impressive how real this appears!

Still, as author of this blog(!), it behooves me to ponder some of the negative social consequences as the technology improves, especially once the virtual idols become photo-realistic. Indeed, Hatsune Miku aside, it’s already entirely possible that when my daughters are in their late-teens or early-twenties, they’ll feel compelled to compare their bodies with – and be compared to – impossibly perfect computer-generated body shapes. But if those happen belong to the hottest (virtual) girl-groups in K-pop too?

But wait a minute…women being encouraged to aspire to body-shapes that it’s physically impossible for human females to achieve? Hell, that’s already happening!

Update 1 - Edurne mentions that the movie S1m0ne explored these themes way back in 2002:

Update 2 – As it turns out, a photo-realistic member of a (Japanese) girl-group was actually created back in June!

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12 thoughts on “Hatsune Miku: The Future of Manufactured Idols?

  1. do you remember the movie “Simone” ???

    it´s happening right now.
    about the body shapes, yes, you`re right, i was thinking about the same thing. if they become too real, what will be for us real women? it is a bit scary.

  2. Here’s the thing: Miku is an idol, but at the same time, she isn’t. What most people don’t seem to realize is that Miku is actually a singing computer program called Vocaloid. There are multiple Vocaloids available for purchase, and even a free version called UTAU where you can make your own. Anyone can purchase her and make her sing their songs. You are also free to sell anything you create using Vocaloid. People upload the songs they make online, and others may make art or music videos of the songs. Everyone participates in the creative process. All the songs are made by independent producers on the internet. The company is not the one making songs. All the company does is sell the musical instrument. When I hear vocaloid music, I’m cheering on the producers who made the song, because they are the ones who do the hard work.

  3. Ok, I’m a bit freaked at the whole Holo-Bint. But after a few moments of utter freak, I managed to find it funny. In a non cerebral way.

    Not my cuppa tea, nor my idea of music. But not weirder than Lara Croft was way back.
    If you remember, they made her appear in music Vids, and she gave interviews.

    And Endure is right to point out ‘Simone’ a movie that deals with a future industry with exactly the same thing.
    Unreal Stars and consequences included.

  4. Linda is correct. Miku is one of many vocaloids created by Crypton. Vocaloids use voice samples from real people.

    If you search up Miku’s measurements, you would realize that these measurements are extremely hard to achieve in real life. However, I do not think that Miku will ever become “photo-realistic” because she is clearly drawn/created in a Japanese anime style, and if they decided to make her more realistic, Vocaloid might lose some of its appeal.

    As a teenage girl, I compare to SNSD much more than I would compare to Vocaloids because it is very clear that Vocaloids are not real. The benefits of Vocaloids are much more than the possible harm it could cause to females’ body images, and I think they should stick around. Korean idols can go out and make bad decisions, but Miku is whatever you want her to be.

    • Thanks for the extra information and clarifications Linda and Kelly. Just one thing though Kelly: I completely agree that Miku’s measurements are extremely hard to achieve in real life (actually, they’d be impossible), and also that Miku will never become photo-realistic. I was more referring to the technology, which could (and almost certainly will) be used to create much more lifelike idols in the near future. But not that there aren’t many positives to the technology too of course.

  5. A lot of people will read this and say “but she isn’t a real person! How can people enjoy ‘her’ music?”

    But think about the pop music culture of Korea and Japan and ask yourself if those young men and women are viewed as human beings. Do fans and netizens hold their friends to the same standards they hold their favorite boy band members to? Nope.

    On an embarrassing side note, I discovered this song in Nov/Dec and listened to it quite a bit! I was mesmerized!

  6. I’m both excited about and bothered by this advancement in technology.

    As cool as as singing hologram is, this is just a further way to alienate peoples by dehumanizing nearly all of our industries. Plus, if this catches on, some of the world’s most popular acts might be computer generated and where does that leave human vocalists?

    And since humans have a tendency to view anything that looks human as being human and capable of giving and receiving emotional cues and value, it seems entirely likely to me that this would catch on relatively quickly. There will always be protesters, but most people will let it pass without thinking about how the future is going.

    There is definitely entertainment value and that’s the important thing, but due to the current issues in computational linguistics which makes realistic human speech on a computer nearly impossible and with vocaloid voices sounding extremely tinny, it will be at least a few more years before she sounds as good as the best human vocalists. Computers nowadays can only really spit out imperfect language data, but can’t generate it on its own, which means these holograms won’t be writing their own songs anytime soon.

    I won’t be attending any vocaloid concerts until I can stand the pitchiness and disconnected syllables of the voices.

    • About your point about dehumanizing our industries– actually, I would argue that Vocaloid has given quite human vocalists a new outlet and platform. On NicoNicoDouga (Japan’s equivalent of YouTube, as I’m sure you’re aware) amateur singers start out covering Vocaloid songs and a lot of them have gone on to professional recording contracts with the likes of avex, and have their own set of fans that attend their live broadcasts and come to concerts to see them– the cover singers, not the vocaloid. I personally prefer to download and listen to the human covers of vocaloid songs rather than the original.
      Creatively, I see vocaloids more as a platform than an entity that is going to replace actual human artists.

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