Grab your headphones, take a seat, make yourself comfortable and join me on this YouTube deepdive tour. The upcoming music videos might not be your cup of tea at all, but I’d very much appreciate it if you gave it a chance and accompanied me while I show you around in this corner of the internet.
Last week I wrote about Hatsune Miku, a non-existent idol whose voice is created with a vocal sythesizer software called Vocaloid. I briefly introduced her achievements and the digital community of her fans. This time I want to dig deeper into that community. The fans of Hatsune Miku have fans, and they have fans as well. In other words: People who are creators of her music (VocaloidP’s, see “Hatsune Miku, the idol who doesn’t exist”) are also fans of her music. The fans of the VocaloidP’s then cover and remix their music. They have fans as well. Even shorter: Everyone can be both a fan and a creator in this community. Once again, the lines are blurred. Even so, I will try to introduce you to one part of this chain of fans: so-called 歌い手utaite.
What exactly are utaite? According to dictionaries, it is just another way to write 歌手 kashu, which translates to ‘singer’. However, on social media this word has gained another meaning. The term is used for artists who cover mainly Vocaloid and anime songs on websites such as niconico (see “Hatsune Miku, the idol who doesn’t exist”) and YouTube. As YouTube is more easily accessible, I will use YouTube in this post to show you some of these covers.
So, utaite mainly cover Vocaloid songs. So what? Well, it might be a little different from what you’re imagining now. Most utaite don’t show their faces except on stage, so looks are not the reason for their popularity. Also,we’re talking about people who are capable of selling out Makuhari Messe and Saitama Super Arena several times. I know, I know, I said Tokyo Dome in the title. They haven’t actually reached Tokyo Dome yet, but Makuhari Messe and Saitama Super Arena are the next best. What I’m trying to say is: Although they started off just uploading some low-quality covers of Vocaloid songs, tagging them “I tried to sing” (歌ってみた utattemita), over the years they managed to gain a following big enough to perform on two of the biggest stages in Japan.
Last spring, a television program called “The Law of R” (Rの法則 R no Housoku, April 19th 2018) on NHK covered this topic. They introduced the Japanese general public to three of the biggest utaite: まふまふ Mafumafu, そらる Soraru and 天月 Amatsuki. According to a fan interviewed in the program, there seems to be an order in which people get to like these three singers. The most popular one, Mafumafu, has a unique voice that people might not enjoy the first time they hear it. One has to get used to the music first by listering to Soraru’s soothing voice. Then move on to Amatsuki, a singer with a boyish but pleasant voice. Once one is used to this, they are ready to move on to Mafumafu.
In this post I will concentrate on their covers of Vocaloid songs. Not all of these songs are originally by Hatsune Miku, but do keep in mind that she is the face of Vocaloid by now.
Soraru – シャルル Charles by バルーンBalloon
Charles by Balloon was one of the hits of 2017 among utaite. In this song, Soraru’s low and appealing voice is very well expressed, but it also shows his capabilty to reach higher pitches. On YouTube, this is his most viewed solo cover.
Soraru – いかないで Ikanaide (Don’t go) by 想太 Souta
Ikanaide is a soft song which gives off the vibes of a Japanese festival, but the theme is a sad goodbye after the festival. Soraru’s soft voice is very expressive in this song.
Amatsuki – 今好きになる。Ima suki ni naru. (Right Now, I’m in Love With You) by HoneyWorks
HoneyWorks is a very popular unit of VocaloidP’s, creating songs around a love story they made up. This song too is part of that story. Amatsuki’s ikemen (pretty boy) voice fits this theme very well.
Amatsuki – おじゃま虫 Ojamamushi by DECO*27
Ojamamushi is a word used to describe someone who is sitting in the way and severs no real purpose. The song is about someone just wanting to be with someone because they love them, saying they only need to hear the words “I love you” and don’t need anything else. Amatsuki is very capable of expressing the lyrics in the song in a cute way.
Amatsuki – 厨病激発ボーイ Chuubyou Gekihatsu Boy (Middle Schooler Disease Outburst Boy) by れるりりRerulili
Rerulili is popular for his high-BPM songs with often sexual meanings. In this song, Amatsuki also shows a slightly sexier and deeper version of his boyish voice.
Mafumafu – 雨とペトラ Ame to Petra (Rain and Petra) by Balloon
Another song by Balloon. While Mafumafu has a unique voice, he is mainly known for his high pitch. For him, this song actually is quite on the low side.
Mafumafu – 彗星ハネムーン Suisei Honeymoon (Comet Honeymoon) by ナユタン星人 Nayutan Seijin (Nayutan Alien)
The second hit of 2017. Like his name suggests, Nayutan Seijin is well-known for his alien-themed songs. In this song, Mafumafu’s high-pitched voice is very clear. The high tunes go well with the theme.
Mafumafu – 懺悔参り Zange Mairi (Visiting Repentance) by 羽生まゐご Hanyuu Maigo
The theme of this song is inspired by the two main religions in Japan, Buddhism and Shintoïsm. Mafumafu himself often writes songs with a strong ‘Japanese’ sound and mastered a singing style to go along with it, which is very clear in this cover. Though, in this songs it is less clear for first-time listeners what Mafumafu’s gender is.
It was quite hard for me to limit myself to only a few songs per utaite, but I hope you enjoyed it! All three of them do not only cover Vocaloid songs, but also J-pop songs or they sing their own. They also often collaborate, for example Soraru and Mafumafu, forming the popular unit After the Rain. Even within Vocaloid, there are many types of songs and many ways to sing those songs, so every cover can be different. Because of this, I would highly recommend exploring their channels, especially if you did NOT enjoy these songs. While many utaite have their own specific style, they also sing songs in different styles, so you might happen upon something you like.
In conclusion, these three people have made a career under the influence of the internet. They were able to use platforms such as niconico and YouTube to find the music to cover and to post their own versions. The vague copyright laws within the Vocaloid community made it possible for them to reach great fame, maybe even greater than the VocaloidP’s themselves. They became like idols in the shadow of the non-existent idol Hatsune Miku, who created an audience that is interested in this type of music. Their popularity is the product of digital media.
In case you are interested, feel free to check out these utaite as well:
伊東歌詞太郎 (Ito Kashitaro)