In case you haven’t noticed yet, I have an incredible craving for music. I’m always ready for new album releases, new music video’s, new covers… I sometimes re-listen the music of artists that I do not listen to on a regular basis anymore, while the playlists of my current favorites continue to grow. I get up with music (my alarm is ‘Very Good’ by K-pop group Block B), I shower with music, I cycle with music, ride the train with music, walk to campus with music… I sometimes even eat my lunch with music and I study with music. While studying, listening to a song with lyrics isn’t exactly effective in my case, but piano music does the job for me. Not classical music, though. I won’t say I don’t like classical music; I am just quite picky when it comes to the music that I like the most. So, I often listen to piano covers of, you guessed it: Vocaloid songs.
While thinking of what to write this week, I was listening to my favorite ‘song’ to study to. A 41 minute medley by Marasy8 on YouTube. It’s a medley from May 4th 2018 in which he mixed all the songs that had passed one million views on his channel. While it also contains songs from games, J-pop and even some classical music, the majority are Vocaloid songs (or songs with roots in the vocaloid community, such as songs by Yonezu Kenshi; another artist whom I’d like to elaborate on in a future post). It was while listening to this song that I happened upon an article about Hatsune Miku’s uncertain image.
In the article “Hatsune Miku: an uncertain image” by Stina Maria Hasse Jørgensen, Sabrina Vitting-Seerup and Katrine Wallevik in the academic journal Digital Creativity, the authors describe Hatsune Miku as ‘an uncertain image shaped by the desire and affective investment of fans’ (Jørgensen, Vitting-Seerup and Wallevik 2017, 329). While listening to this song full of snippets of covers of Vocaloid songs, my interest was sparked by seveal things they point out in the beginning of the article. Like I did in one of my earlier posts (see “Hatsune Miku, the idol who doesn’t exist”), they point out the ‘blurring of boundries between labour, ownership, creativity and desire’ (Jørgensen, Vitting-Seerup and Wallevik 2017, 320). As they continue to explain where these blurred boundries came from, they explain the relations of fans with the product.
Taking Batman as an example, they explain that even though there are many fans creating many variations of Batman, DC Comics is still the one that owns Batman and are able to create and sell the brand of Batman in as many varieties as they like, while they do not publicly engage their fans. This is a clear division, with DC Comics as producer and the fans as consumers. Unlike this divison, the roles of producer and consumer are entangled and uncertain when it comes to the image of Hatsune Miku (Jørgensen, Vitting-Seerup and Wallevik 2017, 321). Indeed, while Crypton Future Media owns the original picture of Hatsune Miku, there are a million recreations of her, from amateur to professional levels.
In the introduction of the article, they compare Hatsune Miku and Justing Bieber, both being crowdsourced idols, although Miku is ‘crowdsourced by ‘her’ fans in a much more radical way’ (Jørgensen, Vitting-Seerup and Wallevik 2017, 319). They also mention how according Drew Millard, the fans use the voice of Hatsune miku as a pathway to success.
Voice and image separated
This introduction combined with what they explain in the next few pages, made me start thinking about what I was listening to right at that moment. Was I listening to a piano version of several songs by the idol Hatsune Miku and other vocaloids, or was I listening to a piano version of several songs by popular poducers who happened to have used the voice of a voice bank? Nowadays, this image of Hatsune Miku that the authors describe, is seen less and less in the music videos of popular producers. I get the feeling that her image as an idol and her voice as a tool are slowly separating from each other, while her voice stays in focus of popularity and her image slowly retreats back into the ‘otaku world’.
For example, in Eve’s music videos, there is never a representation of the image of Hatsune Miku. It is only her voice. Now, can we say that, even though this song is a product of fan participation, this song is sung by the idol Hatsune Miku? The same goes for the songs by Balloon, Mafumafu, Nayutan Seijin, Nuyuri and Hanyuu Maigo. Yet other popular producers such as DECO*27, Rerulili and Hachi still use her and other vocaloid’s images. This might be because they have been around longer than the others as VocaloidP’s and are used (or expected by fans) to use the image of vocaloids.
I think the article is very informative, not just for people who are looking into Vocaloid and Hatsune Miku. It gave me a lot to think about regarding fan participation, platforms for creativity, attention economy and more. It also made statements with good argumentations that could be valuable for my research. I do think, though, that Hatsune Miku as an image might have outgrown the hype. The VocaloidP’s who have recently gained more popularity, did so without using her image. They still use her as a pathway to success, but as an instrument, a tool. Like she was originally supposed to be used as, and not as the idol she had become.
Or was her becoming like an idol just a well-played promotion of the voicebank?
Jørgensen, Stina Maria Hasse, Sabrina Vitting-Seerup and Katrine Wallevik. 2017. “Hatsune Miku: an uncertain image.” Digital Creativity, 28:4: 318-331. doi: 10.1080/14626268.2017.1381625.