Meet Hatsune Miku, the Japanese Pop Star Hologram

Crypton Future Media CEO Hiroyuki Itoh tells the story of her creation.

Hatsune Miku

Hatsune Miku is a 16-year-old pop star from Sapporo, Japan. She has neon blue hair, which she wears in pigtails, and bright blue eyes. Since starting her career in 2007, she’s opened for Lady Gaga during the 2014 ArtPop tour, she’s done a “Happy” remix with Pharrell Williams, and has recently served as a muse for designers like Marc Jacobs and Riccardo Tisci.

Here’s the catch: Hatsune Miku isn’t real.

Hatsune Miku is a virtual character created by Crypton Future Media. Originally, she was sold as the face of computer software that allowed users to generate their own music, with her as a vessel. Imagine GarageBand mixed with Sims performing your songs.

Since Miku’s creation, over 170,000 sounds have been created for her, garnering a grand total of over 100 million hits on YouTube. This spring, she embarked on a ten-city tour with a live band to showcase the most shared singles — almost all the shows were sold out. Below, Miku’s creator, Crypton Future Media CEO Hiroyuki Itoh, tells the story of her creation.

When were you inspired to create Hatsune Miku and why? We released a software voice synthesizer called “Hatsune Miku” in 2007, with the idea of providing a tool for anyone to make their own songs on their computers, and have them sung by computerised voice, a “virtual singer.” The image of Hatsune Miku was created at the same time, to put as illustration on the software box.

What does her name mean? In Japanese “Hatsune” means “first sound” and “Miku” can mean “future.” So put together, it means “first sound from the future.”

What was your original mission with Miku? What did you want users to experience? The first goal was to give users a great tool to create their own music, with a realistically generated voice. At the same time, we wanted to expand the range of users beyond the professional musicians, who were still the core of our customers. So we put our efforts in packaging the software, in order to give it a modern look, and root the voice in a character that would be recognisable and convey an image of the future, while having some traits of Japanese pop culture.

What were you thinking about when you designed her image? Why 16-years-old? Why a girl? Why blue pigtails, etc.? The image was designed by a young illustrator from Hokkaido — the region in Japan where our company Crypton Future Media has its headquarters — called KEI. We gave him some basic instructions, like age, color scheme, and integrating some design elements of electronic instruments. Her signature teal color for example comes from an iconic keyboard synthesizer. The blue pigtails were a design choice of KEI, that made her look very unique, and proved to be a very successful idea.

Why do you think users enjoy Miku so much? How are they able to interact with her in a way that is completely new and unique? Hatsune Miku, through an open licensing scheme we have adopted, can be used freely by anyone in their own creations, as long as it is not for commercial profit. That includes her voice, but also her appearance and design. Thanks to that, thousands and thousands of fans have been making and sharing their artworks on the internet, which gives them a chance to interact not only with Miku by making her sing or dance, but with other users and fans. Every song or illustration can give inspiration to another creator to make their own, or offer their help to improve it. We like to call that a “chain of creation.”

Do people see themselves in Miku? What is the user’s relationship to her? In a way, she is the voice of many music creators, who are represented by her on stage. But I believe every fan’s relationship to Miku is different. Some like her looks, her music, her style, on different levels.

What is it like to be in the audience at a Miku concert? What is the experience like and how did you think about the production of it? For example, why glowsticks? Actually glowsticks are not specific to Miku, many fans bring them to live concerts in Japan, it’s a way to participate in the event. For Miku concerts it has become a tradition, especially those that can change colors according to the character that is singing on stage. I have to explain that in addition to Hatsune Miku, there are 5 more characters who are also part of the show, and each have their own designated color.

How is she the same and/or different from human pop stars? Better? She is different for obvious reasons: she doesn’t have a personality or opinions of her own, she cannot answer interviews for example. But on the other hand she does many of the things her human counterparts do: singing, dancing, live concerts of course, TV appearances in Japan and the US, and recently even photoshoots for a fashion magazine!

Have you spoken to any users or fans? What are some reactions you’ve seen? I take every opportunity to talk with users and fans. They’re always on the lookout for anything new with Hatsune Miku, and curious of what other fans are doing. For example, after the concert we had in Los Angeles in 2014, a group of Japanese fans drove all the way from L.A. to New York, and made it in time for the concert that was held there one week later. Thousands were following them online, and I had a chance to talk with them in New York. Their passion and commitment was impressive! At most shows I try to go out and meet the fans, and they are always incredibly friendly and enthusiastic.

Why do you think Miku has become so popular in the world? What does it say about our society/culture? People have been relying increasingly on social media to get in touch with the world. At the same time they have become themselves sources and conveyers of content and information. And since there is no border on the internet, new trends can easily spread out of their region of origin into the whole world. And Hatsune Miku being a digital entity, she was able to fit perfectly in this new reality, and become a global phenomenon.

What are your thoughts about Miku being embraced by the fashion industry? I don’t think there was ever a singer who’s had as many different costumes designed for them as Hatsune Miku. When she performs one of the thousands of songs made by her fans, sometime she would put on an original costume for it. Since she is virtual, there is no limit to her metamorphosis, whether it be through illustration or computer graphics. And many of her fans — not exclusively female — like dressing like her (“cosplaying”), or take inspiration from her design to include in their own fashion. I feel there are many possibilities to use Hatsune Miku as design material for all kinds of fashion collaborations.

In your opinion, are characters like Miku the future of music? Will pop stars eventually become obsolete? In other words, what does the the future of the music industry look like to you? I think Miku is already the present of music, in that she embodies a vast movement, brought about by the internet, and which blurs the line between creators and users. Music, like artistic creation in general, is not just a few professional artists making songs for the rest of the us. More and more individuals have the will, talent, and now the means to share their work with the world, and to be both consumer and creators. That idea has been around for a while, but I think Miku is one of its best illustrations. But I don’t think one minute that it will make “human” singers obsolete, it’s just two different things.

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Photos: Meet Hatsune Miku, the Japanese Pop Star Hologram