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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Is Hatsune Miku a Better Pop Star than Justin Bieber? | Today I Learned

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Pop stars.

We love them so much it hurts.

It hurts us.

But mostly it hurts them.

You know Justin Bieber.

A few years back we were all like, "that dude's gonna melt down faster than a piece of feta

in a fondu pot."

Well, it's finally happening.

And it's kinda funny.

But, it's mostly tragic.

NEWSCASTER: Justin Bieber: Arrested in Miami Beach for DUIs, street racing, resisting arrest!

And all we can say is: "Finally, right?"

BIEBER: The fuck did you say?

What'd you say?

As hard as it is to imagine from a distance, Justin Bieber is what we like to call

a "human being."

Like you, and like me.

I get it, like, he's made his fair share of bad decisions, but there's an argument that

Justin Bieber's personality and behavior are the result of an unusual and unsustainable


And Biebs is barely the latest in a long line of pop stars just like him, whose lives just

manage to fall apart.

What if it didn't have to be this way?

What if we could have all the joys of a pop star?

We could have them improve our lives without destroying their own?

It'd be pretty great, right?

This is Hatsune Miku, one of Japan's most beloved pop stars.

Her popularity is staggering.

Chart-topping video games.

A hundred thousand-copy selling albums.

A spread in the Japanese playboy.

Cosplayers, racecars... she's been launched in a rocket.


Remember that unsettling holographic technology that brought back Tupac?

Similar tech helped stage a live Miku concert.

She isn't a human.

She isn't a robot.

She isn't even really a video game character, not in her truest form.

She's software.

You can buy her.


My name is Miku Hatsune!

What's your name?

Nice to meet you!"

Miku is a Vocaloid.

She's one of... well.

A lot.

In 2000, Yamaha began co-development of a piece of musical composition software that

imitated the human voice.

They dubbed this software "Vocaloid."

The software samples a collection of real human vocal recordings, then manipulates them

into something entirely new.

Early on, Vocaloid software catered to professional musicians and producers.

Its packaging and promotion often felt very dull, utilitarian even.

Krypton, a Japanese music software developer, had the idea to give its second Vocaloid

a face.

"I'm Hatsune Miku, from Krypton Future Media."

They hoped a character, like a spokesmodel, would lure customers into choosing their software

over the competition's.

Krypton's CEO named this character Hatsune Miku, which translates roughly to

"first sound from the future."

She has no backstory, just a body type.

She's sixteen years old, with turquoise pigtails and a skin-tight bodysuit.

She'll look this way forever.

Krypton's strategy worked.

Professionals took interest in Miku immediately.

But unexpectedly, so did an enthusiast fanbase.

Krypton's CEO claims that Miku fans were posting fanart online within the day of release.

Why, though?

Well, in short, creative freedom.

While the software was designed for professionals, anyone who purchased Krypton's program could

use it to produce and freely distribute their own Hatsune Miku songs.

"Welcome to the Zero-G Vocaloid tutorial.

Once you know the basic procedure, creating vocal tracks in Vocaloid is actually quite


And if fans or professionals wanted to profit off the music, they had the opportunity to

partner with Krypton.

And Krypton didn't simply make the music software open source.

The company made Miku herself available to the public.

Artists and musicians were free to modify, repurpose, and publish work featuring the

character however they liked.

So suddenly, the software and the image were serving as this gateway into real-word careers.

For people who had no involvement in the music industry previously.

Within a year, Miku featured in hundreds of fan-made songs.

Within five years, fans had developed software for choreographing dances, designed a handful

of Miku spinoffs, and published thousands of web videos viewed millions of times.

Miku's fame congealed because a community of fans produced an amount and variety of

music that would be impossible and impractical to expect from a single person.

Here is a year's worth of music from Justin Bieber.

And here is a year's worth of music from Hatsune Miku.

Fans are consumers, but in Miku's case they're also collaborators.

Okay, let's compare the creative freedom of Hatsune Miku with that of Justin Bieber.

Producers, agents, managers and monolithic corporate entities have exclusive control

of, and profit from, the "Justin Bieber Project."

Fans can't make Justin sing their songs, and they certainly can't profit off of his music.

And Bieber's image and intellectual property is fiercely protected by Western laws.

But these restrictions feel outdated.

And even a little draconian.

We are living in the age of participation.

We use Twitter, and Tumblr, and Youtube, and Instagram and Vine (RIP) to criticize, and

deconstruct, and improve, and republish and re-whatever we want with our entertainment.

There is a certain co-ownership that we have with the things we love.

The Miku method reflects the way that we expect to engage with our entertainment.

Howthe whole world, today.

There's also something sinister and inhuman about the treatment of human pop stars.

While agents, managers and producers might care about their star and wish the best for

him, they also care about what decisions will most benefit them.

For example, Justin Bieber won't benefit emotionally from a nasty appearance in a gossip rag.

But those around him, those who invested in the Justin Bieber commodity might gain from

that publicity.

So it's no surprise that Bieber, and most pop stars who are young, or naive or both,

and too much trust in those around them eventually enter an existential tailspin.

What makes Miku special is her complete artificiality.

She never ages.

She's not going to appear in a gossip rag after a weeknight bender.

She's not even going to have a weeknight bender, not unless someone wants to.

Her life can't be ruined, because she doesn't have one.

And yet Miku's best attributesher ubiquity and her accessibility

set a dangerous precedent.

Miku allows fans to go beyond feeling ownership for who they love to actually

having that ownership.

She can't say no to a requestany request.

That allows her to be a vessel for fans' creativity, but it allows a character designed like a child

to be manipulated in unsavory ways.

It gets gross.

One of the first pieces of software designed for the Oculus Rifta virtual reality

headsetfeatures Miku.

In the first-person simulation users can, with the help of a motion controller, reach

out and touch her.

So, is a virtual pop star better than a human pop star?

Or in this case, is Hatsune Miku a better vessel for celebrity than Justin Bieber?


In almost every way, virtual pop stars improve upon their human contemporaries.

Vocaloids like Miku topple the barrier between artist and fan, and do so without endangering

the life of a living, breathing person.

Now, Miku obviously isn't going to replace Biebs any time soon.

But there's still an important lesson to be learned here.

In Miku, we see the extremity of fandom.

For the better, for sure, but also for the worse.

Agents, managers and producers, but also wethe fansare guilty.

Because we idolize, commoditize, sexualize and aggrandize the people that we love, with

a dangerous fervor.

We treat pop stars like objects, when what they need to be treated like is humans.

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