You may have seen this mind-boggling concert footage of Hatsune Miku, the first 100% CGI Japanese pop idol. But she's been around since 2007, and is only one of many virtual J-pop idols. Here are some more of the best.
Hatsune Miku is a product of Crypton Future Media (and how awesome is that corporate name?) - she's an animated girl who dances and sings, but unlike other dancing and singing cartoons before her, her voice is as artificial as her image. It's the product of Yamaha's Vocaloid software, which allows users to type in lyrics and melodies, which are then played back using samples of human voices. Miku's voice originally emerged from the throat of actress Saki Fujita, but what she sings is entirely determined by her producers and songwriters.
Though Hatsune Miku has been around since 2007, she has taken off this year - her/its album Exit Tunes Presents Vocalogenesis Feat. Hatsune Miku topped the Japanese Oricon charts in May. Some recent concert footage has been particularly mind-boggling, as the voice software is combined with a 3-D hologram image to create the truly posthuman concert experience you see above.
Of course, fans of J-pop (like me) have long been boggled by the post-everything awesomeness of the music and the weird posthumanism of the girls who sing it. (Seriously, some of them could really stand to undergo a rigorous Voigt-Kampff test.) Here's a short guide to some of my favorite J-pop singers.
Ayumi Hamasaki – "Rollin'" (live 2009)
Ayumi Hamasaki is the queen of Japanese pop, the Madonna of Asia. Her albums and singles routinely top the charts; her 50th single, "L," was just released, and her 12th album Love Songs will be out in late December. Her videos are hard to find on YouTube, but this live clip gives an idea of her cybernetic yet cutesy appeal. I have every one of her albums in my iPod.
Aira Mitsuki – "Barbie Barbie"
Several J-pop singers have embraced AutoTune and vocoders in a big way. One of the most enthusiastic proponents of voice-altering technology is Aira Mitsuki, who extends the artificiality to her imagery; her 2009 album Plastic featured her shrink-wrapped like a doll on the cover, and includes vaguely sci-fi track titles like "Sayonara Technopolis," "Robot Honey" and "Distant Stars."
Perfume – "Voice"
Perfume is a vocal trio whose music lays digitally altered vocals over ultra-chirpy technopop. Most of their music is produced by Yasutaka Tanaka of the duo capsule. "Voice" is the group's 16th single, and will presumably appear on their next album.
Namie Amuro – "Wild"
Namie Amuro's career began nearly 20 years ago; she was a member of the group Super Monkey's (punctuation in original) starting in 1992, going solo three years later. But she's still a chart-topper; "Wild" is from her 2009 album Past < Future, her ninth full-length release as a solo artist.
Ami Suzuki – "Eventful"
Ami Suzuki is a pure disco dolly, pretty much the Kylie Minogue of Japan. (She's even recorded a cover of "Can't Get You Out Of My Head.") Despite a nearly five-year gap in the middle of her career-she was effectively blacklisted after the head of her production company was convicted of tax evasion in 2000, and nobody would sign her until 2005-she maintains a strong chart presence. This song, "Eventful," was her second single for her current label, released in May 2005.
Phil Freeman is the editor of BurningAmbulance.