Today marks Hatsune Miku’s 10th birthday, which also means that it has been one decade since the release of Crypton Future Media’s first installment in their character Vocaloid series. The singing-synthesizer software had been available for a few years prior, but had failed to find much of an audience. Then, the Sapporo-based company stuck the aqua-haired cartoon character on the box, giving the program an avatar. Shortly after coming out on August 31, 2007, Miku’s edition of Vocaloid became a smash hit. Stores couldn’t keep it in stock.
From there, Miku became one of the next decade’s most important musical figures, whether because she helped spark a vibrant Vocaloid music community that still exists today, or for helping popularise holographic live shows. Plenty of other Vocaloid characters have emerged in her wake - and risen to immense popularity - but Miku set the stage.
To celebrate 10 years of existence, here are five of the finest Miku songs from the last decade:
1. ryo - “Melt” (2007)
The first few months after Miku’s release saw a rush of songs featuring her digi-warble, most finding a home on the Japanese video sharing site Nico Nico Douga (now known as Niconico). Following her arrival, new artists utilising her synthesized voice popped up frequently, but few stood out as immediately as a creator going by the name ryo. His “Melt” became one of 2007’s biggest Vocaloid hits, and the rollicking pop number highlighted how electro-pop and rock could work alongside her voice. Soon after, ryo formed the group Supercell, rising to greater mainstream visibility with and without digital assistance. “Melt” helped lay the groundwork for all Vocaloid pop to come. And it quickly became a live staple for Miku, as you can see above.
2. Powapowa-p - “Strobe Last” (2011)
By 2011, producers focused on Vocaloid established two primary ways to use Miku’s voice. She could either rip over aggressive rock, or bounce along with high-energy synth-pop inspired by the whirlwind electro of Perfume. Plenty of great songs emerged from these two paths, but sometimes it’s nice seeing another way open up. Powapowa-p’s “Strobe Last” slowed matters down, casting Miku into a fidgety number unfolding at a more measured pace, letting everyone of her syllables hang in the ample space Powapowa-p provided. It eventually bursts open, but it’s the slow development to that point that’s most intriguing, alongside reminding of the software’s experimental possibilities.
3. livetune - “Tell Your World” (2011)
Hatsune Miku can sing about anything, but many producers opt to have her sing about the strange existence of...being Hatsune Miku. She’s a character, sure, but she’s ultimately an instrument, and many of the most famous Vocaloid songs celebrate her role as a way of delivering an artist’s vision to the world. Duo livetune, early Vocaloid pioneers, captured this sensation best on “Tell Your World,” a song that soundtracked a Google Chrome ad in Japan (famously getting more views than similar ones starring acts like Justin Bieber). The number itself celebrates Miku’s ability to, well, tell a person’s world to a greater audience, set over music that moves from delicate to lightspeed. It’s the finest example of the meta nature of Vocaloid music.
4. Namie Amuro - “B Who I Want 2 B” (2015)
As her status grew, it was inevitable Hatsune Miku would collaborate with all sorts of unexpected people. Over the years, she’s teamed up with Scarlett Johanson, Big Boi and Scott from Dominoes. Mostly, these moments are curiosities. Yet her 2015 appearance on J-pop titan Namie Amuro’s “B Who I Want 2 B” offers up a legitimately mind-bending usage of the technology. The track is produced by English artist SOPHIE, who allows enough space for Vocaloid tuner Mitchie M to create a disorienting effect where Amuro’s voice morphs into Miku’s and back, creating something that’s half duet and half Borg assimilation. Not only a fantastic use of Miku, but one of the stranger songs included on a major-label J-pop album this decade.
5. Hachi - “Dune” (2017)
The official theme song to Miku’s Magical Mirai event in Tokyo this weekend, “Dune” offers up one of the bleakest birthday presents you could give anyone. It’s an unnerving number set in a post-humanity world, one where sand has completely covered the Earth. Bleak, and also relevant! Global warming dread aside, “Dune” finds producer Hachi creating a shambling number anchored by electronic guitar notes and joyless shouts of “yay,” which make Miku’s resigned delivery - approaching a rap - all the more effective. “Dune” shows the software still has a lot of room for exploration.
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