Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Big in Japan

By Ian Minor

Hatsune Miku is the newest pop idol to make it big in Japan, a place that seem to be able to not get enough pop. At the age of fifteen her resume is impressive, she sings and dances.

She has made several albums, most of which have cracked the top five. She’s one of the few to make an impression in other countries, such as the U.S. and Mexico.

She’s cute, has a great voice and is an all around nice person. There’s only one problem.

Miku doesn’t exist.

I mean that literally, not in a “she’s only a persona made by the record company” way. Hatsune Miku is from a program called Vocaloid made by Yamaha. Type in your lyrics and she’ll sing them, tweak it around, put in your music and you’ve got a song. The first ones were released in 2004 in the U.K. It had mild success, enough for them to make a new version. Vocaloid2 was radically different in several ways.

First, this was the first Japanese Vocaloid with an actual human was behind the mic, rather then just being a computer, resulting in less songs being sung by HAL’s twin brother. Secondly, while not the first to have an image, it was the first to be thought of as a character as much as a program. They thought about what type of character would appeal to the all of Japan, thus choosing an innocent girl.

To say it was a hit is an understatement, it was a phenomenon. Songs filled popular music websites in Japan, some made by famous producers, some by people in basements. Fans made countless videos for her. One of her songs is even played at graduations, becoming their version of Green Day's “Good Riddance.” However as her fame grew, some fans grew discontent. Miku was too pure, too carefree. Miku had become a J-pop singer, which is good for popularity, but less so for musical creativity.

So when the second Vocaloid came out, the fans decided that they would make anything they wanted. Yamaha was only to happy to comply and released Kagamine Rin & Len, a set of female and male twins. Instantly the fans went to work, creating darker and different music. They covered every genre, from rock to rap and even classical. They began telling stories with their songs and videos. This included the mini-operas “Daughter of Evil” and the Holocaust inspired “Paper Planes.”

I find it rather interesting, as the music scene, is filled with supposed “fake” stars, that actually fake characters can rise to the top (at least in Japan). Like the Gorillaz and Dethklok before them, people seem to love musicians where there is no public involvement by humans. Is they’re something to learn from this? Probably, but for now, let’s just enjoy the music.

“World Is Mine” by Hatsune Miku (mp3)

“Prisoner” by Kagamine Twins (mp3)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

On a Manic Dylan Binge

This fever has been building for quite awhile, but now I am in the midst of a full-blown Bob Dylan binge.

His latest album, which rocks with Los Lobos' David Hidalgo's accordion, and the recent Rolling Stone interview have definitely stoked the flames. Now, I can listen to little else.

Young, old, acoustic or electric, the hits and the rarities, it doesn't matter. I'm listening to it all. The man can turn a phrase and plumb the depths. I'm amazed every time.

Dylan's radio show on XM/Sirius is a consistent enjoyable listening experience. Bob closed his third season in April with the appropriate theme of "Goodbye." Some speculate that Dylan is done with his radio show and is moving on. That would be a shame, but Bob has left enough for us to enjoy. Listening is like sitting on the back porch with the coolest man on earth - which it pretty much is.

You can peruse archived shows at this wonderfully obsessive Dutch Dylan website. For just a taste, check at the seasonally-relevant link below.


I have a fever to attend to.

Hot Fun in the Summertime (w_Bob Dylan intro)” by Sly & The Family Stone (mp3)