How A Virtual Popstar Won Japan's Hearts: The Story of Hatsune Miku

The scene seems to be a familiar one: a slender, pretty girl with a distinctly anime look stands on stage, grasping a microphone and playfully chatting with the crowd before she sings another infectious tune.

She wears a short skirt and a sleeveless button-up blouse, thigh-high stockings, and long ornamental sleeves, but her most memorable feature is easily her pigtails, which are a brilliant shade of blue and brush her ankles. The crowd is wild for her, cheering her on as she performs one energetic pop song after another, which they sing along to.

They've memorized every word. To them, she is an idol, and they cover their walls at home with posters of her smiling face.

Her name is Hatsune Miku, and she is a star. But she is not a real person.

Miku, as she is more commonly called by her fans, is not a girl at all. In fact, she's actually a piece of software.

Made by the Japanese media company Crypton Future Media as part of a series of synthesizer voice software releases called Vocaloid, the program uses voice actress Saki Fujita's voice in order to create a composite of a female voice that could be used to write music.

The original release of the software featured art by illustrator Kei Garō on its cover of a lovely girl with long blue pigtails, and Crypton's vision of Miku's character was of "an android diva in a near-future world where songs are lost."

Miku's software was first released in August of 2007. In the four years since, the character has exploded into popularity as fans found the Vocaloid software and used it to make music of their own, filling Japanese video website Nico Nico Douga with their work.

Artists took up their drawing boards and paints. Cosplayers emulated them in turn, as well as creating dozens of their own original costumes fueled by creativity. And the always lucrative Japanese collectibles market has made countless figures of her.

It's hard to ignore - Miku is a profitable source of revenue, not to mention a major inspiration to those around her.

The popularity of "Vocaloid", as the software series is called, is not just surrounding Miku either. In fact, there are many other software releases with different types of voices available.

A male voice named Kaito was actually released before Miku in 2006, and a pair of "twins" with younger voices called Kagamine Lin and Ren followed Miku in 2008. The Vocaloid family continues to grow, and each character has its own fan following and an extensive body of creative work surrounding it.

Today, the trend continues to seep into America as Japanese company Live Viewing sponsors an event that will simulcast a Miku concert called  "Hatsune Miku Live Party 2011 39's LIVE in SAPPORO." And in case you're wondering, yes - Miku does put on live concerts, which have already been attended by thousands of jubilant, excited fans, and she is represented by a hologram.

And people love it.

If you would like to attend one of her concerts, the event will include several major cities, including Paris, Singapore, Bangkok, New York, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Houston, Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, London and more. Live Viewing Japan has more details, and the buzz has already got fans chattering on message boards about seeing Miku perform "live."

For a person who has never heard of anything like this, it immediately brings up a question that seems reasonable enough to ask.

What makes a person bond to a rock star that isn't real?

"Hatsune Miku represents a new kind of hybrid pop star, one inspired equally by both organic and technological creativity," says Erik Jansen, President of MediaLab, who are promoting the Miku concert in the states. " The fact that it's her fans that create the actual content also offers the premise for them to play a vital role in helping to shape her future popularity."

If people feel a direct connection with a creation like Miku, who they can actually help to create, does it make their loyalty all the more fierce? 

It certainly seems to be the case, as her popularity only seems to continue to build both in the United States and overseas, with everything from arcade cabinets to cars dedicated to her image. May 2011 marked the debut of major U.S. support for Miku through Toyota, as her image was used to promote the Corolla.

Simply put, the fictional pop star is a source of joy for many of her fans, proving that a musician is no longer defined only by a flesh and blood human being, but also by the collective creativity of millions all pointed towards one concept.

As the world around us evolves in a constant rotation of technological breakthroughs, perhaps a virtual popstar is only the beginning.