Virtual Bodies in Music

Every time we think about virtual bodies in music, holograms may be the first thing coming to our mind, which have been used to bring us back artists we thought would never set foot on stage again. In 2012 Coachella brought Tupac, Michael Jackson also joined this tendency, and this year Whitney Houston gave a holographic tour. This phenomenon may be seen as a way of keeping on enjoying great artists or as a simple form of earning money without creating anything new.

Those that do found new music through non-corporeal characters are virtual bands (this term is also used to designate groups that collaborate throughout the internet) or cartoon bands, and the most popular band is Gorillaz. It was created in 1998 by Damon Albarn, a member of Blur, and the artist Jamie Hewlett. Albarn experimented with this band genres different from Blur’s usual genre while they introduced the world virtual members lived in through musical videos, animated shorts, and interviews. In this project, Damon Albarn is the only one that musically contributes in a permanent way since there are many collaborations with lots of artists. Although Gorillaz was the band that popularised the most the term virtual band, other bands such as Alvin and the Chipmunks (1958), The Banana Splits (1968) or Josie and the Pussycats (1970) already existed, whose concepts inspired Albarn and Hewlett.

There are also virtual idols based on Japanese idols (people trained to sing, dance, model, etc., from agencies in order to form groups and to work as soloists too), that emerged around 1980 from different anime. However, today’s most famous Japanese idols are VOCALOID and who are called V-Tubers, virtual youtubers (the most popular band is Kizuna AI). VOCALOID is a speech synthesis software born in 2000 as a project led by Kenmochi Hideki at the University Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. Yamaha liked this idea, thus economically supporting the project and turning it into the product we know today, launched in 2004.

The technology consists of a synthesizer that, from a voice bank (usually provided by singers and voice actors), is able to sing if it is provided with a melody and a lyric.

This software was created both for professionals and fans of making music, however, these latter have boosted VOCALOIDS members the most, existing today fans of these “singers”. But this did not happen only with the software, but visual support of the different pets (that also have descriptions of their personality) for every voice library was so important. The most famous is Hatsune Miku (‘the first sound of the future’), developed by Crypton Future Media in 2007. Nowadays she is one of the most famous idols, giving concerts and tours and was even the opening act for Lady Gaga in 2014. Magical Mirai is one of the biggest concerts of this virtual diva. It is celebrated close to her birthday and has a live band, as well as performances of other Crypton’s pets. Behind VOCALOID members, diverse producers are found, and the most important is Wowaka, who left so iconic songs such as Rollin’Girl on his album Unhappy Refrain, one Hatsune Miku’s most famous songs.

Although VOCALOID lived through a real boom in 2012, the truth is that there are not as many fans as before. Some people reckon that many people have gone to other software, and other people think this is because of k-pop. Many virtual or hybrid bands come to us from South Korea, such as Aespa, which includes four real members: Karina, NingNing, Winter, and Giselle, and their virtual versions, called the ae. It is not known yet the role of these versions, since they debuted on November 17, but the intrigue does not leave anybody indifferent with this SM Entertainment new group. But also they are being accused of plagiarising some concepts in their first video to a 100% virtual k-pop group called K/DA. This was created in 2018 by Riot Games to promote skins (aspects you can use in the game), and the global competition of League of Legends (LoL). They have acted in concerts of these online game competitions, and this November they launched their first EP, ALL OUT.

The difference between VOCALOID and the members of this virtual band is that the team behind these latter tries to give them a real person’s normal life throughout social networks with messages about dance rehearsals or even problems with self-image and self-confidence. This latter was shared by Seraphine, a recent LoL skin, virtual influencer and K/DA collaborator. Furthermore, on December 2 a member of the group, Akali, participated in the Genius famous interviews in which she talked about MORE lyrics. For many people they are going so far by trying to make them be real people, since they are a video game company project. For others, it is just about continuing with that same project, after all, they are artists, so if they give interviews or tell things about their lives is something usual that helps to maintain their characters.

An influencer and virtual singer, Lil Miquela, was also involved in similar critics. Miquela is an American-Brazilian model and singer born in 2000, created by the company Brud in 2016 as an Instagram account. She has advertised and collaborated with important commercial brands such as Prada or Calvin Klein. Brud members ensure Miquela is “as real as Rihanna”, and they have hooked million people in their narrative. At first, Lil Miquela denied it was about CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery), but in the end she discovered she is a robot and now she tries to accept she was deceived by her creators. The company has also created other characters: her brother and Bermuda, a pro-Trump supremacist that hacked Miquela (at the moment of the conflict it was not known this account was also made by Brud). The company affirms that conflict is only done “in the same way the Kardashians have always done”. But for many people, the fact that Miquela talks about Black Lives Matter, the importance of mental health or even when she was sexually assaulted in a taxi, only makes the company makes profit from social movements.

This is the main difference between every virtual body we have already seen. In the case of Gorillaz, the characters live in their own world; with the virtual idols, idols rules are followed, that is, very few times something about their private is known, so it is not something of interest, either if they are virtual or real people; but the current drift is because of a different thing: try to be real. At a moment in which different artists give concerts in Fornite (J Balvin, Travis Scott, Steve Aoki, among others) the idea of having virtual artists does not sound crazy.

In Japan, VOCALOID members keep being important, and even the singer and rapper Ashnikko has done a remix with Hatsune Miku called Daisy 2.0. Besides, these virtual new artists and influencers do not seem to be doing something very different from what real artists do (real artists have been criticised many times for making profit from social fights they do not care about), but they do offer some advantages: absolute perfection, they do not have a salary and they can work 24 hours without getting ill (unless the script indicates it).

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