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Hatsune Miku at City National Civic

In Music
IDOL WORSHIP: Digital idol Hatsune Miku brings a live music experience unlike any other.

IDOL WORSHIP: Digital idol Hatsune Miku brings a live music experience unlike any other.

Beyonce, watch your back. Gaga, better up your game. Katy Perry, this could get scary.

The world’s most fabulous pop divas have a new rival on the horizon, and this one has a superpower: She has no ego. She has no vices. And she doesn’t get old (at least not in a chronological sense; culturally, that remains to be seen).

She is Hatsune Miku. And if you’re late to the game of Miku-mania, the first thing you should know about her is that’s she’s not technically a person.

On Sunday, July 1, Miku devotees are expected to converge on the City National Civic in San Jose to witness a “live” concert by a three-dimensional projection of a manga-inspired, mini-skirted, decidedly girly avatar with improbably enormous turquoise pigtails. With the aid of a live band and the kind of pyrotechnics that we’ve all come to expect from big-ticket shows, throngs of fans and cosplay warriors will bop and wave their glow sticks to a performer who is not, in any material sense, actually there.

Pop culture has seen the likes of Miku before, animated creations breaking a fourth wall into the real world. In the 1960s, the Archies, a cartoon garage band, scored actual pop hits on the charts. In the 1980s, the cartoonishly va-voomish Jessica Rabbit co-starred on the big screen with flesh-and-blood actors. In the 2000s, Gorillaz became the first cartoon band to attain street cred in the world of alternative hip-hop.

But Miku is a step beyond. The name was first applied to a software product, a singing voice synthesizer originally released in 2007. The software used vocal samples—often referred to as a “vocal bank”—to create sounds that could be manipulated to simulate singing. Before long, an animated avatar was created for the software. And, as they say in the business, a star was born.

“She’s my favorite client,” cracks veteran publicist Steven Trachtenbroit. “She doesn’t talk back.”

Trachtenbroit first encountered the Miku phenomenon when she opened for Lady Gaga. Since then, she has toured around the world, attracted millions of YouTube views and sparked a worldwide cosplay movement. “It’s a global phenomenon,” Trachtenbroit says. “People have really latched onto her. … And when I say ‘her,’ it’s important to note that she doesn’t really exist. I’ve been working on this for six years, and I’m still kind of baffled and fascinated by it all.”

Unlike the Archies and Gorillaz, which are cartoon stand-ins for real singers and songwriters, Miku is a fundamentally crowd-sourced phenomenon, Trachtenbroit explains. The songs she sings have been written largely by fans and uploaded using the Miku software. More than 200,000 songs have been contributed to Miku’s database.

While her fans are creating the music, Miku herself is doing the diva work, posing in Vogue in a Givenchy gown, lending her image to toys and food products. She has endorsement contracts with Google, Toyota, Domino’s and many other companies. In 2014, during her first U.S. tour, she even performed a cover of the cult schmaltz hit “Never Gonna Give You Up” live on Late Night with David Letterman. When Miku vanished in a blue dust cloud after her performance, a nonplussed Dave cracked, “It’s like being on Willie Nelson’s bus.”

The tour that brings her to San Jose is her third North American tour, with dates ahead in Dallas, Washington and New York.

“If you go to a show,” said Trachtenbroit, “you might hear a song by a kid from Buffalo, New York, and another one by a kid in Shanghai.”

Created by Crypton Future Media, based in Sapporo, Japan, Hatsune Miku’s name means, translated from the Japanese, “first sound of the future,” which might be disquieting for those who prefer their singing stars to be actual humans. But, as Trachtenbroit says, Miku is a profoundly human phenomenon. It is a vehicle for fans to create a superstar icon without an actual superstar getting in the way.

“It’s all fan-driven,” he says. “Kids from all over the world have come up with her back story. There’s a massive cosplay movement. All the creators did was present them with an image. Anything you see online, that’s been driven by the kids.”

Hatsune Miku Expo
Jul 1, 8pm, $50+
City National Civic, San Jose

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