Asian Pop Music: Behind the Creative Curtain

By: Fatima Panjwani, Contributor, Regional Music Journal

The flashing lights, the cameras, the constant attention, no matter what side of the world you’re on, it’s all quite similar. But how can such stunning and sparkling lights affect a person when something like Miku is in the mix, and what’s it like to follow the grueling schedule of a signed pop star in this new found world across the sea? More importantly, who truly gets hurt, when all these circumstances collide? I can only hope that I have prepared you for what we are about to find. Because my curious voyagers, we have struck land. Now the true journey on this new soil begins. I pray that in our return we will find this land very familiar to our own home.

So who is the voice in the Vocaloid mix behind Hatsune Miku? Miku’s voice is given by a voice actress and singer by the name of Saki Fujita. She has mostly been known for her voice acting skills when playing certain characters, such as Ymir in the series Attack On Titan*. The marketing of Miku has spread beyond the production of music and should somewhat be credited to Saki Fujita’s versatility as a vocal talent. She continues to voice Miku in videogames, such as the Project Diva series. In relation to Saki Fujita’s skill, Hatsune Miku is just one of the many voices in her arsenal. Understanding the relationship between voice actor and the listener is important to comprehend the pressure that is removed from a vocalist when participating in the creation of Vocaloids like Miku.

Saki Fujita is the voice behind Hatsune Miky

Hatsune Miku, who is in her purest form the personification of a product, has now become a promotional product for the voice actor or singer. As a result, the prominence of people like Saki Fujita is further expanded in both videogames and the celebrity that is Hatsune Miku. Fujita is celebrated and loved for both her previous work and the high pitched voice she portrays as the character Hatsune Miku. However due to the fact that the Vocaloid, the voice synthesizing software, adds recordings of Fujita’s portrayal of Miku into a series of voice banks, her contribution can be used later to produce Miku’s songs. This is where such a relationship becomes a more complex, due to the physical disconnect.

Since Miku’s singing voice comes from voice synthesizing software, her albums, her singles, her live shows, music videos, and her very existence as a virtual celebrity can exist separately from Saki Fujita. This means that Fujita can continue her own career without being expected to maintain Miku’s image, because she is the voice of Miku rather than the physical character. Therefore, the responsibility of Miku’s image does not belong to Saki Fujita.

Photo by YONHAP/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (10214805a) K-pop group BTS pose for photos during a showcase for the group’s new album, ‘Map of the Soul: Persona’ at Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul, South Korea, 17 April 2019 (issued 20 April 2019). The seven-member group is the first ever South Korean act to secured a UK number one album for their new album ‘Map of the Soul: Persona’. South Korean boyband BTS first ever South Korean group to get UK number one album, Seoul, Korea – 17 Apr 2019

This disconnect allows Fujita to feel no pressure to maintain Miku’s relevancy, rather, it falls on someone else’s back. In comparison, a Korean boy band like BTS has to consistently push themselves and be available to record albums, singles, and music videos. Of course, once an album comes out, the checklist gets much longer, and much more suffocating for a mere group of boys to handle. How exactly does a group of talented young men maintain relevancy? The answer seems simple, producing more songs right. But that means long recording sections for each album, touring in support of newly released albums, music videos for singles, along with endless promotional appearances. Each of these events to promote and create an album can take weeks to months, with grueling tour schedules taking the band away from family and friends. The amount of work needed for the promotion and production of an album is essential in understanding just how much work BTS has put into their songs.

Despite BTS’s resilience, their determination to remain relevant can lead to the members being taken advantage of by various the people they encounter. Let me explain, recently on the finale of NBC’s The Voice it was revealed that in less than one year BTS earned three number one albums. This doesn’t seem like much, but it reveals a lot. BTS, prior to being signed to Columbia Records, made an average of about two albums a year*. This average does not even include all of their Japanese album, which were often released between the years of 2014-2015.  Considering an artist typically makes one album a year, this is a bit excessive.

Columbia Records is believed to have begun managing BTS in 2018; during their time in the United States, BTS has released three albums in 2018 alone. To vocalize three whole albums in a year is absolutely impressive, but how much do those young men sacrifice in order to achieve such a feat? Their personal lives hardly exist for starters and they could even be so physically exhausted to the point of fainting and losing consciousness in the middle of performances. With this kind of schedule, I would not be surprised if they were to die from overworking themselves to death.

It seems like that wouldn’t be possible or could be prevented in some way. But, this goes back to the idea that collectivism presents itself as a glass house. Looking at this from the lens of collectivism gone too far, one could easily attach his or her career growth to the growth of the community. As a result, one may work far beyond reasonable work hours to receive praise or promotion from a superior, in order to compete with other coworkers or maintain the community of the workplace. This has become an epidemic specifically in Japan, known as Karōshi. It is important to note that individualism could also lead to these results if the weight of financial gain outweighed one’s concern for personal health.

BTS has to meet an unreasonable and insane amount of demands under the thumb of the music industry, while Saki Fujita simply records her Miku voice for the vocal synthesizer and voice acts for Miku when needed, while still continuing with her life. Ultimately BTS has to endure an endless amount of pressure from their record label. I fear that their dedication to entertain people may be taken advantage of to an extreme and physically harmful level.  However, this does not mean that everyone engaging with the Vocaloid software is safe from such excessive work either. When the celebrity does not take on the strain of expectation, the producer takes on the burden of maintaining consistent relevancy for Miku.

Producers that use the Vocaloid voice synthesizing software often have to approach competition in a self-evaluating manner. Each company that produces a Vocaloid song typically has its own sound, has its own vocal construction, its own art style, and its own form of animation in music videos. Sometimes these productions collaborate, such as Hitoshizu and Yama. The flexibility for these producers to collaborate and have such individualized creative freedom comes from the loyalty given to these producers by fans who both admire the personified Vocaloid, as well as, the songs created by each individual producer. This allows a producer to leave their personal mark on each song they make. One of my absolute favorite producers is Wowaka, who tragically passed away on April 5, 2019 at the age of 31.

Wowaka produced some of Hatsune Miku’s more popular songs such as ‘Rolling Girls’

Wowaka’s work has a strong intensity with a neutral color scheme accented by powerful pops of color. This can be seen in the very popular song “Rolling Girl”. Wowaka’s work has a bit of ugly beauty to it because the songs he crafted often discussed things that were painful, but needed to be addressed on a worldwide level. He compelled the listener, enticing them to follow a trail of powerful, potent emotions that convey to the listeners that they are not emotionally alone, and they will never be alone. There is a beauty in how his intensity can be a form of universal empathy that has washed the world over. He has brought an indescribable sound to our world.  He has brought a glorious sincerity to our world. He has brought our world to tears. He shall be remembered from the sea to our sails and beyond. He shall dearly be missed.

May he rest in peace.

As we journey further into these lands we will discover the structure and corporations that hide behind Miku’s transparent body and solid screen.  

Sources: (Astric 1) (Astric 2)

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