by Ewa Nowogorski
Japan is perhaps the master of taking a failed product, slapping a mascot onto it and transforming it into a multi-million dollar success. Pokemon has paved the way for cute stuff to lead the sales charts. No product can hide from the gluttonous call of the commercialization. Thus, even auditory experiences have been hijacked by ‘the Cute’ – something one would think to be quite impossible considering that ‘cute’ is a visual marker. What I am talking about is – VOCALOID.
It started off as something rather simple, a computer-assisted voice synthesizer software that professionals and amateurs could use to create music that sounded both like a human and a robot. But it quickly grew into something much grander. While the project failed early on in its career, the success it gained could easily be attributed to the culture that grew around its mascot – Hatsune Miku. The mascot was a 16 year old anime-style girl with turquoise twin-tails. The creators were truly ahead of their time with this move. If you want something to succeed, remember it needs to have either something cute representing it or girly. Ideally both. With incredible speed, the community started to create songs with the mascot in all sorts of forms. One could say it was the community that truly made Miku and not the other way around.
This trend continued and made more and more folks use the software. But this wasn’t the end of Miku’s commercial success as merchandising became the next step to world-domination. It didn’t take long for Miku’s face to be plastered on everything from T-shirts and pencils to cars and body-pillows. Thus, anytime a song came out with Miku it just gave more power to the company as it was free advertising for their other merchandise.
Miku was not the only digital idol to come out, VOCALOID soon released a whole family and those too garnered a good fraction of success. Each one brought their own personality to songs and the audio medium which allowed artists to show off even more of their creativity.
So now we can thank the Japanese for creating something with this much charm. They truly are the masters of bringing ‘cute’ to everything.