how digital popstars conquered the masses – Article from


In the highly acclaimed, Hugo Award-winning sci-fi novel Dark forest (2008), Chinese writer Liu Cixin portrays the protagonist, astronomer Luo Ji, imagining his soul mate. Luo Ji begins by building her face, “her favorite foods, the color and style of every dress in her wardrobe, the decorations on her cell phone.” He finds himself spying on her as a child, chasing a flying balloon, walking in the rain, staring at the ceiling on his first night in college. Until one day when, suddenly, while they are in the library, it looks up and smiles at him. Was it Luo Ji who “asked” him to do it? Or as her human partner will ask her before she leaves, “She’s alive, isn’t she?”

The love story between us human beings and the nonexistent, absent and perfect beings created by our minds is an old story, made of sighs, which takes on new tones as we move from writing to 3D modeling and from print books to social media. In the same months that Liu Cixin was writing Dark forest, another ideal girl was born in Japan, who would revolutionize the history of transmedia marketing, exceeding the expectations of its own creators and becoming a sort of collective dream or participatory design of a virtual idol: Hatsune Miku.

Hatsune Miku was born as the first of the Crypton Future Media Vocaloid series: fictional characters designed to embody the real product, a speech synthesizer.

Like the AI ​​in the movie Her (2013), another imagined soul mate, the unsettling tale of Hatsune Miku is the story of a mascot coming to life, taking a huge evolutionary leap as it comes into contact with the internet.

Miku was designed to advertise the synthesizer to industry insiders, but the software, which allowed any user to create music with their heroine’s voice, meant Miku quickly became a meme. Within months of its launch, all kinds of remixes, covers and fan art could be found online, generated by users all over the world.

Crypton suddenly owned the image rights to a goddess, who gave her first concert in hologram form in 2009. Since then, Miku has performed with Lady Gaga and Pharrell Williams, has been a guest on David’s show Letterman, and someone even managed to throw it into space. The ubiquitous, eternal and tireless persona of Miku has been used by Crypton to advertise a myriad of commercial products: from automobiles and telephones to food and cosmetics, Miku has proven herself to be able to sell Otaku from Japan and beyond not just his voice, but anything.

It was a few years before other media companies realized Miku’s potential. Or, more specifically, it took a few years before the dreams and imaginations of the rest of the world with internet access transferred to social media, and the average Western user reached a level of intimacy with the digital world which was even remotely close to that of the Otaku, giving birth to a new segment of the market, that of virtual influencers.

One of the first evolutionary jumps is that of Lu do Magalu, and it takes place on the other side of the Pacific, in Brazil. Lu was born in 2013 as a virtual presenter for Luiza magazine’s YouTube channel, one of Brazil’s largest retail chains, and his first appearance on the company’s Instagram (IG) channel dates back to 2015. .

Lu’s personality, hidden behind a succession of messages alternating dog food, cotton candy mixers, deodorant, lip gloss and flat-screen TVs, is a monstrous hybrid of old and new, a wild CGI, unearthed from the ground up. ‘a TV ad theme song crudely launched on social media, doomed by its masters, like so many of its illustrated or human ancestors, from Marlboro Man, to Betty Crocker, or baby Kinder, to a life of branding. But despite all of this, and perhaps because of it, Lu is now the most followed virtual influencer in the world.

Although they are poles apart, Hatsune Miku and Lu share a common and fundamental trait. Fans love them because they’re blatantly wrong.

Fans adore Lu because they see her as a simplified version of themselves, a sub-human slowly acquiring structure, following their pace of learning. This is how Lu has managed over the years to take thousands of users, mostly Brazilian, by the hand and lead them across the river, converting them, despite themselves, to interspecific love.

Fans adore Miku because she is above human limits. To love Miku is to merge with her and the rest of the fandom in an Eden where anything is possible: when Miku sings that she has wings, two beautiful wings appear behind her back. During concerts, she appears as a giant hologram reminiscent of the last Blade Runner, a dream goddess able to orbit to the confines of the atmosphere of the planet Venus.

On the contrary, users have shown that they hate overly human CGI influencers. An almost physical refusal, alternating between anger at being deceived, fear of one day being replaced by something similar but better, and perhaps even more disappointment to see “the harsh light of reality”, as would write Liu Cixin, mercilessly shine on something that should be fantastic, unwanted dawn.

The first case of shitstorm for excessive realism fell on a poor CGI composite named Aimi Eguchi and dates back to 2011. A scandal that is still remembered in the idol world because it coincides with the ultimate betrayal, the betrayal of fans.

Eguchi presents himself, in pictures, as a new member of the J-pop group AKB48. The huge group of girls is the main attraction of Akihabara, the Electric City, a district of Tokyo made up almost exclusively of shops selling action figures, collectible cards, anime, hentai and manga, an Otaku paradise. In the AKB48 theater, fans can not only follow along, as they did on reality shows and today in IG and TikTok stories, but also to “meet real idols every day”.

After appearing in Weekly Playboy magazine as “Ultimate Love Bomb” and in a television commercial for confectionery company Glico, Aimi begins to arouse the suspicions of her impatient fans, who are eager to meet her in person. Glico is ultimately forced to reveal the brutal truth: the lethal weapon designed to crush the tender hearts of the otaku for good is actually a Frankenstein, made up of CGIs using the characteristics of six human AKB48s. A puzzle made of the best pieces, a macabre story that recalls the words of the philosopher and psychoanalyst Lacan: “I love you, but because inexplicably I love something more in you than you, the small object, I mutilate you ”.

The elephant hitherto remained hidden between the lines, the sequins and the little hearts, begins to hover over this short article as well as over the young phenomenon of CGI influencers. Whether the idols are human or virtual, in this love story between idol and fan, between avatar and user, there will always be an Iago, a Don Rodrigo, a third wheel: the media company.

It is said that media companies enslave virtual idols. It is also said that virtual idols are created by media companies because enslaving a virtual idol is easier than enslaving a human idol. Media companies are said to have created virtual idols in order to protect ad eternum the ultimate key to marketing: seduction. It is said but where is it said? On the Web. And if you thought this love story was complicated, now we are entering a more complex level of transmedia storytelling: It has been said on the web and media companies have listened and responded to it. This is how one could describe the birth of Lil Miquela.


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