Hatsune Miku at the Warfield, by Muraki Kanae
Hatsune Miku (photo: Muraki Kanae)

Review by Ian Young

I saw the Tupac hologram at Coachella. And I’ve been to Japan. But beyond that, I’m the least qualified person to be here right now.

I’m at The Warfield, where a sea of green glowsticks dance like fireflies while Hatsune Miku, backed by a live band, dances and sings incredibly catchy J-pop to an audience of 2,000 adoring fans.

This could describe the scene of any pop concert, but what makes Hatsune Miku different is that she (it?) is a hologram. Of a computer program. She has never existed outside of the virtual world.

(This is the point in the story where you can choose the red pill or the blue pill.)

Hatsune Miku is a vocoloid. Thanks to Google and a couple helpful (and patient) fans I met at the show, I now know what that means: a vocoloid is a singing voice synthesizer program created by sampling a real-life voice. Anyone can download the software, enter a melody and some lyrics, and instantly create a song. Think of it as the voice of your navigation software but with catchier hooks.

The Hatsune Miku vocoloid was released in 2007 by Crypton Future Media, Inc., who also had the brilliant idea to associate the software with an anime character. And so Hatsune Miku was born.

Today, she is considered the most popular and well known vocoloid and the first to become a pop idol. She’s voiced over 100,000 songs and was the first vocoloid character to appear in concert as a hologram. She’s even been on the Late Show with David Letterman. Hundreds of green glowsticks have now turned blue to match Hatsune Miku’s blue outfit. It’s as if a pre-requisite of going to this show was passing a Glowsticks 101 class. There are choreographed color changes and synchronized glowstick moves that range from simple wrist flicks to more advanced swoop and thrust moves. I must have slept through the tutorial because not only is my glowstick the wrong color but I keep on waving it in the wrong direction. Nonetheless, I try my best to fit in with the thousands of other fans watching Hatsune Miku sing and dance in perfect pitch and in perfect time.

The technology behind all of this is impressive. The centerpiece is a giant semi-translucent, slightly curved screen on which Hatsune Miku and other characters are projected. Flanking the screen is a real-life band made up of a real-life drummer, bassist, guitarist and keyboardist. And unlike the Tupac hologram which was supposed to blend in with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, there’s no mistaking who’s the star of the show — and it’s not anyone human.

The show lasts for almost two hours, with the crowd singing, screaming, bopping, Snapchatting and Instagramming the entire time. The girl sitting next to me recorded the entire show on her phone with her right hand and waved her glowstick in perfect unison with her left.

By the end of the show, I’m not sure what’s real and what’s virtual anymore. During the encore, Hatsune Miku walked across the stage to sit on a virtual stool to play a virtual keyboard. And for a brief moment I thought to myself, she’s a pretty good piano player.

In a world where pop stars are manufactured, curated, groomed, choreographed and auto-tuned, who’s to say Hatsune Miku is any different than Taylor, Justin, Britney or Beyonce? The thousands of fans at The Warfield — and the millions more around the world — certainly don’t care.

Hatsune Miku will be visiting Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, New York and five other cities as part of the 2016 North America Hatsune Miku Expo. Don’t forget your glowstick.