Before the year ends. Or after. Whenever you can get to them, you should listen to these, some of my favorites using the Vocaloid voice synthesizer software.
I don’t really know if anyone who reads this weeb-centered blog needs a primer on what Vocaloid is. But in case you do, here’s a rough start. Vocaloid is a line of music creation software focusing on synthesized vocals that was first released in 2004 for use by both amateur and professional composers. However, it only started becoming what it is today when its second release came out in 2007. Unlike the first, Vocaloid 2 came along with a face to fit its new voice: Hatsune Miku, an android girl character built specifically for singing.
Miku has since become insanely popular both for her voice and her design, and apparently picking up on the fact that she was probably most of the reason for Vocaloid’s success at that point, publisher Yamaha and developer Crypton Future Media put out several more “virtual singers” to join her with their own unique voices, like the more mature-sounding Megurine Luka and the Kagamine twins Rin and Len.
You can find a load of all sorts of media surrounding Miku and her friends now, almost all of it fan-created. They’ve even gone on tour around the world in hologram form several times. But of course, music is at the core of the Vocaloid craze, and a lot of great music was and still is produced with the software, largely by indie composers. The following are some of my favorites, listed in no particular order.
6) “Donut Hole” – Hachi
After going on and on about Miku, the first song I’m posting isn’t one of hers but rather one of Gumi’s. From what I can tell she was developed by another company as a kind of spinoff Vocaloid, but Gumi has become pretty popular in her own right, and “Donut Hole” is one of her best-known songs. Not much to say about this one other than that it’s catchy and I like it. And the meaning of the lyrics is apparently pretty vague, which has given plenty of room for interpretation — and fans have gone ahead and done a lot of that.
I’m not into Vocaloid enough to care about popular fan theories about the lyrics of certain songs, but I know “Donut Hole” isn’t the only song they theorize about. I just like the music, that’s all.
5) “Online Game Addicts Sprechchor” – Satsuki ga Tenkomori
Here’s a song with a meaning that’s not vague at all — “Online Game Addicts Sprechchor” is about online game addicts. Specifically those addicted to MMOs, and especially specifically to Phantasy Star Online 2. At least that’s the case in the Vocaloid rhythm game Project Diva Future Tone, where I found it first, since the video that comes along with it seen above is full of references to the MMO. Maybe the real reason was that Sega, who has a license from Crypton to develop Vocaloid games, also wanted to shill their own online game PSO2. Weird reasoning if the message of the song is “go outside”, but I can’t exactly tell.
4) “News 39” – Mitchie M
Okay, I admit that I’m one of those “the world is fucked and we’re all doomed” types, though you absolutely don’t need me to admit that if you’re a regular reader here. Still, I appreciate what this song is trying to do. “News 39″* casts Miku as a news anchor on a program that focuses on positive news, I guess to try to get people’s spirits up. Worked better in 2015 when the song was released, but maybe we need this song now more than ever, if only to distract us from that impending doom bullshit I was just talking about.
More importantly, this is catchy as hell. Mitchie M is one of my favorite Vocaloid composers, and “News 39” is one of my favorites by him. Just try to get that chorus out of your head. It’s stuck there for a week now. You’re welcome. (And if you want more Mitchie M, see also Freely Tomorrow and Viva Happy. His music is apparently all just this positive, which is maybe good medicine for someone as negative as I am.)
3) “Roki” – mikitoP
Anyone who knows Vocaloid music won’t be shocked by my selections here I guess, because most of these composers are big names. But what the hell, they do good work, and “Roki” is another excellent song, this time by composer mikitoP. This time I really have no idea what the song is about, but who cares when it’s both this memorable and energetic.
2) “World’s End Dancehall” – wowaka
Another excellent song from another excellent composer. “World’s End Dancehall” is a sort of rivalry duet song battle between Miku and her Vocaloid colleague Luka, at least judging by the animation that plays during the track in Project Diva Future Tone where I discovered it. Very fast, almost frantic (with some insanely speedy singing in parts from Miku and Luka that barely any human could replicate.) Maybe that’s part of their musical battle?
Whatever this song is about, wowaka did a great job with it. He’s sadly no longer around, having died in 2019 at a young age, but he left behind some great songs like this one and Unhappy Refrain, which I could just as easily have featured here.
1) “Shoujo Rei” – mikitoP
And finally, here’s another mikitoP song, because I couldn’t pick just one of his to feature. “Shoujo Rei” is also very different in sound and tone from “Roki”; the guy can certainly mix up his styles, and all while maintaining a high quality of work. I love the energy in “Shoujo Rei” (again, I keep saying that I like these songs’ energy, but I really do, not sure how else to put it) but it also has a bit of a sad, nostalgic feel to me. Though that might be thanks to the subject matter of the song. Somehow it all fits well with the island-ish sort of sound with that steel drum and Hawaiian guitar in the background.
“Shoujo Rei” is so good in my opinion that it actually pulls off that old “dramatic key shift” trick — hear the part starting at 3:23. That full step up at the intended climax of the song is horribly overused in pop music, usually when the composer wants to make the listener feel chills or cry or whatever. Very often it doesn’t work, I think because a song that sounds stale and expresses itself in a cheap way only falls flat all the harder when it tries to puff itself up with this trick, one that’s already overused as it is. But it can still be effective when the song is actually good. Like this one is. (Actually a couple of other songs in this list effectively use the same trick too. It really is just a matter of using it properly, I think.)
Well that was a totally unnecessary tangent, wasn’t it. I guess the point of this post, other than being something to write while I continue stalling out on various other post drafts, was that people should look into Vocaloid music, because a lot of it’s extremely good and worth hearing. This post just scratches the surface, really — my taste in this stuff is embarrassingly basic, probably in part because almost all this music is made in Japan and my Japanese skills still pretty much suck, making it hard to dig the way I’d like.
But that’s fine. Maybe you can jump into that rabbit hole instead. I have enough on my plate right now that I can barely remember where I am and what day it is half the time. In fact, writing about Vocaloid has made me feel old — I first heard about the software in 2007 when it started getting big, almost 15 years ago now. 15 years ago? Three presidential administrations ago. Fuck, I can’t believe that. Guess I’m old now.
While I deal with this recurring approaching middle age/existential crisis I have going on, I’ll try to distract myself by continuing my work and my writing. In the meantime, since I won’t be back before then, have a happy Christmas or whatever other relevant cultural and/or religious holiday/festival you choose to celebrate or not celebrate.
* Language note #?: The “39” part fits into Miku’s name, since mi and ku are common readings of the characters for 3 and 9 in Japanese. “39” comes up in quite a few other song titles and references to Miku for that reason.