The news that the newest member of Japanese pop group AKB48 was in fact a digital fake proved shocking to some fans while the response of media commentators proved more jaded – from “it’s all a fake, X Factor, Pop Idol, to Lady Gaga, why is this any different…” to “Bands like the Gorillaz have already done it.”
The cynicism is a little lazy. Aimi Eguchi, AKB48’s new digital member, was different in that she was perceived as real. Her face was composed of features of other members of the band, aiming to blend the perfect image. Eguchi appeared in a photoshoot and in an advert for Japanese candy, the latter apparently raised suspicions among fans as it is normally more senior members who get to do such promotionals.
The idea of a pop star blurring of virtual life and real life is not new. Science fiction author William Gibson’s 1996 novel Idoru revolves around the idea of an aging rock star Rez (from the band Lo/Rez) who wants to marry pop star Rei Toei, the most popular star in Japan. The problem is Rei Toei is in fact a computer program (but as Osgood famously concludes in Some Like It Hot, “Nobody’s Perfect!”).
In a case of Life mirroring Art, The New Scientist magazine point out that Japan already have a virtual pop star, Hatsune Miku, who performs holographic gigs for fans.
Japan is a trend leader, so perhaps we should expect new career paths opening up in The West for designers and art directors in generating screen-based, virtual pop stars. Generating new digitally-generated Pop Stars with their own backstory and fictional development may become an art form and music genre in its own right. How about a weekly Top 20 of Virtual Pop Stars?
Making of a Virtual Star