Chinese fans of Internet sensations flock to concerts to support the virtual idols they know and love

By Yang Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2016/11/7 20:08:39

Chinese fans of Internet sensations flock to concerts to support the performers they know and love

The popularity of virtual idol concerts in China is growing, experts say. Photo: IC

The popularity of virtual idol concerts in China is growing, experts say. Photo: IC

Liu Yuxiao, a 19-year-old sophomore living in Beijing, was excited to learn that his favorite idol Hatsune Miku, a Japanese virtual singer, will hold her first Beijing concert in December. As soon as he heard the news, he ordered an inside field ticket for 1,480 yuan ($221). 

It is not the first time Liu has attended one of Miku's concerts. "I attended Miku's first mainland concert in Shanghai last year, which was a wonderful and memorable experience," said Liu.

In 2007, Crypton Future Media, a music production and music software company based in Japan, created the virtual star Miku using vocaloid software. The software allows music lovers to produce songs and music by imputing lyrics and melody into the program. In order to attract more users, the company made a virtual image for Miku; a 16-year-old girl with a blue-green ponytail. Miku later became an international sensation. Since her first concert in 2009, the virtual singer has held several concerts in New York, Los Angles, Singapore and Hong Kong, according to a November 1 report on, an online technology media platform.

According to the report, China has also created several virtual idols and many of them have gained large popularity with fans.

According to the 2014 annual report on the Development of China's Animation Industry, the animation industry alone reached a gross output of 87 billion yuan ($13 billion) in 2013, and reached as much as 100 billion yuan in 2014, reported.

"Concerts featuring virtual idols are still a new trend in China. However, the number of concerts and participants are growing," Ren Li, founder and CEO of Shanghai Wangcheng, an entertainment business company for virtual idols in Shanghai, told Metropolitan.

As the number of young Chinese who are passionate about anime, comic and game (ACG) culture continues to grow, fans of these virtual idols are not satisfied with listening to songs or watching videos online. The community wants to be able to share the experience with friends and other fans in a live concert venue. 

Virtual idols have received positive feedback from fans for their Chinese concerts. Photo: IC

Virtual idols have received positive feedback from fans for their Chinese concerts. Photo: IC

On the scene

Liu still vividly remembers how Miku showed up at her Shanghai concert in 2015, which lasted over two hours and featured 27 songs.

"The host used holographic projection technology to show Miku on the stage. She was the same height as a real person, so it made her seem more real to me," said Liu.

"It was like seeing a real celebrity in concert; her image made it seem like she was really there. However, there were differences. For example, there was no need to worry about Miku becoming tired or losing her voice."

Since a virtual singer cannot communicate with the audience at a concert like a real singer, fans figure out their own way to interact with their idol, such as composing songs for the singer. "We consider it a way of shaping our idols," said Liu.

Liu recalled how pleasantly surprised he was when Miku sang a Chinese song during her Shanghai concert. The song was conducted by a Chinese writer who is also a fan of Miku.

"Miku doesn't sing Chinese songs very often, therefore it meant a lot to Chinese fans. All of us stood and sang together with Miku. It was unforgettable," Liu recalled.

Chen Yangfan, 24, who works in the IT industry in Wuhan, Hubei Province, attended Miku's Shanghai concert last year as well.

He bought his ticket from a scalper, and it ended up costing him 3,000 yuan. Chen said the live concert gave his virtual idol a sense of reality, which was worth the price.

While Chen was at the concert, he did not think of his virtual idol as a character from the two-dimensional world. Instead, he felt she exhibited real characteristics and emotions like a human being.

"I was around 20 meters away from Miku at the concert. Everything was so vivid, and I felt so close to her. The concert and atmosphere was overwhelming; I almost broke my wrist while I Da call (holding the glow stick to hit the beat)," Chen recalled.

Japanese virtual idol Hatsune Miku Photo: IC

Japanese virtual idol Hatsune Miku Photo: IC

A way to connect

John Huo, a 20-year-old Chinese student in Tianjin, has been a fan of virtual idols for the past five years. His favorite virtual idols are Japanese vocaloid Miku and GUMI.

"Because Miku has different producers, different people see her in different ways. To me, Miku is a brave and outgoing girl who encourages me all the time," said Huo. In Huo's eyes, Miku not only backed him up when he was upset, she also taught him how to be a better person.

"Miku encouraged me to expand my musical knowledge, write a song and learn Japanese. I also write articles about Miku and share her photos and videos online with others," said Huo.

Many producers who write songs and lyrics for virtual idols are fans as well. Solpie, 26, who writes dozens of Chinese and Japanese songs for Miku, is one of them.

Solpie, who wrote one of Miku's famous songs "Yuexijiang," has gained popularity among Miku's fans around Asia, including fans from Japan and Malaysia. He started writing songs for his virtual idols in 2010.

As a fan and songwriter for Miku, he also attended Miku's Shanghai concert.

According to Solpie, when Miku started singing his song "Yuexijiang," he could not help but cry and sing with everyone at the concert.

"I wrote the song about my hometown. I wanted to create a picture of the graceful mountains and rivers in the East, as well as the locals who live there," said Solpie.

Solpie has written around 50 songs for Miku and one song for a Chinese virtual idol so far. According to Solpie, writing songs for virtual idols offers him an opportunity to work with other Japanese producers. In addition to writing songs, he is planning to produce a promotional video for Miku.

"Producing music for virtual idols is an endless process," said Solpie. He suggested if you are planning to be a producer that you should keep your passion and resolve at all times.

Chinese virtual idol Luo Tianyi Photo: IC

Chinese virtual idol Luo Tianyi Photo: IC

China's virtual market

According to Ren, virtual idols are popular among certain groups of people, such as fans of ACG in China, and the fan base is growing. Ren said that last year Shanghai held four concerts for Miku, and over 6,000 fans attended.

"Around 20 percent of the fans bought tickets for two concerts," said Ren.

However, Ren said that the atmosphere for virtual idols in China puts the industry in a tight corner.

"In China, companies do not offer a free copyright atmosphere for song producers. In addition, the market does not offer an environment that protects producers' works. Therefore, it's not easy for Chinese to develop virtual idols and integrate them from the two-dimensional world into the three-dimensional world," said Ren.

Ren said that the problems China's virtual idol market faces are small target audiences, the operation model and no virtual representation.

In Ren's eyes,  the way to solve these problems is to create a backstory for virtual idols. According to Ren, his company is cooperating with two other Chinese companies in creating two new virtual idols for the Chinese market, with popular backstories.

"We selected virtual idols from two popular Chinese comics that have a large and steady fan base in China. Based on their stories, we pull them out from the two-dimensional world into the three-dimensional world. For example, we will open fashion shows and concerts for them in the future," Ren said.

Ren also said that virtual reality (VR) concerts would become a mega trend for virtual idols in the future. "VR can offer a good environment for fans to interact with their idols," Ren said.

Liu agrees with Ren. He is planning to buy a VR set for watching Miku's concerts. "With VR I can enjoy my virtual idols' concert whenever and wherever," said Liu.
Newspaper headline: Virtual idol mania


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