Hachioji-P & Tomonori Shiba Discussion: Vocaloid History By Its "Most Important Songs"
From December 11th to 13th, "The VOCALOID Collection -2020 winter-", a three-day festival celebrating Vocaloid culture, will be held. Starting with the platform on which Vocaloid hugely blossomed as a culture, NicoNico Douga, this celebration aims to involve all creators, users, and listeners, regardless of whether they're gathering online or in person. In advance of the event, we bring you a special discussion between Hachioji-P, a legend of the "2009-ers" who continues to support the scene, and Tomonori Shiba, a music journalist who wrote "Why Did Hatsune Miku Change the World?" and has done deep analysis of the Vocaloid scene.
For this article, these two provided their respective lists of "the 10 songs that can't be left out when telling the history of Vocaloid." Based on these prime playlists for Vocaloid fans, containing both classics from the dawn of Vocaloid and popular songs whose superb talent stirred up the music scene, they looked back on said history.
ika "I'll Make You Miku-Miku♪" (2007)
ryo (supercell) "Melt" (2007)
livetune "Strobe Nights" (2008)
Yuyoyuppe "ALONE" (2009)
DECO*27 "Mozaik Role" (2010)
Hachi "Matryoshka" (2010)
Jin (Shizen no Teki-P) "Kagerou Daze" (2011)
Kurousa-P "Senbonzakura" (2011)
livetune "tell your world" (2011)
Hachi "Sand Planet" (2017)
OSTER project "VOC@LOID in Love" (2007)
ryo (supercell) "Melt" (2007)
Hachioji-P "Electric Love" (2009)
wowaka (Genjitsu Touhi-P) "World's End Dancehall" (2010)
Hachi "Matryoshka" (2010)
Kurousa-P "Senbonzakura" (2011)
Jin (Shizen no Teki-P) "Kagerou Daze" (2011)
livetune "tell your world" (2011)
Balloon "Charles" (2016)
Ayase "Last Resort" (2019)
— First, let's look back at the songs from the early days. Hachioji-P-san, you put "I'll Make You Miku-Miku♪" (ika) on your list, posted in Hatsune Miku's debut year of 2007.
Hachioji-P: It simply had an immense impact. I selected it figuring it was a first step in Vocaloid culture, a sort of "opening" song.
— It's also a song that straightforwardly represents the "character" of Miku.
Hachioji-P: Around then, there were a lot of songs that were singing about Miku, like they were Miku's character songs.
— In fact, something like ryo-san's "Melt" released the same year was more rare; the appearance of a mainstream and high-quality pop song came as a shock.
Hachioji-P: Yes, I think the next thing to move the era forward truly was Melt. It was a shocking song to those who were listening to it when it came out. Like "Miku's singing a normal song!" (laughs) It was very high quality, and the lyrics had their own style, and it led to the development of "utattemita" (vocal cover) fan culture - in many ways, it felt like a huge turning point.
Shiba: August 31st, 2007 was Hatsune Miku's release date, and Melt was December 7th. Those four months were a burst of creative energy akin to the Cambrian explosion. The opening of NicoNico Douga included, many conditions came together in the summer of 2007 that allowed for the posting of "I'll Make You Miku-Miku♪" right in the middle of it. This also applies to my choice, "VOC@LOID in Love," but at the time there were many who turned those feelings of the electronic diva Hatsune Miku coming to their computer, that "joy of getting to meet," directly into song.
— A simple joy from encountering a new culture. There's a general impression of this era having a lot of sparkly songs.
Shiba: I think the period with the highest percentage of innocent songs was August to December 2007.
Hachioji-P: I think a big thing to note about this period is that there were no pros yet. All of them amateurs, and hardly anybody there who made a living off music, everyone was truly just doing whatever they wanted. It was a brand new form of expression, so the songs you could make and things you could do were all new - that made it fun for the people doing it as well, so I suppose it would look "sparkly" to others.
— Looking at your lineups, you can feel the terms changing in 2008.
Shiba: Once 2008 came along, while it did remain an innocent playground for amateur creators, more and more who could contend with pros showed up. I think Melt was the impetus. The "Melt shock," with Melt and its covers dominating the NicoNico Douga Mylist rankings, left a real impression - in fact, looking back now, the very existence of the rankings was huge. I feel like that visualization of popularity made it into a place for competition.
Hachioji-P: Starting around 2008, I think Vocaloid producers started becoming aware of rankings and views. As "utattemita" covers established themselves, there came to be some sparks flying between Vocaloid-likers and utattemita-likers... (wry smile) In any case, I suppose it was also one strategy to gain popularity through the synergy of fan works. However, there weren't yet many people who stopped to think it through that much around 2008. First things first, they just did what they wanted, songs they liked.
— There wasn't much theorizing about such and such leading to success.
Shiba: Exactly, it wasn't until later that "strategies" came about. But if I had to note one thing, I think the visualization of the Vocaloid producers was very important.
Hachioji-P: Indeed, I think this might be the period where rather than the song coming out in front, there came to be more awareness of the people behind Hatsune Miku, and thinking "I'll listen because it's by this creator."
— Hachioji-P-san listed "Strobe Nights" (livetune) as an influential song.
Hachioji-P: My impetus for starting Vocaloid was kz (livetune)-san's "Packaged," and a song of his I listened to a ton back then was "Strobe Nights." Our generation wasn't making Vocaloid music by being influenced by Vocaloid music. At the time, Yasutaka-san's CAPSULE was making a splash in the J-pop scene; dance music was popular that year. Myself, I also had musical roots that were outside of Vocaloid. And the Vocaloid I liked, simply enough, was Strobe Nights.
Shiba: While I was also checking Vocaloid news and the like, I considered it something separate from my musical interests. But at the same time foreign artists like Justice and Kitsune Maison were standing above the pack, kz-san's songs had a similar contemporary sense of cool electronic sound. I might say that kz-san was the only one in the 2008 Vocaloid scene in which I could feel that similarity to foreign musicians.
Hachioji-P: It was a song that made me think "this is how much Vocaloid can do." Hearing this, I thought "I want to make Vocaloid songs someday" - it was all thanks to kz-san. Many dance music fans like me started making music looking up to kz-san, and many rock Vocaloid producers got into it due to baker-san's "celluloid."
— In 2009, Hachioji-P-san's "Electric Love" also entered the scene.
Shiba: With the appearance of Hachioji-P-san, the dance music scene kz-san cleared the way for was pushed further forward. 2009 was a year where a lot of soon-to-be legends of the scene showed up all at once, and I believe Hachioji-P-san was very important among them.
Hachioji-P: Now that I think about it, it was a lot of good timing. This was the period where ryo-san, kz-san, and the like were getting into major debuts. Right when Vocaloid fans were getting lonely, I fit right into that open space. There were lots of Vocaloid club events at the time, and by virtue of going wherever kz-san went, I was going to about 2 or 3 events a month.
— Those were MOGRA-based events, starting with "DENPA!!!" It's amazing to think that if not for those, a genre that can now be called a pillar of Vocaloid wouldn't have been established.
Hachioji-P: I think I've had a high affinity for the club scene since then. I feel like the most fitting sound for Miku is dance music and step-recorded sounds, so I always like to continue working in that space.
— Shiba-san, you listed songs that the legendary wowaka (Hitorie)-san and Hachi (Kenshi Yonezu)-san released in this year.
Shiba: Maybe because everyone could see the process of ryo (supercell)-san and kz-san making major debuts from 2008 to 2009, a lot of creators who stood out in that year had ambition. The primary representatives were wowaka-san and Hachi-san. The fact that people who would later have massive influence on the rock and J-pop scenes were first discovered in the Vocaloid scene was huge.
Hachioji-P: I think maybe there were a lot of people with that sort of hunger among the 2009-ers. I got lucky and had a hit with "Electric Love," so I remember how starting with my second song, I did research and even calculated what time I should upload at.
— Hachioji-P-san listed Yuyoyuppe-san's "ALONE" as a 2009 song.
Hachioji-P: It's a deeply memorable song for me, being uploaded the same day as Electric Love. Yuppe-kun is the Vocaloid producer I'm friendliest with, and we've even done radio shows together, so I feel we're kindred spirits.
Shiba: Yuyoyuppe-san also has a career that goes beyond Vocaloid, such as involvement in BABYMETAL'S "KARATE." So in a broad sense, the "2009-ers" might be defined by ambition and guts.
Hachioji-P: That's true. Everyone was concerned with the rankings at this point. I found that competition pleasant, and it was fun striving for the top.
— So the innocent era ended and the era of competition began in 2009. By 2010, the scene was becoming rather refined.
Shiba: By my memory of 2010, the J-pop and rock scenes were a little bit stagnant then. And during that time, fhána's Junichi Sato-san contacted me like "you'd better go to THE VOC@LOID M@STER or else." When I went, I saw unbelievable passion, excitement, and stimulation. I'd been looking at it as something distinct from a commercial movement until then, but in 2010 I became aware that something intense that could shake the world of music was taking place.
Hachioji-P: Vocaloid as a genre flourished at the Vocaloid Master conventions and Comiket (Comic Market). To broadly divide creators into two groups, there were people like Hachi-kun, wowaka-san, or Furukawa (Furukawa-P/Furukawa Honpo)-san who produced everything themselves, and people like DECO*27-san who did things with a team. I would later do creative work with a team thanks to (Atsushi) Wakamura-san and MMD, but around this time, I started becoming aware of self-producing.
Shiba: From 2010 to 2011, there'd be a major hit every few months, and a particularly massive one of those was Matryoshka. Even if you listen to it now, it's very poppy, and addictive enough to play back over and over. Considering the quality of the music video as well, it had a profound impact.
Hachioji-P: It made me realize that Hachi-kun was truly a genius.
Shiba: wowaka-san's "Rolling Girl" also made a major impact. Hachi-san and wowaka-san had slightly different styles, but definitely stood above the rest at roughly the same time. I've followed Japanese rock, and one of the big reasons I came to consider Vocaloid a culture that ties into that was the advent of wowaka-san. DECO*27 also helped J-rock culture to bloom.
— Looking at it this way, 2010-2011 was a period in which the players quickly changed.
Hachioji-P: 2011 had Kurousa-P's "Senbonzakura" and Jin (Shizen no Teki-P)'s "Kagerou Daze."
Shiba: Those were two truly explosive songs. Both of them were released in September.
Hachioji-P: I was shocked to realize that myself. Senbonzakura is one of the most publicly well-known songs, and obviously had great success at the time, but it's amazing how it went on spreading to the masses. As for Jin-kun, he was a forerunner of doing mixed media in Vocaloid, so he had many monster-class songs in 2011, but these two were the ones I had to give mention to.
— Senbonzakura was a song that spread and got fanworks upon fanworks, but it's also a representative song.
Shiba: That's right. It was novelized, dramatized, a piano version by marasy was used in a Toyota commercial, Sachiko Kobayashi sang it at Kohaku Uta Gassen... it took the world by storm. Kagerou Daze was also released as novels, and got an anime and a movie. In that sense, there was no way I couldn't select them as songs that were a massive turning point.
Hachioji-P: I think many people saw how they spread and thought "are there ways to monetize outside of just the music?"
— Amid that, kz (livetune)-san's "Tell Your World" also spread through the world as a song for a Google Chrome commercial.
Hachioji-P: Chronologically, I want to say Tell Your World spread to the masses before Senbonzakura. I feel like that commercial let the world know Hatsune Miku existed, and that impetus let Senbonzakura further spread its wings - that feels like the correct order of things. The song and the commercial were both simple and great, after all.
— It really beautifully conveys the charm of the Vocaloid scene.
Shiba: Right. It's a song that summarizes all that Hatsune Miku had accomplished since 2007, those years brimming with hope, and her role as a platform for sending new talent out into the world. It felt like the scene itself got a compilation here.
— 2011 was an amazing year. There was also 40mP-san's "Karakuri Pierrot" and Mitchie M-san's "FREELY TOMORROW."
Shiba: Truly, so many amazing things happening at once.
Hachioji-P: By 2010, you could to an extent work out a sort of "equation for making a hit" for Vocaloid songs, but around 2011 to 2013, there came to be more songs that followed that formula well. I was antithetical to this and kept to my own ways, but a lot of songs that got popular felt like they had THE "Vocaloid style."
— Fewer oddball songs, but more quality ones - would that be accurate?
Shiba: I feel the first season of wild enthusiasm ended temporarily with Tell Your World, and from 2013-15, there was a period of formalization where people thought "If you do it like this, it's Vocaloid-esque." In 2014, BUMP OF CHICKEN released Ray as a collab with Hatsune Miku, Wagakki Band debuted with an album of Vocaloid covers, and there were many developments in the major scene. On the other hand, I think the former innocence of the place where amateurs could play was gradually being lost.
— During this, talent like n-buna-san and Nayutalien-san also appeared.
Hachioji-P: To flip that around, there were only so many besides them. Until around 2012, new people kept showing up who could get to 10,000 views, but that dropped off a fair bit around 2013, and I think a big part of that was the sense that NicoNico Douga was no longer a playground. Around this time, the 2009-ers were going pro, famous producers were locked in their positions at the top, and even more pros were showing up, so it became hard for new talent to stand out.
Shiba: HoneyWorks also made a major debut in 2014. Those who constructed things with a strong identity as a "project" got the spotlight, and the scale outgrew what was feasible with just a single person's creative ideas. Even so, creators like n-buna-san brought talent to challenge this notion, so you could also say this scene wasn't ended by Tell Your World.
Hachioji-P: Around this point, children who grew up listening to Vocaloid were starting to become creators themselves. I found it interesting to see them coming from a different generation with values very different from ours.
— They also had the strength of knowing from experience the songs that were popular in Vocaloid.
Hachioji-P: It's very likely children who purely listened to Vocaloid have a much better innate sense of what would sound good than the likes of us. They even sing Vocaloid songs at karaoke like it's totally normal.
— Speaking of karaoke, "Charles" (Balloon), released in this period, was very popular at karaoke.
Shiba: Personally, I stopped checking NicoNico Douga around this time, so I only learned after the fact that a lot of people showed up. I thought the Vocaloid scene was beginning to stagnate in 2015-16, but in reality, I think there was a generational transfer going on. In particular, the younger generation liking to sing songs such as Charles, with a dance beat and strong melody, is what gave it the impact to top the karaoke rankings among teens.
Hachioji-P: I feel like around 2015-16, there was an trend away from "listening because it's Vocaloid" toward "listening because it's popular." Our generation, to be honest, tended to be a bit embarrassed to openly admit "I listen to Vocaloid." I don't even like to say I'm a Vocaloid producer much. But young listeners now will listen away just because it's a good song. I had the thought that it's thanks to Miku making a big splash and permeating the public that we can get songs like this again.
— In 2017, "Sand Planet" (Hachi), included on Hachioji-P-san's list, was released.
Shiba: When you list them like this, Sand Planet feels like Second Impact for the Vocaloid scene. While it's a song provided for Hatsune Miku's 10th anniversary, it has a highly confrontational theme of "Aren't NicoNico and Vocaloid culture kind of a desert?" It was a violent shock to those inside and outside the scene.
Hachioji-P: It's not even remotely a theme song, after all. (laughs)
Shiba: Normally, you'd expect a song that's like "thank you" or "congratulations."
Hachioji-P: The talent, the artistry of Hachi-kun deciding to make this, gave me feelings I can't express in words. It's not quite right to say it was mortifying, and just saying it moved me deeply isn't right either... Him going "I'm putting out a song like this" just had a serious impact.
Shiba: Everyone was shocked by the confrontational nature of Sand Planet, but lots of new talent has now shown up as a result. I feel that musicians like Eve-san and Kanzaki Iori-san, who release high-quality works and are active in broader fields, have started to show up more after 2017. This also applies to my choice of Ayase-san's "Last Resort." He was thinking of quitting music if that song didn't become popular, but shortly after releasing Last Resort, he was contacted by YOASOBI staff and wrote "Running in the Night." That song ended up being a symbol of 2020. Thinking about it like that, it feels like you can make trends in J-pop in a way distinct from how Hachi broke out as Kenshi Yonezu. Maybe talents like Nuyuri-san and Niru Kajitsu-san who arranged for "Zutto Mayonaka de Ii Noni.", or n-buna-san who broke out as Yorushika, are out there in the desert after being told "After this, someone else can do as they will," watching the flowers bloom again.
Hachioji-P: Back when I started, Vocaloid culture was a culture of amateurs, and I never thought it'd be this big a deal, so I figured I had better make a career I could be proud of. Now people think entirely differently. I've gotten to talk more with kids in their 20's who say things like "I listened to you in elementary school," so I've finally gotten some self-confidence lately. It's a bit of a shock to realize the passage of time, though. (laughs)
Shiba: There actually aren't that many people who started in Vocaloid, found commercial success through a major debut or the like, but continued to make Vocaloid songs. DECO*27-san and Hachioji-P-san may fit that, but there are surprisingly few legends of that type. Which is why I think they're so valuable at this point.
Hachioji-P: I feel that often. I don't have any pessimistic views at all, and don't think Vocaloid will be in decline anytime soon. Though sometimes I wonder what I should do to make things exciting in Vocaloid from here on out. Now, there are less people listening because it's Vocaloid, with more of a focus on "who's making it."
Shiba: Come to think of it, last year, I had a chance to give a high school lecture as an alumni at my alma mater, and I put "Tell me your favorite artists" on a survey I gave at the end of class. And while most named people like Official Hige Dandism and Back Number from J-pop and rock, there were a few kids who very passionately listed Vocaloid producers. Maybe not everyone in the class would like them, but the fact those few were so passionate about it made me very glad about youth culture.
Hachioji-P: That couple percent of kids were true Vocaloid lovers.
Shiba: They really wrote a lot of them, like DUSTCELL and Tota Kasamura and Harumaki Gohan. I even had some new discoveries, where I went and searched them and listened to them, and was like "Hey, this is good!" I felt deep in my heart how no matter what generation it is, teenagers have all the answers.
— That's a really great story.
Hachioji-P: They often say that the music you listen to in middle school and high school sticks with you for life, so the existence of kids like that gives me plenty of hope for the Vocaloid scene.
— To finish, tell us what you hope for from the future of Vocaloid.
Shiba: I hope the platforms and businesses keep their eyes on 14- and 15-year-old kids. Because I think those few passionate fans in the classroom are a very hopeful prospect for the scene. When they get to about that age, they're no longer children, and can see through you right away if you're doing something half-baked. I think adults need the honesty of people like that.
Hachioji-P: I'm not actually that pessimistic about it, but if you want me to say something greedy, I think it'd be nice if the people who are about to get their start now could make some sort of place where you can get out there more easily. A good place for new creators, where they can easily grow.
— Hopefully The VOCALOID Collection can be that kind of place.
Hachioji-P: Right. Without new people showing up, Vocaloid culture will go away. Of course, when you look at things now, it seems as if the bar has been set very high, but back then, people just made the songs they wanted to make and put them out there. If anyone's thinking of starting now, I hope that will motivate you to not think too hard about it and get started without fear.