You are cordially invited to this week’s brew of High Tea, your dispatch of 🔥 internet culture served piping hot. This week: raising our teacups to the virtual artists of our generation, we pay homage to the 🐐 Hatsune Miku, simp over Seraphine and floss with Lil Nas X in Roblox.
Drink up 🐸☕️
what we’ve been sipping on
In a world where virtual artistry has been gaining popularity since 2007, we’ve been nothing short of obsessed watching these stars pop up across digital worlds; streaming, social media and now social gaming. We take a hot sec to examine the novel ways we’ve been engaging with these mighty music moguls and what this means for how we’ll be consuming and distributing digital content of the future.
Enter: Hatsune Miku, Seraphine and Lil Nas X.
Hatsune Miku: the power of creators and community
Miku is a new concept in so many ways: as a music program and virtual singing synthesizer; as a projection on stage performing with a live band; as an interface for people to communicate their creations; as a collectively constructed pop star; the list goes on. — Cosima Oka-Doerge, US/EU Marketing Manager at Crypton Future Media
We can’t go any further without tipping our 🧢 to the origins of the virtual artist landscape. Originally conceived in 2007 as nothing more than “an android diva in the near-future world where songs are lost”, Miku was at first a marketing vessel (like many others before her), designed to put a face to a singing synthesizer program known as Vocaloid. This software allowed anyone to enter the melody and lyrics of a song and have it sung back using a synthetic voice. Yet Yamaha, in all its greatness, didn’t supply the singing voices themselves, third parties did. Meaning other companies would create their own singers and release them as an individual product to its intended audience of composers.
But Hastune,,,hit different. The affinity for her character design and voice (comparable to the most popular of Japanese popstars) sent sales soaring, with the software reaching the hands of many non-musical buffs wanting to create music for/by Hatsune. Her popularity boom has lead her to be featured in over 100,000 songs released worldwide, according to maker Crypton, and it doesn’t stop at vocals:
We knew there was something new happening when we saw that on the same day of the release in 2007 — a couple of hours later, actually — there were already songs uploaded to the internet and shared. It started evolving into a subculture within a couple of days, with people making remixes of the songs, illustrating Hatsune Miku in their own style, and making music videos. — Cosima Oka-Doerge, US/EU Marketing Manager at Crypton Future Media
It took Hatsune a mere two years to make the move from software to popstar status, solidified with her first live concert in 2009 using 3D hologram technology — and she hasn’t stopped since: opening for Lady Gaga’s Artpop Ball in 2014, modelling Givenchy in Vogue and performing to sold out shows in NA (somewhat ironically her live 2020 performances were all cancelled). Hatsune Miku is a virtual icon in her own right. Wild.
Why is Hatsune’s story significant? Hatsune is a collaboratively constructed cyber-celebrity with a growing creator community that is supported at every stage of its development. Recognizing her potential early on, Crypton created piapro.jp, a consumer-focused media platform to allow users can collaborate and share their Hatsune creative ideas, 2) Karant, it’s own digital record label (now the world’s largest vocaloid record label), and 3) even adapted the "Creative Commons License CC BY-NC" to the original illustrations of Hatsune Miku to support open creative activities all over the world. By throwing opening the floodgates of creativity, rather than restricting usage, Hatsune’s creators consciously engaged in the viral promotion, support and cultivation of the Hatsune Miku community and as a result have contributed to making her one of the biggest virtual artists in the world.
Seraphine & K/DA: from virtual influencer to global popstar
Virtual influencer Seraphine, aka @seradotwav first hit our screens on June 26 and has since amassed over 450k followers on Instagram with an average engagement rate of 23% (for reference, @addisonraee sits at 13%, @emmachamberlain 15%); not bad for a virtual influencer who, until September, was an up-and-coming musician, sharing pics of her life and cat and her new songs on Soundcloud. Make no mistake — Seraphine is living the Gen Z dream of 0 to 💯 influence, real quick.
Virtual influencers using the social real estate of Instagram is, ofc, not new. Lil Miquela (2.8M on IG and 2.4M on TikTok), Bermuda, NooNoouri and Guggimon have long been using the platform, combining stylized aesthetics with compelling copy to ‘flesh out’ their own storylines. However, Seraphine’s rise to fame is noteworthy by comparison: it took her a mere 3 months to reach 300k+, which for an “unknown” character is significant. Followers quickly empathised with her down-to-earth vibe, in particular her quarantine posts, moments of teenage angst and documenting the rise of her music career. But Seraphine’s impact was about to get even more close to home.
In September, the virtual influencer announced a future collaboration with K/DA to “help produce their album, and even feature on an upcoming track.” ICYMI: K/DA is Riot Games’ K-pop group, a virtual four-member idol group comprised of digital characters Ahri, Kai’Sa, Akali and Evelynn. This was a huge move for Seraphine, and led Riot Games to unveil their ownership of her character and storyline from birth:
“Seraphine is a digital influencer and artist in association with Riot Games. As a virtual artist, she will have many collaborators that help bring her to life musically, vocally, and artistically.”
On October 28, we received the moment we’d all been waiting for: K/DA premiered their music video for their debut single “MORE” featuring Madison Beer, (G)I-DLE, Lexie Lio, Jaira Burns and,,,Seraphine. Incredibly after only two weeks of release, the song currently sits at 38 million plays on YouTube.
Seraphine shot to fame as a virtual influencer on IG and Twitter, using her own twist on the popular social playbook to directly relate to Gen Z in lockdown, while remaining largely undetected as property of Riot Games at the beginning of her social career. With Seraphine’s character now a major virtual pop star tied to the most popular e-sport in the world (League of Legends), the biggest challenge ahead will be the maintenance of her authentic narrative and engagement, that she built organically with her devoted fans in early Summer.
Her recent fame has already sparked controversy with many calling some of her tweets that document her struggles with mental health misleading and a dark marketing ploy by Riot to maintain relevance in the zoomer zeitgeist. However, if she succeeds, Riot Games will have used social media to build not only one of the biggest virtual pop stars to date, but also provide the studio with new channels to build brand affinity and IP outside of the arena for years to come.
Lil Nas X: come for the concert, stay for the game
This weekend, in partnership with Columbia Records, Roblox hosted its first virtual concert with two-time Grammy Award Winner Lil Nas X. This experience makes for the Gen Z partnership of dreams: harnessing the social capital of Lil Nas X (2019’s breakout star, with a record-setting 19 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart and fastest song awarded the RIAA diamond certification for Old Town Road) and 150 million monthly active Roblox users (up from 115 million in February). It’s a match made in virtual heaven.
Why Lil Nas X? In a conversation dominated by Travis Scott’s Astroworld and Fornite’s Party Royale lineup of DJs such a Diplo and Steve Aoki, 21-year-old Lil Nas X is an obvious choice for the Roblox demographic: half of 9-12 year olds in the US are Roblox gamers. Harnessing the power of TikTok last year to break his independently released single, via the undeniable influence of the #YeeHawChallenge, Lil Nas X firmly captured the attention of Zs who participated in the trend and subsequently catapulted him into the zeitgeist.
Screengrabs from the Lil Nas X Roblox Concert experience: recreating visuals from Old Town Road, Panini & Rodeo music videos
Hosting a concert experience in Roblox, as opposed to partnering with a streaming platform (like Billie Eilish’s partnership with Maestro), feels like a natural progression for an artist known for exploring his identity through characters: from cowboy to robot to vampire to er…literally Santa? No surprise then, that the experience built around Lil Nas X as a virtual artist replicated the worlds and visuals of his music videos, bringing them to life for an immersive social experience.
As creatures of hype in 2020, Roblox secured the bag by kicking things off on Friday, a day before the actual event, with a pre-show q&a (with questions like “cowboys vs. robots” and “which music video was the hardest to make?”), BTS of the show experience and a showing of the Holiday music video – his latest release, which has amassed 10M views in 2 days. The pre-show event was also an opportunity to explore the merch capsule in the virtual store, with emotes and avatar bundles up for sale.
The show itself on Saturday was short but sweet; a flash of four songs in total with a finale of “Holiday” – Lil Nas X’s first ever performance of the song. With close to 1M participants present before the event started, and ~100K remaining in-game 20 mins after the show, it’s clear that this game-based virtual event debut in Roblox was highly anticipated and loved by the stans and curious alike. Such was the popularity of the show, three more replays have been rolled out (including a final performance today at 1pm PST, ya heard!).
Sign of the times or a sign of the future of immersive social experiences is yet to be reconciled with the adoption of consuming culture as an active, rather than passive participant as our viewership remains virtual. Unlike other IRL artists making the move to digital streaming, Lil Nas X with his penchant for the playful has fully embraced his virtual persona, with rumors swirling he’ll even appear as the character on his new album cover. There’s no doubt Sony and Columbia Records must be excited at the possibilities of a virtual, cloud-based Lil Nas X, and if there’s one thing we do know for sure: the move to digital to augment one’s character, while allowing users to create their own is a power move fit for 2020…and beyond.
kettle’s on: what we’ve been sipping on
🏈 Ask me if I do this everyday, I say often. Well, here’s something that’s once-in-a-lifetime for Abel Tesfaye aka The Weeknd, who was confirmed this week as the headline for the Super Bowl 2021 half-time show. With a co-sign from Jay Z, advisor on musical events for the NFL, who said “The Weeknd has introduced a sound all his own”, this show is already setting itself up as next year’s must-see gig. How we’ll see it is another question entirely, with reports suggesting 20% venue capacity and seating pods 6ft apart. Either way, we’ll be front and centre behind the comfort of our screens awaiting a show that is sure to make some noise (bloody noses and numb faces optional).
💄 BEAUTYSHAMBLES. Ever since inhaling How To Murder Your Life in one sitting, we’ve been obsessed with devouring anything and everything from High Tea favorite, Cat Marnell. To our delight, she’s launching a new column TOMORROW via Patreon, inspired, in part, following a conversation with the Red Scare gals and the producers of the Fyre Fest docu at a party (what an iconic meeting of minds). The columns promise to reveal Cat’s travel hacks, following her country-hopping adventures (as detailed in Self-Taner For The Soul), including how to find $19 flights to Moscow and the time she slept in a treehouse after a run-in with the strippers of South Beach, Miami. Her first column is a twist on Emily in Paris: “I could’ve been Emily but I fucking know better. I’ll take you to a special neighborhood where beauty really meets shambles. There’s no Eiffel Tower. There are no berets. There’s none of that shit.”. We. Can’t. Wait. Subscribe here.
🎶 Therefore I Am. No, we’ll never stop talking confessing our love for Billie Eilish. Sorry not sorry! This week saw the release of Billie’s latest single “Therefore I Am”, alongside its accompanying music video (directed by Billie and shot on an iPhone, ugh we LOVE her), which has amassed 25M views in 3 days. If that wasn’t enough to quench our never-ending thirst for new Billie material, she also joined TikTok under the er…pseudonym “@coochiedestroyer5”. With 8.5M followers in 3 days and her first TikTok standing at 88.6M views, Billie’s late addition the platform might just be our fave of the year.
Okay, you made it. Now you can jump back into Roblox for round two. 🤠
Astute commentary on the virtual stars and human stars becoming cyborgs with their digital doppelgangers. Great post!