Virtual Idols: “Preliminary Falsehoods” and Decentralized Fan Groups

Luo Tianyi, A-Soul, Liu Yexi… Every year at the end of the year and the beginning of the year, various virtual idols are always selected for the annual list and appear on TV shows, and they get a round of opportunities to show to the public. For the public, the development of virtual idols in recent years has driven on a very delicate boundary: on the one hand, people can actually feel that virtual idols are gradually coming out of the circle, they are either appearing in various mainstream parties, or Endorsement of major brands, from niche entertainment to official recognition and commercial value; on the other hand, people are not disturbed or offended by the appearance of virtual idols, although they have a large number of real fans, but these fans are not Committed to using data to refresh the list, use news to dominate the screen, and use traffic to persuade the public on various online platforms, but based on the active interaction and gentle expansion of the Quyuan group. real red”.

Virtual Idols: "Preliminary Falsehoods" and Decentralized Fan Groups

Virtual technology singer Luo Tianyi

This is in stark contrast to the fan base of real-life idols, and it also makes more and more people interested in the fan base behind virtual idols. How did a niche interest based on two-dimensional subculture evolve into a fan ecology that is different from the real rice circle?

Virtual idols are iterating

Although the name is right, the “virtual idol” still lacks a clear definition that is generally recognized, and can only be identified from the perspective of description. This is not because people don’t care about “name rectification”, but because new functions, scenarios and types are constantly being born in this field with the rapid development of technology. In a broad sense, a virtual idol is a specific image produced by means of painting, animation, CG, etc., which enables people to express their emotions. In a narrow sense, the above-mentioned images are required to be further independent from the original closed creative context, form a high degree of interaction with the real world, and use the information and emotions provided by the real world for them as an organic part of their own construction.

Virtual singers and virtual anchors are two types of virtual idols at present. The first virtual singers, represented by Hatsune Miku and Luo Tianyi, are based on speech synthesis technology. Virtual singers have their own image settings and sound source library. Fans use their sound source library software to input the lyrics and tones they create, and synthesize songs with vocal effects, forming the effect of letting idols sing for me. The holographic projection technology allows virtual singers to go from online to offline, and to get closer to fans through concerts. The virtual anchors born later, represented by Kizuna Ai and A-Soul, are based on motion capture technology. After the character setting of the virtual anchor is completed, Zhongzhiren wears the sensor and performs in the image of the virtual anchor in the live broadcast, sometimes singing and dancing, sometimes chatting and interacting, forming a deeper companionship and communication with fans.

In the field of virtual idols, whether it is the debut of a new idol within a genre or an iterative battle between genres, the huge impact of technological development can be clearly felt. In the field of virtual singers, the old-fashioned speech synthesis software VOCALOID has reached its fifth generation, and the emerging Synthesizer V has gradually become the mainstream with its powerful performance. And they are presented at the level of idol image, which is the difference between the electronic sound of the virtual singer and the full immersive style. An important scene for virtual singers to communicate with fans – concerts, has never been able to achieve perfect holographic projection, and still needs to rely on media, light, and angles. Generally, performances can only be completed by online editing, video post-production, etc. Communication with fans is a problem. The virtual anchor takes advantage of the emptiness and uses real people and motion capture to achieve real-time interaction, and relying on the continuous improvement of motion capture technology, the virtual anchor presents a natural and smooth realistic effect in facial expressions and dance movements. It can be said that in terms of upstream production, virtual idols are driving the technological transformation of the entertainment industry.

As far as the downstream market is concerned, this is not a simple iterative update like “only buy new mobile phones”. From virtual singers to virtual anchors, it is not that the technical difficulties of holographic projection have been overcome. The intervention of the virtual anchors’ subcutaneous real people has actually reduced the “virtual” content. However, the high-density and personalized real-time interaction of virtual anchors still won a large number of fans, and even showed a trend of grabbing fans of virtual singers. This shows that virtual idols focus on technology but not only technology. What it ultimately serves is still the emotional needs of human beings. What people long for is not an “unmistakable dummy,” but a “real emotion.” In the development of the virtual idol industry, the integration of technology and humanities is particularly concentrated.

At the same time, another iterative trend worthy of attention is the change of virtual idols imported from abroad to local originals. Although Hatsune Miku from Japan is the “white moonlight” for many domestic audiences, Luo Tianyi, who speaks Chinese and sings Chinese, can allow fans to achieve maximum creative freedom. Although many virtual anchors under Japan’s Hololive seized the opportunity, the erroneous remarks of the anchors such as Kiryu Coco on the issue of China’s territory, and even the Hololive family had to withdraw from the boycott. After a period of market competition, the nascent virtual idol group A-Soul turned against the wind and became the head anchor. In the domestic market of virtual idols, although the first movers are often foreign companies with mature experience and advanced technology, special emotional factors and complex cultural contexts bring natural advantages to the growth of local virtual idols. This field The strength of the players is changing from Park to domestic. And China’s vast market and research and development potential, whether it can create a virtual idol with both Chinese characteristics and global influence, grasp the universal human emotions, and break the geographical restrictions from the inside out, has also become a prospect worth looking forward to.

New ecology of fan groups

Virtual idols rely on technology, but ultimately serve people. The vast majority of fans of virtual idols in China belong to the post-00s generation. As the original generation of the Internet, their aesthetic orientation, way of thinking and consumption habits are concentrated in the field of “virtual idols”.

Shirley Turkel mentioned in “Group Loneliness” that the new generation who grew up in electronic civilization no longer has a strong demand for the “authenticity” of the external world. In their eyes, if the reality of reality has no intrinsic value, there is no need to maintain this reality, and if a thing is virtual, but it can meet the needs in terms of intrinsic value, it may not be accepted as reality. . Differences between different generations on this meta-issue, presented in the idol industry, are the source of mutual perceptions of heresy inside and outside the fandom. In the eyes of non-fan groups, the truth of an idol is the plastic skin, fictional character, low ability, and more importantly, we almost never have any connection with him, why should we pay love for such an illusion with money? But in the eyes of the fan community, idols are worthy of love, precisely because he diligently maintains the falsehood above this cruel truth. With this fake gorgeous coat, our imagination of the ideal partner can be attached, and it is adjusted to the most perfect state through the secondary processing in the brain. In this relationship, what I pay is true feelings, why can’t it be ” Emotional realism”?

But the twist of reality idol fan groups is that they must use two different discourse systems when “closing the door” and “opening the door”. Behind closed doors, fans are well aware of the weaknesses and flaws of idols, whether it is an underground romance or a bad image, “as long as they are not photographed” and “as long as they are not officially announced”, this relationship can continue. But when the door is opened, when fans want to help idols develop their careers, they need to render them according to secular standards and refer to illusions as real. Therefore, all kinds of swiping the screen to dominate the list and control the review are used to constantly fill in the cracks and ravines.

The birth of virtual idols presents the idol industry’s attitude towards truth and falsehood to the public in the most frank and radical way. Virtual idols are “falsehoods that are publicized in advance”, and the other side that can never be reached, but fans don’t care. Therefore, the fan groups of virtual idols no longer have so many twists and anxieties. All their “imagination” has become the “reality” of virtual idols, and their identity has changed from “makeup artist” to “creator”, A new ecology of fan groups has been formed.

Virtual Idols: "Preliminary Falsehoods" and Decentralized Fan Groups

Liu Yexi

On the public platform, unlike real idol fans who are active on Weibo and actively promoting them, the fans of virtual idols are mainly based on station B and supplemented by post bars. By participating in the creation, they enrich the cultural space of virtual idols themselves. Station B is a short video platform that has emerged in recent years. The core users are the younger generation who love the second dimension. They form a discourse system of their own circle through bullet screens, and actively edit videos to output opinions and create. Take Luo Tianyi, a relatively mature virtual singer, as an example. Her official account at Station B has been in operation since 2016, and she already has 2.71 million fans and 69 video works. If we count the high praise comments and barrage types of their video works, we will find that these fans do not just repeat their love and support, but mainly focus on the quality of the works, in composition, performance, video editing, animation production, 3D Modeling and other aspects of evaluation, the more iron powder, the more you can find the adjustment changes in details, and give pertinent feedback. While commenting on Luo Tianyi, he often expresses his gratitude to the creators behind the scenes. On the Luo Tianyi channel of station B, the number of videos created and released by fans is as high as 79,000, and the playback volume of many well-known videos is even an order of magnitude higher than the official videos. In the two-dimensional base camp of station B, the “user-contributed content and fans’ participation in creation” in the field of virtual idols are particularly prominent.

Baidu Tieba, another public platform, has a slightly different way of expressing fans from Station B. If station B is to create works for Luo Tianyi within the scope of the official music video, then Tieba is from the perspective of fans, depicting the details of life for Luo Tianyi’s image, creating an “idol and me” imaginary intimacy. The content of most of the posts is based on the secondary creation of Luo Tianyi, including fanart, fanart, etc., as well as life fragments related to Luo Tianyi in reality, such as peripheral purchases, street encounters, etc. Fans are also involved in the construction of virtual idols. Compared with the “passport photos” of station B, the atmosphere of the post bar is more similar to depicting “life photos”.

In the internal community, the fan group has always used QQ as the main platform, even fans of virtual idols are no exception. However, contrary to the fact that real-life idol fans arrange work, assign tasks, perform hierarchical management, and schedule rice circles, the QQ group of fans of virtual idols presents a high degree of “removal of rice circles”. Observation and statistics of Luo Tianyi’s four main fan QQ groups with a total of 7892 fans, we can find that the fan communication in the QQ group presents a balanced and diversified overall situation: idol works and fan creations do not occupy a dominant position, and fans are the most important. The communication between hobbies and daily life is more active. Taking the “V-singer Luo Tianyi” QQ group as an example, anime dramas, study and life are hot topics, and the fans in the group are much more enthusiastic about the game “Yuan Shen” than Luo Tianyi and his works. During the chat, Luo Tianyi’s related emojis only accounted for about 40%, while in the real idol fan group, even in the chat group, the proportion is generally higher than 70%. It is not difficult to see that virtual idol fans in the QQ-based internal community have not established a highly introverted and closed fan circle organization, but based on virtual idols, they have gathered like-minded friends of the same age and embraced rich and colorful enrichment. Reality.

Where is the fan culture going?

In recent years, with the influx of a large amount of capital into the entertainment industry, the fan culture that was originally developed in the exploration has been coerced into a narrow and deformed path. The love that was originally generated spontaneously has been continuously incited into fanaticism and evolved into various groups of blind obedience. . After the Qinglang action, the extreme and pathological rice circle ecology has been contained to a certain extent, but on the other hand, there is still no ideal model for where the fans gathered because of love should go.

However, after years of silent development, the fan community of virtual idols has gradually formed a relatively harmonious organic ecology. From the nature of the type of virtual idols, after the official character setting is provided, the participation of fans in creation plays a pivotal role in the construction of idol images. Virtual singer Luo Tianyi’s “Darabong Bar”, “Swear by Hooking”, “Ordinary Disco” and many other well-known works are all original works by fans, Jia Ran of the virtual anchor A-Soul combination, and also because of fans’ small essays” I really want to be Miss Jiaran’s dog” and became a famous terrier in the circle. Compared with the infringement risks faced by fans of real idols, virtual idols encourage secondary creations in a decentralized way of crowd creation, and fan groups are also learning from each other in this creative craze, improving their skills, and more fans. Stand out and become the new “God” and “Idol”. Luo Tianyi’s fan, ilem, gradually became known for the creation of high-quality original songs by Luo Tianyi. Currently, he has 1.52 million fans in Bilibili, and won the 2019 Bilibili Top 100 UP Master. Individual fans did not drown in the light of idols, lost themselves and lost their way, but instead became a better version of themselves. Through multiple outputs, self-realization is achieved. It cannot but be said that it is a trend worthy of recognition.

Virtual Idols: "Preliminary Falsehoods" and Decentralized Fan Groups

A-SOUL’s first live broadcast

From the perspective of the overall situation of the fan group, although virtual idols originated from the two-dimensional subculture, the “decentralized and de-bureaucratic” community structure has created a healthy and rich community ecology of interest aggregation. Especially in the internal groups of the QQ platform, young fans often spontaneously express their respect for their predecessors and martyrs and their love for a better life during major festivals, martyrs’ anniversaries and other occasions. And virtual idols such as Luo Tianyi participate in official activities, and create songs celebrating the centenary of the founding of the Communist Party, the 70th anniversary of the National Day, and the promotion of the Winter Olympics, which often have higher playback and barrage than ordinary works, showing that fans are interested in virtual idols participating in official activities. Strong interest in this “breaking the dimensional wall” collaboration. In the absence of external restraint intervention, the two-way flow of subculture young people and mainstream discourse has been realized.

“Idol industry” and “fan culture” have no original sin in themselves, and they do not necessarily point to deformity. Virtual idols and their fans allow us to see the possibility of gaining mainstream recognition, commercial value, fans’ love, and passers-by’s favor in this nascent cultural ecology. It also allows us to see the younger generation of Internet aborigines through virtual idols. The infinite creativity shown, and the possibility of self-realization. This decentralized development model from one yuan to pluralism, which regards fans as an organic force rather than an equal relationship with digital labor, may be able to provide a new perspective for the future development of the entire idol industry.

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