Last month, the world was introduced to FN Meka, a supposed artificial intelligence rapper signed to Capitol Music Group. Developed by Brandon Le and Anthony Martini, the ersatz act seemed to signal the music industry’s willingness to jump into the world of digital influencers, but the project quickly drew criticism. Activist group Industry Blackout pointed out that FN Meka only helped perpetuate Black stereotypes and objected to it spewing the N-word in its lyrics. Also, alleged songwriter Kyle the Hooligan, a Black rapper in Houston, stated he had yet to be paid for his contribution after being ghosted by Le.
FN Meka was dropped by Capitol two days after signing.
It’s not like FN Meka is the industry’s first virtual act — and it certainly won’t be the last. Many point to Gorillaz as the world’s first virtual band. Still, Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett haven’t been able to translate their creations to the stage, as Albarn usually performs the songs live as himself with the help of a backing band and guest musicians.
Instead, one need only look at Japan’s Vocaloid phenomenon. It’s essentially software that allows anyone to synthesize a human voice to use with music. The most popular Vocaloid is undoubtedly Hatsune Miku, who enjoys a devout following in Japan and the West, with Miku appearing live in concerts in holographic form. In addition to music, she’s adorned racing cars and starred in her own rhythm video games.
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