Thesis: Authenticity, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Virtual Band
It is nothing new to question authenticity in popular music. It has been one of the most frequent problems posed as the study of popular music has grown in academic legitimacy. Image construction is par for the course when considering musicians, whether they be independent performers or part of a larger corporate machine. When discussing popular music, it is not surprising that image construction and authenticity should be inextricably linked, as the latter is largely derived from the former. But these questions have hardly been scratched with regards to bands that do not technically exist. The idea of authenticity and image construction in such groups takes the practices of the music industry and multiplies them, giving the creators even more control over their work and how fans perceive it than ever before. A cartoon will not get ideas about how it should dress; a hologram will never miss a dance step for refusing to practice. To take things a step further, fans are being allowed to control their pop stars in unprecedented ways. In 2010, Gorillaz offered their fans the opportunity to design a character (The Evangelist) to integrate into Gorillaz folklore. Several current video games allow the player to teach a virtual pop star, or vocaloid, to perform a song of the player’s choosing. Fandom has entered a whole new arena.
The research for this project takes fandom as an important primary source. Online fan forums and blogs will provide testimony of fan reaction to the characters they follow and the music those characters create. The Internet as a fan arena is an interesting springboard, as it allows anybody to be anything, much like the musicians of virtual bands. Investigation of the relationship between technology and gender and ethnic studies will be key to the discussion of several virtual bands, as well as vocaloids.
Because of the interdisciplinary nature of this work, the dissertation will attempt to answer certain questions about specific bands while providing a framework for further investigations of other examples. The musical, sociological, cultural, and psychological queries posed by virtual bands are far too great to tackle in one attempt. But this thesis will attempt to address as many of them as thoroughly as possible, while linking each area of study.