On Dec. 8, 2023, Billboard JAPAN announced its NICONICO VOCALOID SONGS TOP20 year-end results for 2023. This chart, which tracks the popularity of VOCALOID songs on Niconico, was launched on Dec. 7, 2022, so this is the first time that an annual ranking has been released for the chart. Taking the top position for the year is Yukopi’s “Kyoufuu All Back.”
The chart ranks the top 20 Vocaloid songs on Niconico using data such as the total number of plays of original and derivative videos, the total number of videos, the number of comments, the number of likes, and other figures, multiplying them by coefficients developed by Billboard JAPAN. Looking at the top 20 songs, it becomes apparent that songs on the chart come from a wide span of time — everything from Kairiki Bear’s “Venom,” released in 2018, to Sasuke Haraguchi’s “HITO Mania,” released in August 2023. wowaka’s “Unknown Mother Goose” (2017) and “Rollin’ Girl” (2010) also appeared in the chart. The ranking’s lineup represents a broad slice of Vocaloid culture, not just the latest trends. Another interesting point to note is that the ranking spans various generations of Vocaloid producers. There’s Kanaria, a young Vocaloid producer who debuted in 2020 and who took the throne as a top producer with their second song, “KING,” an instant smash hit. At the same time, there’s also the hit-maker PinocchioP, who has maintained a solid presence in the Vocaloid scene since his debut in 2009 and who has three songs in the chart (one of which is a joint production with another Vocaloid artist).
What can the chart results can tell us about the unique evolution of Vocaloid culture and key points to note about hit Vocaloid songs?
It would be no exaggeration to say that growth of Vocaloid culture has come hand-in-hand with secondary works posted on Niconico. User-generated content (UGC) like dance and vocal covers is becoming popular worldwide, and its impact is being felt on all kinds of platforms, like YouTube and TikTok. Looking at the chart, it’s clear that there’s been a lot of growth in original songs and also in secondary works, from “Goodbye Declaration,” which led the finger dance craze on TikTok, to “Phony,” “Yoidoreshirazu,” and “Marshall Maximizer,” which were featured in many dance covers. Nine of the 20 songs on the chart also took places on the annual 2023 “Top User Generated Songs” chart, which ranks UGC posted to YouTube.
The top-placing song, Yukopi’s “Kyoufuu All Back,” was part of this trend, coming in second for original songs and first for derivative works. “Kyoufuu All Back” was released on March 15, and in less than two weeks it had racked up over one million views on YouTube, becoming a mega-hit in the blink of an eye. The song has captured the hearts of all kinds of listeners, not just Vocaloid fans, due to its lyrics, which take a comedic look at an everyday situation, its catchy melodic structure, which is instantly unforgettable, and its laid-back, cute anime music video. After landing on the weekly chart in the number two position on April 5, it then climbed to first place in the following week, where it remained for eight weeks. This tremendous hit led to a rise in major collaborative Vocaloid songs, discussed on the following page.
It’s been 16 years since the release of Hatsune Miku. At some point during the intervening time, Vocaloid songs went from being a minor subgenre to a major musical genre. This is due not only to Vocaloid becoming well-established and accepted, but also to the rise of the internet and social media changing people’s lifestyles by making it easier for younger listeners to access music across genre lines.
The impact of Vocaloid is no longer confined to net culture and subcultures. It is now even affecting products and titles that are part of our everyday lives. Yukopi’s “Kyoufuu All Back,” was adapted in July with new lyrics for Nissin Foods “Eat Seafood in Summer” Cup Noodle commercial. The speed with which the new song went to being used in a tie-up was startling, as was the fact that a Vocaloid song hit it so big. Fans were overjoyed to see Kaai Yuki, a somewhat niche Vocaloid character, appear not only in the original song’s music video but also in Nisshin’s commercial.
September saw the announcement of Pokémon feat. Hatsune Miku Project VOLTAGE 18 Types/Songs, a collaborative project between Pokémon and Crypton Future Media. There are 18 types of Pokémon, so the ongoing project, which has already begun, will be releasing songs and music videos from 18 Vocaloid producers in total. On December 1, all of the previously released songs were submitted to Niconico, so in the December 6 weekly chart that immediately followed, Project VOLTAGE-related songs took the 7th place and the 2nd to 5th place positions.
At the same time, events on Niconico itself, such as The VOCALOID Collection (often simply called “VocaColle”) and Mushoku Tomeisai, are broadening the listener base. VocaColle, launched in December 2020, is the world’s largest user submission-focused Vocaloid event. Organized by Dwango, it is held twice a year on Niconico. VocaColle 2023 Spring was held in March 2023, followed by VocaColle 2023 Summer in August. Highlights included the TOP100 Ranking and the Rookie Ranking, a gateway to success for young Vocaloid artists. VocaColle Summer also debuted a new event feature, the Neta Kyoku Tokosai (“Joke Song Festival”), and several of the songs from this festival also captured places on the NICONICO VOCALOID SONGS TOP20 Chart.
The Mushoku Tomeisai, on the other hand, is an anonymous submission event thought up by users as the antithesis of the VocaColle, which tends to emphasize rankings and numbers. It was held for the second time in November 2023, and the weekly chart that immediately followed consisted almost entirely of Mushoku Tomeisai entries.
Because of events like these, there are now specific days when Vocaloid songs especially stand out. They create buzz on social media, lowering the barrier to listening to Vocaloid songs or watching Vocaloid music videos. Hiiragi Magnetite, the Vocaloid producer behind “Marshall Maximizer,” which took 9th place in the annual chart, first captured the limelight when he came in 1st place in the first-ever VocaColle Rookie Ranking. “Kyu-kurarin” took 3rd place in the annual chart thanks to its 1st place position in the VocaColle 2022 Fall TOP100 Ranking, the ardent wish of its creator, Iyowa. In the VocaColle 2023 Spring TOP100 Ranking, leading Vocaloid producers Marasy, Jin, and Shota Horie (kemu) collaborated on the song “Shinjinrui,” which was ranked in 7th place on the annual chart.
No discussion of notable recent events in Vocaloid culture would be complete without mentioning the Project SEKAI Colorful Stage! feat. Hatsune Miku smartphone game (often called simply “Proseka”). The Sensor Tower APAC Awards recognize exceptional mobile apps and games from the APAC region, and in the Sensor Tower APAC Awards 2022, Proseka, a music game based on Vocaloid songs, was selected as the winner of the Most Popular Mobile Game in Japan Award. The game’s players are mostly men and women in their teens or twenties, and the game has played a major role in extending the reach of Vocaloid songs to young people.
Whenever a previously released song is announced as appearing on Proseka, social media begins buzzing, and it’s not unusual for the song’s name to become a trending topic on X (formerly Twitter). 13 of the 20 songs on the NICONICO VOCALOID SONGS TOP20 annual chart have appeared in Proseka, and nulut’s “Flower – Lower one’s eyes” was written specifically for the game. Proseka includes existing songs and songs written by Vocaloid producers for use in the game, but it also discovers new creators through Proseka NEXT, a contest that seeks out new songs to feature.
One of the most notable features of Vocaloid songs is that they don’t immediately fall out of favor. Hit derivative works and song connections shine new light on nostalgic favorites, drawing new attention to them and keeping them fresh and vibrant. The Niconico platform actively supports the creation of new songs while at the same time promoting the rediscovery of older songs through events like the Kizon Gakkyoku Fukkatsusai (“Existing Song Rejuvenation Festival”) event, held in November.
Veteran Vocaloid producers from the early days of the scene remain important figures, and new songs might find themselves facing off with popular old songs as rivals. Billboard Japan extends its heartfelt congratulations to the producers whose works claimed positions in this annual chart in the midst of this chaotic competitive landscape.
—This article by Yuka Higaki first appeared on Billboard Japan