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One of the ad campaigns that Toyota recently rolled out targeting Asian-Americans features a Japanese pop star. Here's the catch. That pop star is animated.

And as NPR's Neda Ulaby reports, she's part of a new wave of virtual musicians.

NEDA ULABY: Hatsune Miku is a cartoon, a pink-eyed anime girl who looks like any other anime girl but with long flowing green hair. In this commercial, she jumps out of a shiny black car.

(Soundbite of Toyota ad)

Unidentified Man: Introducing the new 2011 Toyota Corolla.

Unidentified Woman (Voice Actress): (as Hatsune Miku) (Foreign language spoken)

ULABY: In Japan, Miku is everywhere. She's recorded hit songs. She's got a videogame, and she sells out live concerts.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Woman: (as Hatsune Miku) (Singing in foreign language)

ULABY: If live is the right word.

Mr. JUSTIN SEVAKIS (Director of New Media, Anime News Network): They use 12 different projectors to project her in 3-D space. She towers. She's a good 20 feet tall on those concerts.

ULABY: Justin Sevakis of the Anime News Network was hoping to see Miku live this weekend. She's performing for the first time in Los Angeles, but her shows have completely sold out.

Cartoon bands for kids are nothing new - think Alvin and the Chipmunks -but Japanese anime has taken cartoon bands to slick, sophisticated new levels and created broader demand for them. They're nothing like the creaky old groups of the 1960s and '70s, like Josie and the Pussycats or The Archies.

(Soundbite of song, "Sugar, Sugar")

ARCHIES (Music Group): (Singing) Sugar, ah, honey, honey.

Mr. BEN GREENMAN (Music Editor, The New Yorker): The Archies were born because the Monkees didn't want to sing "Sugar, Sugar." It was offered to the Monkees.

ULABY: Ben Greenman is the music editor of The New Yorker magazine.

Mr. GREENMAN: An artificial band, the Monkees rejected it, so it went and helped create this artificial band, The Archies.

ULABY: And gave them a number one hit single. But The Archies animation...

Mr. GREENMAN: I wouldn't say sub-"Scooby-Doo."

ULABY: But close.

For years, cartoon bands were mostly sub-"Scooby-Doo." Then, about a decade ago, the Gorillaz came along.

(Soundbite of song, "Clint Eastwood")

GORILLAZ (Music Group): (Singing) I ain't happy. I'm feeling glad. I got sunshine...

ULABY: The Gorillaz are a sophisticated pop art project. They proved that animated bands could be multimedia pioneers, combining music, technology, art, video, even comedy.

(Soundbite of song)

ULABY: Since then, other animated bands have experimented with image, artifice and theatricality, all vascular to pop. The New Yorker's Ben Greenman likes a Cartoon Network band called Dethklok.

(Soundbite of song)

ULABY: They made an album that got on real pop charts a few years ago.

Greenman thinks there's a chance another animated band called Studio Killers might score a hit this summer.

(Soundbite of song, "Ode to the Bouncer")

STUDIO KILLERS (Music Group): (Singing) Ooh, let me in or I'll get physical with you.

ULABY: Studio Killers is a shadowy international collective of artists. When you think about it, making a virtual band is a great way for people who don't live in the same country to collaborate on a song, say, about failing to get into a nightclub.

(Soundbite of song, "Ode to the Bouncer")

STUDIO KILLERS: (Singing) No, I haven't had no dope. Lift up the velvet rope. Mr. Doorman, stop teasing. I'm freezing out here.

ULABY: In a crumbling music industry, cartoon bands can solve labor problems. Producers can swap out voices or even use machines. And how convenient to have pop stars who never get fat, never throw tantrums and never get old.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(Soundbite of song, "Ode to the Bouncer")

STUDIO KILLERS: (Singing) 'Cause all in all you're just another prick at the door. Ooh, let me in or I'll get physical with you. I just got to dance right now. It's critical to do. Bouncer, hey, bouncer, bouncer, bounce, bounce, bouncer, bouncer, hey, bouncer...

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