From Stefanie Sun to Timbaland: The rise of AI songs and why some artistes love it while others hate it
Some are condemning its use while others have incorporated it into their works.
Ever wondered if Ariana Grande could pull off a K-pop song? Or how Bruno Mars’ hit When I Was Your Man would sound with the velvety voice of the late Michael Jackson? Well, load up TikTok right now and you might just find your answer.
Scenarios that were outside the realm of possibility years ago are now seemingly possible with the advent of artificial intelligence (AI). Through software such as SoftVC VITS Singing Voice Conversion, users can process any vocal recording to sound like whichever artist they want.
The result: A deluge of AI song covers flooding sites such as TikTok, YouTube and BiliBili. Some have even taken it one step further by producing original songs featuring the AI voices of artists.
Last month, an AI-generated song called Heart On My Sleeve – “sung” by Drake and The Weeknd – went viral on multiple social media platforms before being taken down by Universal Music Group.
The rising popularity of AI songs has opened a Pandora’s Box of debates surrounding copyright and creative expression with multiple artists sitting on different sides of the fence.
Local singer Stefanie Sun recently chimed in on the ongoing saga after AI covers of her “singing” songs such as Jay Chou’s Hair Like Snow and Koji Wada’s Butter-Fly garnered millions of views on BiliBili.
In a blog post, Sun wrote: “My fans have officially switched sides and accepted that I am indeed 冷门歌手 (an obscure singer) while my AI persona is the current hot property. I mean really, how do you fight with someone who is putting out new albums in the time span of minutes?”
Taking on a more sombre tone, she continue: “No human will be able to have access to this amount of information and make the right calls or make the right mistakes… As indie or as warped or as psychotic as you can get, there's probably unique content that could be created just for you. You are not special; you are already predictable and also, unfortunately, malleable.”
Taking on a harsher stance, rapper Ice Cube publicly denounced AI songs in a podcast interview and threatened to sue “anyone who makes an AI-generated voice” of him.
Of course, not every artist shares these sentiments – with some even advocating its use.
In early May, producer Timbaland uploaded a brief snippet of a new song featuring the AI-generated vocals of deceased rapper The Notorious BIG – with Timbaland later clarifying that the song will not be released without permission from the late rapper’s estate.
In a subsequent interview with Forbes, Timbaland shared his plans to commercialise AI software to create “a new way of generating money with lower costs”. He goes on to extoll the benefits of AI – one of which includes allowing established artists to test out potential collaborations by sharing AI replicas of their voices with each other, thereby saving time.
“I don’t want to be afraid of what’s going on. I want to be the guy to figure out a solution.”
Similarly, Canadian musician Grimes has gone on record to allow the use of her voice on AI-generated songs, with the caveat of her getting half the royalties on any successful song.
Weeks later, Grimes went on to release her own AI voice software, Elf.Tech, which allows users to record or upload vocals which will then be processed to sound like her.
With an endless sea of possibilities (and opinions), it is hard to say what the future holds for AI. As of writing, there is no law dictating what AI can and cannot produce. Though with the growing number of voices calling for tighter regulation on AI songs, the days of listening to Twice covers with Ariana Grande’s “vocals” might be numbered.