Nearly a year has passed since the hype cycle began for the next Gorillaz album. Today, the record finally has a name and a release date. Humanz, the band’s fifth full-length album, will be available on April 28th. Along with that info, the band has posted a new video and a collection of portraits of its fictional members.
Gorillaz is an experiment by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett that mixes music, marketing, and animated art. The two members, along with a handful of collaborators, are represented publicly by four virtual characters: 2D, Murdoc Niccals, Noodle, and Russel Hobbs. When the band launched in 1998, the characters and their world were portrayed in music videos, the band’s website, and limited live performances. But the idea of Gorillaz feels better suited for 2017, when fictional characters having their own social media accounts is common practice.
Their new portraits, which step a little too close to the uncanny valley, are designed like Twitter avatars. But these aren’t the new designs, per se. The band isn’t limited to human bodies, so its depiction is more fluid. In the video released today, they’re 2D, drawn like a grimy update of the Scooby-Doo gang. (Here’s the 360-degree version, if you prefer that.)
With the album releasing next month, we can expect many more videos in the coming weeks. But what I’m most curious about is how the band takes advantage of the rest of technology. Early albums were chances to flirt with the idea of virtual pop stars, but now idols like Hatsune Miku actually exist — and fans can use their software to make songs of their own.
In 2017, Gorillaz can act on an idea that wasn’t quite possible in 1998. But they’ll need to best a number of international newcomers that have built on their work. Hopefully we see the former, and not just another weird, bold idea devolving into commercial spots and shallow collaborations with VR brands.