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Can K-Pop Make the Metaverse Cool?

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In a sprawling studio outside Seoul, techs huddled in front of monitors watching cartoon K-pop singers (at least one with a tail) dancing in front of a psychedelic backdrop. A woman with fairy wings descends.

Everyone on screen was real. The singer had a human counterpart in the studio, sequestered in a cubicle, with a headset on her face and a joystick in her hands. Immersed in a virtual world, they were (hopefully) competing to be part of the next big Korean girl band.

The stakes were high. Some of the competitors had been dropped into bubbling lava after failing to cut.

Some say this is the future of entertainment in the Metaverse, brought to you by South Korea, the testing ground for all the worlds of technology.

“There are many people who want to enter the Metaverse, but we have not yet reached a critical mass in terms of users,” said Jeong Yun-hyuk, an associate professor at the College of Media and Communication at Korea University. We want to step in, but to be successful we need good content, and in South Korea, that content is K-pop.”

In the metaverse — whatever it is, exactly — the usual rules do not apply. And the Korean entertainment industry is delving into the possibilities, confident that fans will be happy to follow along.

K-pop groups have had virtual counterparts over the years. Karina, an actual member of the band Aespa, Youtube Chatting with her digital self, “ae-Karina,” is as seamless as late-night TV.

Korean company Kakao Entertainment wants to go even further. The company is working with mobile his gaming company He Netmarble to develop his K-pop band called Mave, which exists only in cyberspace. In this band, four artificial members interact with real-life fans around the world.

Kakao is also behind the K-pop metaverse show, Girl’s Re:verse, whose debut episode on the streaming platform this month has over 1 million views in three days. In both projects, Kakao has released albums, brand endorsements, videos of his games, Digital comicamong others.

Compared to South Korean media companies, US media companies have so far only undertaken “light experiments” with the metaverse, he said. Andrew WallensteinPresident and Chief Media Analyst at Variety Intelligence Platform.

Countries like South Korea are “often seen as a test bed for what the future holds,” Wallenstein said. “If trends move from overseas to the US, South Korea is the most likely starting point,” he said.

Virtual entertainment experiments in South Korea go back at least 25 years. AdamA kid in the ’90s, he was a pixelated creature in computer graphics, complete with bangs that covered his eyes and a raspy voice that tried a little too hard to sound sexy. Adam disappeared from the public eye after releasing an album in 1998.

However, digital works like his have remained a hallmark of Korean popular culture. Today, South Korea’s “virtual influencers” are Logy When lucy She has reached six figures on Instagram and is promoting a very real brand. chevrolet When gucci.

Influencers are intentionally made to look almost real, but not quite. Rozy creator Baik Seung-yup says their near-human nature is part of their appeal.

“We want to create new genres of content,” said Baik, who estimates that around 70% of the world’s virtual influencers are Korean.

According to McKinsey, more than $120 billion was spent worldwide developing Metaverse technology in the first five months of 2022. Many of them are from companies doing business in the United States, says Matthew Ball, a tech entrepreneur who has written a book on the Metaverse.

The most well-known recent example is Facebook changes company name to ‘Meta’ Stocks crash, amid billion-dollar attempts to embrace the next digital frontier decrease in revenue.

South Korean government invests more $170 million Support development efforts here,Metaverse Alliance“including hundreds of companiesBall says it’s one of the most aggressive programs of its kind. But while South Korea may be “ahead” when it comes to artificial pop stars, whether South Korean companies could play a leading role in the evolving metaverse is an “outstanding question.” problem,” Ball said.

Government support for new technologies has benefited South Korea in the past.The country built a modern economy behind a tech conglomerate over the last few decades and made a winning bet mobile phone industrylaid the groundwork for what Seoul music executive Bernie Cho called “the most wired and wireless country.”

teenager here Scroll through cartoons on your phoneconsumes countless hours Korean drama Enthusiastically follow K-pop stars on social media and new platforms without a cable box.upon Zepet When Webersfans interact with their favorite bands, sometimes as customizable avatars.

Kakao Entertainment — a division of Kakao, Korean tech companies that can do anything — claims ongoing artificial band Mave as the first K-pop group created entirely within the metaverse using machine learning, deep fakes, face swaps and full 3D production techniques . To give them global appeal, the company hopes that her Mave “girls” will eventually be able to speak fluently and persuasively, say, in Portuguese with fans in Brazil and Mandarin with someone in Taiwan. I hope to be able to have a conversation with you.

According to Kang Sung-ku, the project’s technical director, the idea is that if such virtual creatures can simulate meaningful conversations, “real people won’t be lonely.”

Kakao’s singing show, Girl’s Re:verse, is the familiar ‘survival’ format of reality TV. Thirty singers are eliminated over time until the last five of her form a band. But the participants are all members of her established K-pop band or solo her artists, competing, joking around, and hanging out as avatars in a virtual world called “W.”their true identity is not clearly Until they leave the show (via lava, in some cases), or until they get to the end.

The imagination of ‘W’ has few limits, taking contestants from the open sea to palaces like Versailles to desert landscapes. His one of the avatars is Chocolate His Princess who was born in the cocoa tree. The other has red devil horns.Pence grumpy penguin mascot One of the popular judges in Korea.

According to the show’s producer Son Su-jung, the contestants were involved in the creation of their avatars. She said part of the point is to give K-pop singers, or people called “idols,” a break from the industry norms. unrelenting beauty standards, so that you can be judged by talent rather than appearance. (Even though they are avatars, they all have big eyes and heart-shaped faces.)

The show also allows you to drop your sophisticated public persona, relax and joke around. I hope,” he said.

The glitches were still unresolved in the recent tapings. Support staff were in and out of the cubicle to help the singers with the equipment. The first episode had at least one accident of hers. The contestant yelled as the judge repeated the same question to her.

But some things about reality TV haven’t changed. It turns out that even Avatars are encouraged to snipe their competitors.

“Look at the green light,” the producer said into the contestant through the microphone, and the avatar stared back at him from the screen.

“Who do you think did the worst?” he said. “Speak like you’re gossiping about someone.”

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