Wearing mid-thigh skirts and heavy makeup, infantilized performers with thin faces and bulbous eyes dance to rock-soaked Korean hits. This might be your average K-pop group, only this one is made up of six virtual avatars in the metaverse.
Although they are three-dimensional avatars, the six members – Gosegu, Lilpa, Ine, Zingburger, Jururu and Viichan – have each taken on roles and personalities in the group. For example, Jururu is the lead singer while Lilpa is the most charismatic dancer.
Human beings sing and communicate with the fans behind the six avatars. But their identities have not been made public.
The move to the metaverse comes as the music publishing industry grapples with fickle K-pop idols and an inability amid the pandemic to hold mega concerts in multiple countries, a source of revenue for music fans. record labels and artists despite the growth of streaming services. For context, around 95% of U2’s revenue in 2017 came from touring, despite the iconic group being the highest-paid musical act of that year.
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Isegye Idol was produced by Korean online personality “Woowakgood” who in June 2021 embarked on an ambitious project – posting avatar auditions online to over 2.7 million of his YouTube subscribers and Twitch, fans voting for final members,
Fans were also invited to participate in other aspects of production for the band, such as songwriting and arranging the music, an inclusive exercise they could only dream of when it came to of actual K-pop idols produced by giant South Korean entertainment agencies. .
It has helped fans reconnect with their K-pop idols as a booming South Korean entertainment industry focused on consolidating its global appeal has drawn away admirers back home.
Hit a high note
In 2020, K-pop was responsible for most of the 44.8% annual growth of the world’s seventh-largest music market, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. This made the South Korean music industry the fastest growing market in the world that year.
The industry has come a long way since The Kim Sisters popularized Korean pop in the West in the 1950s, becoming the first Korean group to hit the Billboard charts.
Sook-ja, Ai-ja, and Min-ja started entertaining American GIs during the Korean War when they were little. They became famous in the United States for singing, dancing and playing over 20 different musical instruments.
“Fans see Isegye Idol as artists they created with their own hands, not something produced by an entertainment agency,” said Kim Sang-kyun, a professor at Kyung Hee University and author of several metaverse books. Forkast.
“Fans see Isegye Idol as artists they created with their own hands.”
– Kim Sang-kyun, Professor, Kyung Hee University
The process of developing and producing a virtual band in the metaverse differs from television in that “the breadth and depth of communication [between the artist and fans] is bigger,” Kim said.
The group debuted in December 2021 with single “Rewind” which topped the charts in South Korea. The song has been viewed over 7.5 million times on YouTube.
“Winter Spring,” a ballad with piano riffs, racked up more than 3.3 million views in the three months since its release.
The foray into the metaverse is a logical step for an industry that has embarked on virtual performances amid the pandemic.
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follow the money
“[The music industry] was hit hard during the pandemic because artists couldn’t promote and perform their music,” said Hye-jin Lee, clinical assistant professor at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Forkast.
“The K-pop industry, however, has been able to remain or even become more popular globally during the pandemic as K-pop artists have continued to perform and meet fans virtually,” commented on publications by feminist scholars in media fields. , communication, science and technology and specialist in teaching and writing about Korean popular culture.
While subscription streaming services and ad-based entertainment platforms such as YouTube contribute to revenue, live performances continue to be the main source of money for music artists and their producers.
Despite double-digit growth in the number of paid subscriptions to on-demand streaming services, at least in the United States, major-label artists typically only receive 16% of royalty payments from these services, according to Sean Fitzjohn, co-founder and editor-in-chief. chief at Producer Hive, a community-run music production blog. Record labels take the bulk of the royalty payments.
American musicians earned just a tenth of the domestic industry’s revenue, with Spotify paying an average of just US$40 for a song that reaches 10,000 plays, according to producer Hive’s Fitzjohn estimates.
Only musicians with 1 million or more monthly streams or 0.4% of musicians on streaming platforms surveyed were able to survive on that income, according to the UK Intellectual Property Office. The survey relied on continuous data between 2014 and 2020, among other sources.
“Live events are quickly becoming the most lucrative space for musicians in the age of digital music,” Rolling Stone magazine said. “As listeners are inundated with cheap access to music provided by streaming services, devoted music fans seek more intimate experiences with their favorite artists,” according to the monthly magazine founded in 1967.
In March, South Korea’s Bangtan Boys, also known as BTS, grossed over US$90 million in ticket sales during a three-day concert that combined live performances with live streaming. direct.
It was the first home performance in two and a half years for the seven-member band that is believed to have helped South Korea earn $5 billion a year, half a percent of its economic output.
But the South Korean music industry was shocked when at a dinner party celebrating the group’s founding, group member Kim Nam-joon, better known by his stage name RM, said that BTS’ constant demands left him no time to pursue more meaning. artistic pursuits.
“The problem with K-pop and the whole idol system is that they don’t give you time to mature,” according to Reuters’ translation of the remarks made in Korean. “You have to keep producing music and keep doing something,” he said.
The reaction from fans, widely known as BTS Army, was intense.
The next day, investors sold shares of Hybe Co., Ltd., the group’s management company losing a quarter of its market capitalization, or US$1.55 billion.
Worried about the consequences for the music industry in the country, Korean Singers Association President Lee Ja-yeon called on the group to reconsider for the sake of the Hallyu wave, a term for popularity. world of South Korean music, television dramas. and movies.
The tantrums of K-pop stars may be more pronounced with cases of driving under the influence, possession and use of illegal drugs, and sexual assault reported in local media.
Bobby, a member of popular K-pop boy group iKon, sparked controversy when he posted a handwritten letter on social media about his wedding plans, after finding out he would be a father in less than a month. While many fans praised the K-Pop idol, others criticized being kept in the dark.
K-pop stars are unable to separate their professional and personal lives, Prof Kim says Forkast. As a result, the personality projected to the public often clashes with their private personalities, Kim said. “It causes stress for both fans and artists.”
Let’s go digital
In May, Brave Entertainment, the agency behind Brave Girls and DKB, debuted virtual singer Hip-Kongz with the single “Bam,” which means “night” in Korean.
“We are not going to reveal the singer [behind Hip-Kongz] in order to be judged solely by the music,” Brave Entertainment said in their press release. “Hip-Kongz doesn’t act erratically,” said Serene Yang, the company’s marketing representative. Forkast. “They won’t betray the love they’ve received from fans,” she added.
USC Annenberg’s Lee has his doubts. Since May 30, Hip-Kongz’ debut single has racked up just over 5,000 views on YouTube.
“I don’t know if the popularity of virtual artists will ever equal or eclipse that of K-pop artists today,” Lee said.
I don’t know if the popularity of virtual artists will ever match or eclipse that of today’s K-pop artists.
– Hye-jin Lee, USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
“Fans connect with their K-pop idols at their impromptu moments, hear their personal stories and thoughts, and catch them acting spontaneously,” she said. Artificial characters created by content marketers, data analysts, animators and publicists are unlikely to replicate that, Lee said.
They “get angry when K-pop artists get mired in scandals or act transgressively,” Lee said. Forkast. “But they also understand that K-pop artists are human and can make mistakes,” she said.
“Fans love their K-pop artists not because they’re perfect but because of their fallibility,” Lee said. “It makes them relatable.”