SEOUL, South Korea — In a sprawling studio on the outskirts of Seoul, technicians gathered in front of monitors to watch cartoon K-pop singers — at least one of which had tails — dance against a psychedelic backdrop. A woman with fairy wings fluttered around him.
All the figures that appeared on the screen were real, more or less. The singers had human counterparts in the studio, isolated in cubicles, with visors over their faces and joystick controls in both hands. Immersed in a virtual world, they competed to be part of (hopefully) the next big Korean girl band.
The stakes were high. Some of his competitors, having failed the filter, had fallen into the bubbling lava.
Some say this is it the future of entertainment in the metaverse, courtesy of South Koreathe global testing ground for all things technology.
“There are a lot of people who want to enter the metaverse, but they haven’t reached the critical mass of users yet.”said Jung Yoon-hyuk, an assistant professor at Korea University’s College of Media and Communication. “Other places want to venture into the metaverse, but to be successful you need to have good content. In Korea, that content is K-pop.”
In the metaverse, something we don’t yet know exactly what it is… the usual rules don’t apply. And the Korean entertainment industry is delving into the possibilities, confident that fans will willingly follow along.
K-pop groups have had virtual counterparts for years. Karina, a real member of the Aespa group, can be seen on YouTube chatting with her digital self, “ae-Karina”, in an exchange as fluid as on television talk shows.
Korean company Kakao Entertainment wants to go further. Are you working with Netmarble, a mobile game company, on the development of a K-pop group called Mave that only exists in cyberspacewhere his four artificial limbs will interact with real fans from all over the world.
Kakao is also responsible for ‘Girl’s Re:verse’, a metaverse K-pop show whose first episode on streaming platforms was viewed more than a million times in three days. For both projects, Kakao contemplates album releases, brand endorsements, video games and digital comics, among other things.
Compared to their Korean counterparts, U.S. media companies have thus far done only “slight experimentation” with the metaverse, said Andrew Wallenstein, president and chief media analyst at Variety Intelligence Platform.
Countries like South Korea “are often seen as a test bed of how the future will unfoldWallenstein said. “If any trends shift from overseas to the United States, I would put South Korea in the lead as to who is most likely to be that stepping stone.”
South Korea’s experiments with virtual entertainment go back at least 25 years, to the short life of an artificial singer named Adam. A boy from the nineties Adam was a pixelated CG creature, with bangs covering her eyes and a gruff voice that tried to sound too sexy. Adam disappeared from the public eye after releasing an album in 1998.
But digital creations like him have been a hallmark of Korean popular culture for a generation. Today, Korean “virtual influencers” like Rozy and Lucy reach six figures of Instagram followers and promote very real brands like Chevrolet and Gucci.
The influencers were purposely crafted to look almost real, but not quite; its almost human quality is part of its appealexplained Baik Seung-yup, creator of Rozy.
“We want to create a new genre of content,” said Baik, who values it around 70 percent of the world’s virtual influencers are Korean.
According to McKinsey, in the first five months of 2022, more than $120 billion has been invested globally in developing technology for the metaverse. Much of that amount came from companies operating in the United States, said Matthew Ball, a tech entrepreneur who has written a book on the metaverse.
The best-known recent example was when Facebook renamed itself “Meta” in a multibillion-dollar attempt to embrace the next digital frontier, only to see its stock plummet and profits decline.
the South Korean government is investing more than $170 million to support development efforts in the United States, forming what it calls a “metaverse alliance” comprising hundreds of companies. Ball says it’s one of the more aggressive programs in his class. However, while South Korea is “leagues ahead” when it comes to synthetic pop stars, whether their companies will play a major role in the evolution of the metaverse “no one knows,” Ball said.
In the past, government support for new technologies has paid off for South Korea. The country has built its modern economy in recent decades on the backs of technology conglomerates and has successfully bet on the mobile phone industry, throwing the foundations for becoming what Bernie Cho, a music producer from Seoul, has called “the most connected country in the world.” and wireless.”
Here teenagers browse comics on their phones, watch countless hours of Korean dramas without having to use cable TV, and zealously follow K-pop stars on social media and new platforms. On Zepeto and Weverse, fans interact with each other, sometimes as customizable avatars.and with their favorite bands.
Kakao Entertainment, an offshoot of Kakao, the South Korean tech company that makes just about everything, launches their in-development artificial band, Mave, as the first K-pop group created entirely in the metaverse, through machine learning, deepfake technology, face swapping and 3D manufacturing technology. To give them global appeal, the company wants Mave’s “girls” to be able to speak, say, Portuguese to a Brazilian fan and Mandarin to someone from Taiwan, fluently and convincingly.
The idea, according to Kang Sung-ku, technical director of the project, is that once these virtual beings can simulate meaningful conversations, “no real human being will feel alone”.
c.2023 The New York Times Society
Mark Jones is a world traveler and journalist for News Rebeat. With a curious mind and a love of adventure, Mark brings a unique perspective to the latest global events and provides in-depth and thought-provoking coverage of the world at large.