Futures made of virtual humanity? Virtual influencers break into K-pop scene

Posted on : 2022-02-23 17:14 KST Modified on : 2022-02-23 17:14 KST
These singers put the cyber in cyberpop
The virtual influencer “Rozy” (from Rozy’s Instagram)
The virtual influencer “Rozy” (from Rozy’s Instagram)

“Virtual humans” who have been active as influencers and models are now turning to popular music as they seek to become the next K-pop stars.

Rozy, who is perhaps Korea’s best-known virtual human, released her first single “Who Am I” on streaming services and YouTube Tuesday.

Created by Sidus Studio X, Rozy has been active since 2020. She caught the public’s attention after featuring in advertisements for a Korean bank.

The lyrics of “Who Am I” begin by detailing Rozy’s problems as a virtual human. She sings about trying to find her true self while straddling the border between the virtual and the real.

The ethereal melody, catchy chorus and appealing vocals stand out in this medium-tempo ballad. The team behind the song includes Jeong Jae-won, who produced an album for K-pop group Bolbbalgan4. All proceeds from the song will be donated to a nonprofit called Good Neighbors.

“We chose Feb. 22, 2022, as the date of Rozy’s debut to show that she’s ‘forever 22.’ We planned this album with the hope that people in the ‘MZ Generation’ will find their ‘true selves’ amid the confusion created when others try to define and judge their worth,” a spokesperson for Sidus Studio X said.

“MZ Generation” is a Korean marketing term that lumps together millennials and Generation Z.

The virtual human “Han Yua” (from Han’s Instagram)
The virtual human “Han Yua” (from Han’s Instagram)

Rozy isn’t the only virtual human with plans to launch a singing career. On Feb. 14, Han Yua signed an exclusive contract with YG KPlus, an affiliate of YG Entertainment. YG KPlus is a management company that manages models Yoon Young Bae and Hye-rim Park and television personality Hwangbo, among others.

With YG KPlus, Han Yua will be able to work in various areas, including broadcasting, YouTube, concerts and advertisements.

Han Yua was created in a collaboration between game company Smilegate and Giantstep, a content production company. Giantstep recently received 4 billion won in funding from Hybe, the parent company of Big Hit Music, which manages BTS. Han has the distinction of being the virtual person who won the heart of Hybe Chairperson Bang Si-hyuk.

Han’s music could go on sale as soon as the end of February. Some expect her to collaborate with YG Entertainment, home of such K-pop giants as Blackpink, once she drops her tracks.

“We will be providing our full support to establish Han Yua as the leading virtual artist,” said Ko Eun-kyoung, president of YG Kplus.

The virtual human “Keem Reah” (from Keem’s Instagram)
The virtual human “Keem Reah” (from Keem’s Instagram)

A third virtual human who’s hurrying to prepare her debut as a singer is Reah Keem, who signed an MoU with entertainment company Mystic Story. Keem’s music will be personally produced by Yoon Jong-shin, the company’s lead producer.

Reah Keem is a virtual human made through AI technology by LG Electronics. Her face was unveiled at last year’s CES trade show. On her Instagram account, Keem describes herself as a 23-year-old DJ and singer-songwriter.

A virtual girl group is also slated to appear on a Korean TV show. Jaein, a member of virtual idol group Eternity, created by Pulse9, will star in a four-part online comedy set for release next month. Virtual humans have been given cameos in TV series, but this will be their first supporting role.

The virtual human “Keem Reah” stands with singer Yoon Jong-shin (provided by LG Electronics)
The virtual human “Keem Reah” stands with singer Yoon Jong-shin (provided by LG Electronics)

Virtual humans are also popular in other countries. Lil Miquela, who is based on the concept of a Brazilian American living in Los Angeles, has already become a global pop star. She was created by Brud, a US-based AI startup. A song she released last year charted at No. 47 on Billboard and No. 8 on Spotify.

The archetype of these virtual humans is Kyoko Date, a virtual singer created in Japan in 1996. The first cyber singer in Korea was Adam, who debuted in January 1998 with an album featuring the title track “Love that Doesn’t Exist in This World.” Adam’s album sold briskly, racking up 200,000 sales.

A novel was even published about Adam, depicting him as a tragic character doomed to never become human.

Other cyber singers that appeared in the same year were Lucia and Cyda.

Cyber human Adam felt quite different from real people, especially in terms of physical resemblance, but advances in technology have made virtual humans developed today less so easy to tell apart from humans.

Relevant here is the theory of the “uncanny valley,” which holds that we feel positively about robots and virtual humans until they reach a certain level of verisimilitude, at which point we feel repulsed.

It remains to be seen whether the latest virtual humans will manage to achieve more success in popular music than cyber singers of the past.

By Jung Hyuk-june, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles