K-Pop is a global phenomenon now - but is it a virtual phenomenon as well?
One of the three major K-Pop music companies, SM Entertainment is debuting a new K-Pop girl group, only this one has virtual members along with the human idols.
SM Entertainment is known to be the driving force to do all things new and edgy before other companies - creating Exo-K and Exo-M, having members in two countries (South Korea and China). SM also pioneered a new concept with tis boyband NCT (Neo Culture Technology), where the number of members it is is expandable, and every year they keep adding to it. The group only promotes song in sub-units consisting of a certain number of members.
And now, they’ve taken it one step further: By introducing virtual idols. SM is introducing it’s first girlgroup after Red Velvet’s debut in 2014, Aespa, who will be made up of both human and virtual members.
Aespa, which is stylised in lower case as æspa, is a combination of the words “avatar”, “experience” and “aspect”. SM said the group would explore the theme of “experiencing a new world via the encounter of the ‘avatar’, your other self.
The new group’s logo first appeared in fellow SM act SuperM’s music video in September, and Aespa launched their official Twitter account on October 25, sharing the logo and a teaser video.
Winter, the first member of Aespa, was revealed through a series of promotional photos on social media the following day. Two days ago, another member Karina was introduced appearing in a similar futuristic, wonderland-esque setting.
At the World Cultural Industry Forum in Seoul, SM Entertainment founder Lee Soo-man said Aespa represented the launch of the SM Culture Universe (SMCU) and would feature both real-world members and digital avatars that would interact in various real-life and digital environments. According to Lee, Aespa heralded “the beginning of the future of entertainment," reports South China Morning Post.
“The group is what I’ve dreamed of, as it projects a future world centred on celebrities and avatars, transcending boundaries between the real and virtual worlds,” Lee added. “A whole new group with an original and inventive concept will be born.”
While this may really be a vision from “the future is now," not everyone seems pleased with it - with several people raising the point of it being privacy and ethical concerns.
A robot avatar of a real-life K-Pop idol to further connect the fan and the artist sparks concerns about how ‘close’ this relationship could be. It sounded strange especially since Lee mentioned ‘how people can create robot avatars of their favourite celebrity and then live together with them or even make an avatar that could substitute the actual person in their own life,’ reports ED Times.
Aside from it being a Black Mirror like scenario, it essentially commodifies idols - and makes them into a purchasable entity, with people having the ability to do whatever they see fit with the idols.
lee sooman is debuting a group with minors. he is Also creating an AI system in which any person in the world regardless of age can interact with a virtual version of the members. i dare u to present a positive outcome to this .— Amicus Ad Aras Apologist (@doIIsan) October 28, 2020
It especially sparks ethical concerns because of sasaengs - a word to explain crazy frenzied fans who go to any length to be with their ‘idols.’
this man is quite literally marketing the reputation and lives of four girls to all of us including sasaengs pedophiles and every other disgusting psycopath on this planet . pic.twitter.com/1ianPxWQJ1— Amicus Ad Aras Apologist (@doIIsan) October 28, 2020
“he’s insane for this” and it’s just lee sooman feeding the sasaeng’s minds by planning to use advanced intelligence to create idol avatars for the fans to own. he’s literally insane insane. pic.twitter.com/gMfLOCnEKh— maria (@ohsenh) October 28, 2020
BIG nope. Artists are not our friends, they are not our property. Toxic ‘cult marketing’ tactics have already damaged their personal lives enough, and this level of pandering will further amplify the ridiculous idea of an idol’s entire existence ‘belonging’ to fans. pic.twitter.com/rUYCqlpmi7— Riddhi Chakraborty ️ (@thisisridz) October 28, 2020
japan's line between seiyuus and their v-idols is there for a reason. they KNOW how toxic it can get, how dangerous it is.. like cmon now. this isnt new.. lsm just saw the line and decided it was worth crossing for profit— ray (@hyloona) October 28, 2020
Lee Soo Man watching a "Dark Side of K-Pop" video on youtube once and deciding to prove them right.— ᴮᴱ M⎊NI ⁷ ✜ (@starkdusk) October 28, 2020
lee sooman wakes up every morning wondering how he can further dehumanize his artists and maximize profits by prioritizing every possible semblance of idol content (lysn ace, bubble, fanship, vr) over the key product, music— ☁️ (@poutyjunmyeon) October 28, 2020