The rise of K-pop in recent years has been accompanied by the emergence of virtual bands created using artificial intelligence (AI) technology. One such group is Eternity, a South Korean band consisting of 11 computer-generated members. Created by music management company Pulse9, Eternity’s virtual members possess a range of talents, including singing, rapping, dancing, and acting. They are brought to life by 10 different people who contribute their skills as needed.
The use of real-time face-swapping and AI-generated voice technology allows Eternity’s members to appear realistic and perform various activities. For example, in one video posted on Instagram, the virtual star Zae-in can be seen riding a longboard beside Seoul’s Han River. The team at Pulse9 started by designing the members’ looks, generating 101 unique digital faces inspired by existing Korean celebrities. The final band members were selected through an online poll. Deepfake and motion capture technology were then used to create Eternity’s first music video, followed by subsequent videos that demonstrated significant improvements in realism.
Other companies in the K-pop industry have also embraced AI technology. SM Entertainment, the agency behind superstars like Super Junior and Girls’ Generation, debuted Aespa, a group consisting of both human artists and their virtual counterparts. BTS’ management company, Hybe, has used AI to enhance one of its singer’s pronunciation and pitch in multiple languages. Netmarble and Kakao Entertainment formed Metaverse Entertainment, which created a virtual girl group called MAVE. Unlike Eternity, which uses face swaps, MAVE’s members were entirely generated from scratch using CGI.
Virtual popstars have advantages over their human counterparts, particularly when it comes to fan engagement. Advancements in AI language programs make it possible for fans to interact with their idols directly and even build personal relationships with them. Companies like Metaverse Entertainment are exploring this idea through apps that allow users to engage with virtual idols in various languages.
The development of AI-driven virtual bands could be beneficial for companies in the K-pop industry. Trainees in the industry undergo years of costly training before debuting, and agencies invest significant resources in their development. Virtual talents eliminate the need for such investments and come with additional benefits, such as never aging or becoming embroiled in scandals.
However, while virtual bands may have their advantages, they are unlikely to replace real-life idols in major agencies anytime soon. Some fans have expressed concerns about AI groups replacing human artists. The K-pop industry values the authenticity and talent of its idols, and many believe that the human connection is an essential part of the fan experience.
Ultimately, AI-driven virtual bands like Eternity and MAVE represent a new form of entertainment in the K-pop industry. They provide exciting possibilities for creativity, fan engagement, and technological advancement. While they may not replace human artists entirely, they offer a unique and complementary presence in the K-pop landscape. As the industry continues to evolve, it will be fascinating to see how virtual and real-life idols coexist and captivate audiences worldwide.