Virtual Idols and Avatars
The real and virtual worlds are getting even closer — the boundaries between them are blurring with each passing year.
The emergence of the virtual star known as Hatsune Miku back in 2014 today has spilled over into an entire subculture of the virtual K-pop movement pushing the virtual-real boundaries to a minimum.
At the same time, “virtualization” has also touched politics, thereby uniting culture, business, and technology — a mixture of which accelerates the process of adapting to the new Web3 reality.
Who are these idols in the current reality and future-coming metaverse, and what opportunities do they offer today?
Virtual idols splash
The entertainment industry comes first
With the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic, the beginning of 2020 was the starting point for a shift in human behavior, forcing people to look for new ways to interact in the face of a lockdown. Remote work and Google meetings are already an everyday reality, but how about going to a virtual concert with your favorite idol?
Of course, your idol will be represented by an avatar, which is an integral part of people’s presence within the metaverse. So, this shift has begun to fuel interest in virtual idols and avatars — digital stars that present a multifunctional “replacer”, singing , dancing, communicating, making it possible the digital interaction is closer than in reality.
Thanks to this rapid, albeit not unreasonably forced, digital transformation, K-pop agents, SM Entertainment in particular, were quickly on their way to a resounding success, through live VR-driven music streams with idols presented.
The use of holograms, computer graphics and AI in general made it possible to make images vivid and make the main stars of the festivities — avatars — humanlike.
Other streaming video platforms, such as iQiyi and Bilibili, have tapped into Zoomers’ spirit and enthusiasm for technology-driven culture and presented their virtual shows with idols participation as well.
iQiyi, for example, has organized a “Dimension Nova” show where real celebrities evaluate the dancing and singing skills of virtual contestants, aka idols, aka avatars.
The show’s executive producer Liu Jiachao said “The idea of making this talent show is to let everyone know that virtual idols can show up in our real world now”.
Hatsune Miku — the first virtual star to take the world by storm
Developed by the Japanese company Crypton Future Media, Miku, or in technical language, a voice-synthesizing system called Vocaloid, is considered the first but not the only notable idol, garnering at least a 600 million audience and holding concerts all over the world. Even more, her avatar opened Lady Gaga’s concert.
Anyone can buy a Vocaloid and create songs that are then sung by Miki, thereby opening up opportunities for creativity without borders.
Aespa — virtual idol-based girl group
Aespa (aka æspa), a South Korean girl group, blossomed in popularity in 2021: their neon-lit video for debut single, “Black Mamba”, surpassed the 100 million views mark on Youtube, which is considered a staggering success. What seems to be virtual here? In theory, the group consists of four female members, but that’s not all. Another four participants are virtual, or rather the AI versions of real participants.
The experts on South Korean pop culture claim “The possibilities for æspa are endless; the æspa’s AI-led venture is just another step in K-pop’s evolution, and the coronavirus pandemic has only accelerated the introduction of digitally mediated projects that have been in the pipeline for some time”.
Game companies are not far behind
Games have always been at the forefront of adapting to new phenomena in the world of technology, so virtual idols have not gone unnoticed among gamers either. Generally speaking, the avatar concept has been around for a long time in games. An in-game avatar is the protagonist of your metaverse. But today, games go far beyond the previously-accepted boundaries of “gaming entertainment.”
For example, in 2018, Riot Games introduced a virtual K-pop female band, KD/A, in the League of Legends game, which featured a live, augmented reality performance involving the band and real singers. Thus, games have become a kind of embodiment of “inner” multimedia culture.
The game world knows no bounds. Proof of this is another music-game metaverse-oriented project called Seoul Stars. It’s a K-pop idol and karaoke game with the embodiment of the sing-to-earn concept.
By the way, OneArt together with Seoul Stars will hold a contest on Discord to make entering the metaverse even more exciting for you.
Thus, the popularity of Hatsune Miku, KD/A, and Aespa led to international stars such as Travis Scott or Ariana Grande organizing concerts in the metaverse, where they performed under the guise of their own avatars.
Such a future-oriented interaction between fans and stars makes the virtual experience exciting and provides more opportunities to create a modified integration where everyone gets their own perks.
How about a presidential candidate’s deepfake?
“AI Yoon” is a virtual avatar of South Korean presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol. The avatar has become the prototype of “a close to the people” candidate — Yoon Suk-yeol has become the most discussed on the web. Social popularity was apparently the reason why the real candidate won the election. Moreover, Yoon Suk-yeol launched his NFT collection with photos and videos and thus became even closer to Zoomers.
Perhaps the merit of technology in the candidate’s success is only minimal, since in South Korea one cannot be elected to the presidency more than once. Nevertheless, the launch of the collection by Yoon Suk-yeol rather speaks of the beginning of the NFT adaptation process at the national level.
The global virtual human avatar market size was $ 10 billion in 2020. The experts predict that this market will reach $527.58 billion in 2030, at a CAGR of 46.4%.
For its part, video sharing platform Bilibili recorded an increased number of hours of viewing broadcasts with virtual idols of 200% in 2020.
But let’s not forget that virtuality is completely dependent on technology. A technical medal has a downside: failures in the system are not uncommon, and the risk is very high, although it is impossible not to mention the technological progress in the world of VR and AR.
“Controversy is inevitable when new things come out.”
Issues of technical setup, authorship, and legal nature are still on the way. Since, after all, the topic of avatars and the metaverse is still at its initial, although successful stage, it is not necessary to talk about the “idéal”. But as we know the ideal does not exist not only in the real world, but also in the virtual world.
So, emerging problems in the way of transformation contributes to the effectiveness of the final result.