Arts & Entertainment

The Rise of AI K-Pop Artists in the Music Industry

By Victoria Cornet

K-Pop stands for Korean popular music and it includes a variety of different musical elements. Contemporary K-pop started in the 1990s when the group Seo Taiji and Boys performed their music on TV for the first time on April 11th, 1992. K-pop groups are made up of idols formed by various entertainment companies. To be in a K-pop group takes an immense amount of talent and hard work as it is a highly competitive industry. Idols often enter the entertainment company in their teens and train for years in multiple skills such as singing, rapping, and dancing. Then, if they have the luck and talent by the end of their teens, they will be picked to be in a K-pop group! K-pop has evolved greatly since the 90s, breaking into the international music market in the 2010s. Recently there has been a new rise of K-pop idols in the form of AI.
One of the popular AI groups is a band called Eternity. The group’s creator and management company Pulse9 believes that computer-generated stars have a significant edge over their real-life counterparts. While a typical group includes a group leader, vocalists, rappers, and dancers, one of the members can do it all: “Zae-in has (a combination of) characteristics that most human artists would be hard-stretched to pull off,” said the firm’s CEO Park Ji-Eun. “She can sing very well, rap very well and she can be creative as a (fashion) designer. And she’s a natural-born actress.”
Utilizing face-swapping technology and AI-generated voices Zae-in is created through 10 different people who lend their talents to her as needed. In one of Zae-in's Instagram videos, she deftly rides a longboard beside Seoul’s Han River. For the video, her creators filmed the stunt with a stand-in whose face was later swapped out for Zae-in’s. In an interview with CNN, Zae-in stated “Various Zae-ins exist, so our unique advantage is that we can do what one person cannot,” she added, “the only thing we cannot do is sign an autograph.”The team at Pulse9 began the process of bringing Eternity to life by meticulously designing the looks of its members. The team generated around 101 looks, breaking them down into 4 categories “sexy,” “cute,” “intelligent” and “innocent” — and narrowing the selection down to 11 via an online poll. “Until last year, the face was the only virtual part of the performer, but today we can make a full body (images) based on AI technology,” Park said, adding that “No Filter” was also composed using AI (although humans then edited the songs and wrote lyrics).
Earlier this year, Metaverse Entertainment debuted its own virtual girl group, MAVE. In contrast to Eternity, which relies on straightforward face swaps, MAVE’s four members were generated from scratch using CGI. The group’s vocals are part-human and part AI generated, said Metaverse Entertainment’s chief technical officer, Kang Sung-ku. “Our goal is to create fully AI-driven virtual humans (that are) really believable,” he told CNN. The music video for MAVE’s first single, “Pandora,” has already racked up 25 million views on YouTube since its release in January.
Virtual K-pop artists have one major advantage over human ones when it comes to their ability to engage with their fanbases. Advancements in AI language programs could make it possible for fans to “speak” and build their own personal relationships with their idols. Kang said “Criticism was about replacing current idols with virtual ones — they thought current idols might lose their jobs,” Kang said, adding that some fans will always prefer human artists. Park from Eternity added “many painters were afraid of (the new) technology but today, we still have painters. I think BTS will never be afraid of virtual idols — they’re just new content.” These are only two of the many virtual bands starting to rise in the music industry leading to the question: is AI the future of Pop music?