SM Entertainment’s announcement of its new girl group Aespa this week has left K-Pop fans intrigued, confused and concerned.
The company’s launch of its first all-female act since 2014 is making news for including real and virtual members. The members introduced so far are Giselle, Ningning, Karina and Winter. Each of them is expected to have an AI avatar that will also be part of the group.
SM Entertainment founder Lee Soo-man said this was part of larger SM Culture Universe (SMCU) which he launched at the World Cultural Industry Forum in Seoul on Wednesday.
Aespa’s name combines ‘æ’ derived from ‘Avatar X Experience’ & ‘aspect’, SM said in a promo, adding that group’s activities would involve the theme of “experiencing a new world via the encounter of the ‘avatar’, your other self”.
SCMP’s Tamar Herman wrote SM Entertainment is known for combining technology with performances by its music groups with use of holograms and AR technology in its performances stages, and the NCT Project which aims to create a boy band with an unlimited number of members and unit groupings across the globe.
Lee Soo-man called Aespa an SMCU project “which will herald the beginning of the future of entertainment”.
Lee said he envisioned the future as one defined by a world of celebrities and robots.
“AI technology will enable customised avatars to fit into people’s lives and people will co exist with their avatars by living together.”
Among his examples of how this might work was the idea that an avatar of your favourite celebrity could spend time with you in the way a real one could not.
Lee introduced aespa as a group he’s dreamed of as “it projects a future world centred on celebrities and avatars, transcending boundaries between the real and virtual worlds.”
Currently the entertainment industry creates content derived from artists and their music, he said. With aespa, SM plans to introduce a new entertainment experience.
Their storytelling will involve how its members interact and communicate through the digital world which Lee called “a space between reality and virtuality”.
This would also involve the AI members performing with the human members of the group and interaction between both group members “as independent being as they have AI brains”.
“They also become friends and share information, They do things in their respective worlds and share what they do. They will also eventually be able to come and go to each other’s world.”
“The avatars, like ones seen in reality, are born in a yet-unknown virtual world. And our real-world members, who are human beings in reality, will meet those avatars for the first time in a certain world,” he said.
While the staggered announcement of the group members initially confused K-pop, Lee’s elaboration on the concept left many worried about its implications.
Aespa is scheduled to officially debut in November.