Virtual South Korean pop group MAVE: offers glimpse into metaverse future
Fans scream, waving their glow sticks as a new South Korean K-pop girl band takes the stage. But the four members of MAVE: don't exist in real life.
They are virtual idols and the audience, stage — every part of their debut performance was computer generated, offering a glimpse of how the country's robust music industry is embracing the metaverse.
MAVE: released their first album on January 25, and a performance of their debut single "Pandora" was shown in the form of a pre-recorded video on "Show! Music Core", a weekly music show on local TV station MBC. A clip posted on YouTube went viral, garnering over three million views.
Since then, MAVE:'s creators have been posting greeting videos and photographs of them at a dance studio on social media to connect with potential fans. The bandmates can also speak English, French and Indonesian, a strategic decision to appeal internationally.
"Presenting them (virtual humans) with content is more important than debuting them just as virtual humans. It works better in terms of communication," said Chu Ji-yeon, head of the business department division at Metaverse Entertainment, one of the creators of MAVE:.
Metaverse Entertainment is a subsidiary of gaming firm Netmarble Corp, which co-created the group with Kakao Entertainment.
SIU, ZENA, TYRA, and MARTY, the four members of MAVE:, are said to be from a future world called 'IDYPIA' and they have time-travelled to 2023 "in search of emotional freedom", according to the creators.
The creators developed new tools and artificial intelligence to create facial expressions, while performance capture technology was used to create natural body movement as well as movement in clothing and hair.
MAVE:'s debut comes at a time when experimental bets on the metaverse cost Facebook's parent company Meta billions of dollars and the Seoul government’s plan to become the first city to join the metaverse has seen slow progress. The question of what actually is the metaverse is lingering.
But the team behind MAVE: is taking a leap of faith and the project’s success will give an early answer to whether the global augmented and virtual reality market will enjoy exponential growth — an increase by $364 billion from 2022 to 2027, according to Technavio, a market research firm — or fizzle out as a fad like NFT gorillas.
The producers of "Show! Music Core" said they had to adapt to the new technology and tried to present MAVE: as any other human K-pop group. They were especially keen to see how fans would receive them. Pop culture critics said the enthusiastic fan response comes as no surprise.
“K-pop fans got very used to consuming K-pop culture online during the coronavirus pandemic and they tend to stay longer on online platforms. So, they are pretty interested in virtual idols and have expectations on what kind of songs and performances will be presented (by virtual idols),” said pop culture critic Lee Jong-im.
Despite the warm welcome from tech-savvy fans, some felt they were not authentic enough as they can't interact with them in real life.
“Virtual idols can be better than actual human idols as they don’t get involved in all those scandals. However, I think virtual humans are still not enough to satisfy the needs of K-pop fans," said Lee Jae-yoon, 19.
MAVE:'s creators are hoping to bridge this gap by stepping up their presence in the virtual world. Instead of holding concerts, they appeared in a webtoon series about themselves in February and are due to appear in a video game in March. The creators are planning for more virtual projects with hopes to build momentum and a solid fan base.