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How K-Pop Group Aespa Makes The Metaverse Their Home

gIselle, Karina, Ningning and Winter should be tired. After all, they just arrived in California after a long-haul flight from Seoul. But the four stars of K-pop girl group aespa have an important job to do, and they know the stakes. For one of the first times in their short career, they perform in front of a live audience. And not just any scene: the highly publicized Coachella. Launched in the midst of a pandemic in November 2020, aespa only existed in a world in crisis. But there’s something that sets them apart: aespa also exists as four virtual avatars, each carefully crafted to match their human counterpart, in a fantasy metaverse. Now they’re ready to prove they’re more than fans have seen on screens. .

Calm and focused, the four women of aespa sit lined up on a couch in a small hotel room where they’ve gathered for a pre-Coachella photo shoot. It can be disconcerting to see them without their avatars, which appear in photos and videos alongside their real-life inspirations. The uninitiated viewer might do a double take. Aespa is an experiment, but it may also be the inevitable next step for the music industry: a new way to bridge the gap between the virtual and the real. So far, aespa has only released a few singles and a six-song EP, but this EP broke records, debuting on the Billboard 200 albums higher than any previous K-pop girl group. Their debut music video, “Black Mamba,” had YouTube’s fastest rise to 100 million views for its K-pop debut.

But the members of aespa want to be seen as more than just a group. Their “metaversal origin story,” as Karina calls it, is meant to capture the imagination. The story of aespa, conceived and launched by their Korean talent management agency, SM Entertainment, is an ambitious new piece of the SM culture universe. Like Marvel or DC Comics, the company is creating an interconnected world in which all of its artists will exist, with intricate stories, story arcs, villain threats, and more. It’s still a kind of sketch. “In truth, we were worried at first, because our concept is also new to our company,” says Ningning. “But our fans really loved it and are even making memes of it.”

The result: aespa learns the concept of native metaverse art along with its fans: every song and video is another piece of the puzzle. The goal is to “normalize metaverse concepts and make our fans and other people a little more comfortable with the very idea,” Giselle says. It’s a journey that fans can pursue by taking the time to watch aespa’s videos and consume their content, beyond just enjoying the songs. They want to make people think about the selves we present online and how we interact with our virtual identities.

A few days later, Giselle, Karina, Winter and Ningning took to the Coachella stage in combat boots and miniskirts, with 10 minutes of music and choreography. Their avatars flashed on the screen behind them, but the focus was on the performers. The metaverse may be part of our inevitable collective future, but aespa works to conquer this world first.

With report by Soo Jin Kim/Seoul

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Write to Raisa Bruner at [email protected]


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