Talent is on the metaverse, and was born there

Isegye Idol, a six-piece virtual girl group that debuted last December, reached #1 on the local music chart, surpassing 5.8 million views for its official YouTube music video. [YOUTUBE CAPTURE]

Isegye Idol, a virtual girl group, has gone where no other virtual act has ever gone: to the top of the charts.

The most notable Korean cyber singers of the past, such as Adam and Lusia in the 1990s, can barely… one-hit wonders are called: they disappeared shortly after their creation.

The success of the six members of Isegye Idol shows that the time for cyber stardom has arrived – and that the metaverse may be turning into the most promising arena in the world of entertainment.

Isegye Idol was founded last August by a Korean online personality calling himself Woowakgood who streams live games on YouTube and Twitch.
He debuted in December 2021 with the single “Rewind”, which reached No. 1 on the local charts.

The song reached No. 1 on Bugs Music on its day of release and was No. 1 on the Gaon Download Chart.
It was ranked 36th on the Melon Top 100 chart and had over 5.8 million views by the end of April.

Woowakgood’s project to create a virtual idol group started in June 2021 and he turned it into a public spectacle, starting with auditions for people to sing his songs through an online virtual global platform called VRChat.

Woowakgood posted the auditions to his YouTube and Twitch channels, and fans were even allowed to vote for the latest members, such as on “American Idol” or Mnet’s hit show “Produce 101”.

Fans were also invited to participate in other parts of the idol-making process, such as song-writing and song-arranging, the kind of involvement they could only feverishly dream of with flesh-and-blood acts that became created by entertainment agencies.

In fact, as the auditions suggest, the members of Isegye Idol are not entirely virtual. Behind these metaverse pixels hides a human talent: their voices and personalities both come from real artists.

The success of Isegye Idol is driving entertainment companies like SM, JYP, YG and HYBE to invest in the metaverse world.

Last month, HYBE wrote to its shareholders to say it would merge Weverse, its K-pop fan community platform, with Naver V Live, Naver’s live streaming service app, to launch Weverse 2.0 by the end of the year.

Fan community platforms are a kind of metaverse platform and HYBE makes money through its Weverse online store on the platform that sells artist merchandise.

SM and JYP update DearU bubble, a chat room service connecting artists and fans, operated by their subsidiary DearU.

SM Entertainment owns the largest share of DearU, 33.66%, and JYP owns 19.5%.
JYP, HYBE and YG have also invested in Naver Z’s metaverse platform, Zepeto.

According to HYBE, revenues from intellectual property, licensing and platform activities, in which artists were not directly involved, accounted for 58.3% of total revenue in 2021. The rest was from copyrighted songs, performances and advertisements.

Weverse Company generated 258.7 billion won ($205.6 million) in revenue last year, nearly half that of HYBE. Turnover was 20 times higher than 14.4 billion won in 2018.

SM’s metaverse platform DearU Bubble posted sales of 40 billion won last year, an increase of 206% year-over-year.

According to Mirae Asset Securities, the global metaverse market will grow by 10% annually to 376 trillion won by 2024.

“For entertainment companies looking to do business on metaverse platforms, artist lineups and the ability to attract more fans are important,” said Song Beom-yong, a researcher at Mirae Asset Securities. “The industry can continue to grow by organizing hybrid concerts and selling virtual goods.”

BY BAE JUNG-WON, CHO JUNG-WOO [cho.jungwoo1@joongang.co.kr]

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