AI in South-Korean media

A couple of months ago a new K-pop group debuted with one of the six members being an AI and Korean AI influencers are gaining a lot of popularity. In recent times an AI being involved in social media as an idol or an influencer is nothing new. Now, then why is there such a big controversy around South Korean AI Idols and Influencers?

Sae-jin of Superkind

A couple of months ago the group Superkind debuted with their single ‘Watch out’ under Deep Studio Entertainment. A lot of netizens are discussing this new South-Korean boy group, not because of their music but because one of the six members is an AI. AI are not a new concept in the South-Korean music world. For example, each member of the girl group Aespa has an AI counterpart, there is an eleven-member virtual girl group Eternity and Apoki is a Singer-songwriter who prefers to perform behind the mask of a virtual character to hide her identity.

Superkind’s debut single ‘Watch out’

Then why is there such a big controversy surrounding Sae-jin? In my opinion, this is due to the fact that this group consists of 5 real people and 1 AI. The Korean music world is very harsh on idols and performers, physically and mentally. It is an industry where survival of the fittest takes place, you have to be very talented and lucky to be able to debut. The fact that very hardworking people often cannot debut, causes many people to find it unfair that an AI idol has debuted. On the other hand, there are rumours that the voice behind Sae-jin prefers to stay anonymous, which makes Sae-jin an avatar. This then proves that there still had to be an election for the AI singer and makes it fairer.

It has also been proven that it is less time-consuming to edit Sae-jin into music videos than to actually have a real person perform. This forms one crucial problem for the group: They cannot have performances without excluding the AI member. They could also use holograms to perform, Hatsune Miku is a good example of performing in this way. As they have not yet had a concert, how the company will handle this problem is still a mystery.

Rozy the influencer

Rozy is a very popular virtual influencer who is often mistaken for a real-life person. The CGI (computer-generated imagery) technology behind Rozy isn’t new. It is used a lot in media for example to craft realistic nonhuman characters in movies, computer games and music videos.

Rozy’s instagram page

Interacting with an AI can be seen as somewhat odd but netizens enjoy the novelty of it. One of these people even thinks of Rozy as an actual friend.

“We communicated like friends and I felt comfortable with her — so I don’t think of her as an AI but a real friend”

Lee Na-kyeong in an article on CNN Style

Because these virtual influencers have a big fanbase, big companies and clothing brands ask for them to modelling advertisements. Rozy, for example, has modelled for Korean retail brand Lotte Home Shopping. Virtual models are in high demand as they are easy to edit and consume fewer resources to edit them in advertisements.

Impact on the Korean beauty standard

This all sounds very nice, but there is one problem with these AI idols and influencers. South Korea is known for its big business in plastic surgery and its obsession with flawless white skin and big eyes. These timeless AI who have almost no physical imperfections and never have any scandals, cause an even extreme form of the Korean beauty standard to arise. You are probably thinking: “Why would anyone want to look like an AI when you know they are not real people?” A lot of people do not know they are AI. The difference between an AI influencer and a human influencer is difficult to spot. There has been a lot of criticism on the perfect images of AI, as they are unrealistically beautiful and cause people to have an even higher expectation of how one should look. These AI have a timeless beauty, they do not age and do not fall ill. Even the members of Superkind have stated that Saejin is a very big competitor in the aspect of visuals.

Then would AI idols and influencers be the future? As they are easy to edit in and cost a lot less. Or will there always be the controversy that they are not real people and dwindle down in popularity?