Are video game characters the next K-pop stars?: With ‘Pop/Stars’ topping the music charts, some say gaming is now mainstream

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Are video game characters the next K-pop stars?: With ‘Pop/Stars’ topping the music charts, some say gaming is now mainstream


Left, the music video for virtual girl group K/DA’s debut song “Pop/Stars” garnered over 50 million views within two weeks of its release on Nov. 3, when the finals of the 2018 League of Legends World Championship was held. Top, the players from Invictus Gaming and Fnatic pose with the stars who performed at the opening ceremony. Above, singers Miyeon, left, Bobby, center, and Soyeon pose for a photo. [RIOT GAMES KOREA]

A rather unusual song is currently climbing the Korean music charts. Titled “Pop/Stars,” the music video for the dance song had over 20 million views on YouTube within just four days of its release on Nov. 3, and has over 54 million views as of Wednesday. The song hit No. 1 on the iTunes K-pop chart on Nov. 8.

What makes the song unique is not necessarily the lyrics or the music, but the group who sang it. Named K/DA, the new girl group consists of four members: Ahri, Akali, Kai’Sa and Evelynn. Those who are familiar to the world of gaming will instantly know who these girls are: characters from the popular online game League of Legends (LoL).

The group’s name comes from how the MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) game is played. Based on a five versus five structure, while the biggest goal of the game is to destroy the opposing team’s base, known in the game as Nexus, the players must use their characters - or champions, as they are referred to within the game - to kill their enemies on their way to reaching the goal. Apart from a team winning or losing, an individual’s score is calculated by the number of kills, deaths and assists they make, typically referred to as KDA within the game.

On Nov. 3, the 2018 League of Legends World Championship was held at Incheon Munhak Stadium in Incheon. The final match was between European team Fnatic and Chinese team Invictus Gaming. News got out late October that Korean pop star Bobby from boy band iKON would be performing at the opening ceremony alongside Miyeon and Soyeon from the girl group (G)I-DLE, creating buzz from fans of their respective groups.

While Bobby performed a remix version of the Championships theme song “RISE” along with The Glitch Mob, Mako and The Word Alive, Miyeon and Soyeon appeared together on stage to perform “Pop/Stars” with Madison Beer and Jaira Burns. Although “Pop/Stars” was performed by the four girls and backup dancers, the official performance video uploaded on YouTube features not only the real-life singers, but the digital images of the four members of K/DA on stage as well.

In fact, the performance video starts with the four champions strutting down the stage wearing black and white costumes. Kai’Sa, Akali, Ahri and Evelynn appear on stage in the given order, after which Soyeon from (G)I-DLE takes the microphone for her verse.

The vocals of the track were recorded by the real-life singer: Soyeon as Akali, Miyeon as Ahri, Beer as Kai’Sa and Burns as Evelynn. The choreography was recorded by motion capture technology so that they characters from the game could dance alongside the singers. The screens at the stadium showed the singers, along with the characters, using augmented reality (AR) technology.

The music team of Riot Games, the developer of LoL, oversaw the production of the song from beginning to end, from the lyrics, melody to sound mixing.

“We took the images of the champions from the LoL game to make K/DA,” said Riot Games Korea. “The group is a fictitious one created by the Riot Games music team who [were] influenced by pop [culture], fashion and culture all around the world, combined with the unique color of Riot Games.

“K/DA’s song ‘Pop/Stars’ has been influenced by a variety of music genres, such as hip-hop, electronic and pop. And since the LoL World Championships were held in Korea this year, we tried to give a K-pop vibe to the song to celebrate that,” added Riot Games Korea.

K/DA is not the first virtual singing group to have appeared in the world. The first virtual idol named Kyoko Date was created in 1996 by Japanese talent agency Horipro, and the first Korean virtual singer came in 1998, named Adam.

Adam debuted in January 1998 with his first album “Genesis.” His lead track could be translated to “Love That Doesn’t Exist in this World.” Adam was followed by many others, such as Lusia and Cyda in the 1990s, and SeeU in 2011.

However, this is the first time that a whole group was formed based off of existing game characters, and for the song to be performed by human singers as well.

In the past, when the cybersingers held a performance, it was done by themselves through computer imagery. This is also perhaps the first AR idol performance to be held in Korea in which real people and unreal characters danced hand in hand.

According to Wi Jong-hyun, a professor at the business school of Chung-Ang University and the president of Contents Management Institute, this new kind of performance signals a development in culture in which not only games and entertainment have converged, but also a convergence of real and virtual as one.

“Games have always been a means of entertainment, but hadn’t been recognized so much in Korea,” said Wi.

“The recent performance means that games can become a part of popular culture as long as it has the will to open up to other possibilities, and not just keep the community closed to itself like it is right now. For instance, game developer Netmarble already saw this possibility and joined forces with [boy band] BTS to make a game. It could go any way in creating a new and popular culture that satisfies people from all fields.

“And if it goes further, a technological advance could even put game characters on the same stage as real people. If hologram technologies can be realized, people wouldn’t have to wear masks of game characters or computer graphics on the screen, but see them actually moving right in front of them using holographic images. With the right technology, the real and the virtual world can easily mix together.”

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