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Over the pandemic I became a fan of Korean pop music also known as KPOP. I’m sure many of you have heard of BTS at the very least, the 7-member boy group that has received many awards and achieved worldwide fame. The KPOP industry is worth billions of dollars, in 2019 it had an export value of 756 million dollars, and it has only been increasing since then. As a part of various online KPOP communities I have had the chance to listen to several KPOP groups and artists and I have found myself interested in girl groups especially.

For me what is most interesting about KPOP is the industry’s connection with and absorption of all the latest technologies. It’s fascinating the rate at which there is an overlap between the newest tech and the KPOP industry. The pandemic did not stop any concerts or fan meets instead they were immediately shifted online. When the entire world came to a stop due to the pandemic, the KPOP industry continued to work. Almost every single major artist held (paid for) online concerts that were streamed to thousands of people in the comfort of their homes and to thousands more like me who watched it for free thanks to the generous streamers. Not only that’s but artists also continued to meet with their fans through one-on-one video calls instead of the usually in-person fan signings.

While it is not possible to talk about the entire industry or even all my favorite groups in one post, I do want to bring up the latest trend in the KPOP industry. The introduction of AI technology.

The 4-member girl-group AESPA debuted by SM-entertainment on 17th November 2020, introduced this newest technology on a massive scale. SM-entertainment is one of the founding companies of KPOP and also home to my favorite KPOP groups-Red Velvet, Girls Generation, EXO and SHINEE (tldr: I am obsessed with all 4 groups). So obviously AESPAs debut was one that I was both anticipating and absolutely intrigued by because the 4-member group would be joined by AI versions of the members in the very first music video.

The first single black mamba was an interesting mix of both the artists and their AI versions. What’s even more interesting is that this single was a sort of introduction to SM-entertainments plans to create a larger SM cinematic universe (like the MCU), which would connect the lore that has been a part of every single group that they have debuted.

AESPA’s music video was brilliantly done and I’ll admit that the song was stuck in my head for weeks. The AI were especially intriguing. This is not the first time AIs have been used in KPOP, the group K/DA, debuted 2018, was an entirely virtual group made up of versions of the different characters from the video game League of legends. However, AESPAs concept involved AIs made in the likeness of the artists themselves all of whom were 18-20 years old at that time. While the concept was generally well received it did raise a lot of questions about the ethics behind producing artificial characters.

Firstly, who would the AIs belong to in the event that one member left the group, or the group disbanded entirely. The AIs are at the end of the day made in complete likeness to these actual very real human girls. But would they be the artists personal property or the company’s? And does the artist get a say in how these AIs are created, what they wear or what they are used for? AESPA will soon also be releasing a virtual reality game starring their own AIs.

Secondly, since the AIs aren’t really human, they don’t come under the protection of any laws and basically nothing can be done to stop them from being sexualized or misused in other forms of media. This can encourage a host of weird behavior, that may eventually end up affecting the artists in real life as well because it blurs the boundaries between the real world and the virtual one. In an era of media where basically anything can be created with a few clicks, and where deepfakes are increasingly common, the creation of these AIs is basically readymade material that can be used for whatever its consumer intends.

These AIs also obscure the boundaries between artist and fan. Since the purpose of the introduction of such AIs is to allow the fans to have complete access to their artists and interact with them however, they wish. This AI technology is opening up a variety of new ways to increase this interaction and deepen the connection between artist and fan. AESPA is not the only group releasing content with AIs. Other groups also have video games, artist chat boxes etc. that allow fans to talk to or interact with the AI versions of their favorite artists. But for AESPA the AIs are standing right next to them, interacting with them and even getting screen time in their music videos.

The purpose of using AESPA as an example was to highlight this massive shift in the industry towards using AI in place of humans. Also, because they are a girl group, already subject to a variety of sexism, sexualization and unrealistic body standards. The girls may grow and change but their AIs will always have the perfect dainty figures, perpetually stuck in their youth. What kind of affect this shift towards using AI, along with and even in place of humans, will have on the industry, the media and the world in general, only time will tell…

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Hello Khadija! Such an insightful and great blog! Thank you for sharing this!

I've never been the fan of K Pop songs. But after reading your blog, I searched AESPA on media and realized how much advancement has come to technology. AESPA symbolizes meeting the new self and experiencing new world.

I've a question that was popping into my mind about developments in the field of AI for voice synthesis. Like how it's using voice without permission of right holder? This is unethical I think. As I don't have much information about this. Please let me inform what you think about this.

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Thank you for taking the time to read my blog Ammara!

My knowledge about AI and voice synthesis is limited. I personallly think it is unethical but it has been happening for a long time now, even before the creation of the virtual AIs. I mentioned the concept of deepfakes in my blog, which are basically when peoples faces are photoshoped onto other bodies or situations, a lot of them pornographic material. From what I understand voice synthesis is somewhat similar because everything is being done without the consent of the original owner, raising not only security concerns but also ethical problems.


This was such an insightful blog Khadija, I am highly impressed! Needless to say you're already my favourite for stanning SM groups, and I was so excited to read this. Given the incident concerning Aespa where they were mobbed at an all-boys high school and later many of the students made HIGHLY inappropriate remarks concerning the members' bodies, our biggest fear of Aespa as teenage girls being sexualized is already becoming a reality. In such a situation then, as you rightly pointed out, what are the ethics of creating AIs when no one is informed of the regulations that would (or should) consequently follow? The reason this scares me is because of what professor told us in class the other…

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Thank you for your comment Ayesha! It's always great to connect with another kpop fan especially someone who listens to my favorite artists as well ❤️

And thank you for bringing up the point of how controlling the audience can get about artists lives. I think being familiar with the problems of the kpop industry and the amount of control the fans think they are entitled to over their favorite artists just tells us that these AIs are a recipe for disaster.


Hi Khadija!

This was such a fun read tbh! When Black Mamba came out, as well as the concept photos for the MV, I was intrigued by how each AESPA member had a unique AI avatar for themselves. I hadn't really seen representations kpop idols via their avatars before and for me SM really outdid themselves by making use of AI technology to create these AI figures who'd actually be starring in the MV alongside the girls. I find AI a unique way to make an MV innovative and entertaining and to represent the girls: each AI character was a representation of each girl's unique colour and personality in such a way that it wouldn't be a challenge to identify…

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Thank you for you comment Aimen! I certainly think that AI is playing a part in adding to the unrealistic beauty standards of the kpop industry in general. There is rarely any diversity in terms of body shapes and sizes when it comes to the AI that have been introduced. I agree with you in that they are helping to reproduce certain toxic beauty standards not just for the audience but for the artists themselves as well. Like I mentioned that these AI will be perpetually youthful looking while the artists grow and mature. Isn't that extremely degrading for the artists as well who will be forced to keep up with the artificial versions of themselves? I personally do not…


An excellent and important read.

In class today we were discussing how to use internationally implemented models to gauge their applicability in our own contexts. This being done to the end of making relevant institutions work more effectively. But what do we do at the point when we have a task that is never-before seen? One where we are trying to gauge an effective way forward.

Similar to the problem mentioned in this blog, humans have come across issues in other areas such as The Great Depression or The Cambridge Analytica scandal which brought to the limelight many important issues that were going un-noticed. Therefore, I think it is a step in the right direction to highlight the emerging problems…

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Thank you for your comment Jehangir! I completely agree with you in that this issue is something that requires an inter-disciplinary approach. We are producing technology at a rate faster than what other institutions can keep up with. And while the growth in tech is not unwelcome it certainly should not be left unchecked. Another example is perhaps that of the infinite scroll in social media apps who's creators did not expect the unexpected issues it has caused.

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