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Are Virtual Idols the Future of K-Pop?

버추얼아이돌

< Virtual idols (Source: TEN Asia) >

Just earlier this year, a month-long virtual idol pop-up store opened at The Hyundai, a major department store in Yeouido, attracted over 100,000 visitors and generated 7 billion won in sales. Considering that a fashion or designer pop-up generates about 1 billion won in sales in the same period, this is an extraordinary achievement.

They’ve been the talk of the town for some time and there were various predictions, but it seems safe to say it’s become a reality- virtual idols are becoming all the rage! With fast growing fandoms, record-breaking sales and billboard hits, recent trends have shown that K-pop stars don’t necessarily have to be human to attract a following. Virtual idols blur the line between fantasy and reality, opening new possibilities for K-pop.

Let’s look at some groups that have been making their mark in the virtual idol world!

1. Isegye Idol

< Isegye Idol (Source: Isegye Idol YouTube) >

4.19 billion Won: That’s the amount that was raised for the release of a webtoon called “Magical Girl Isegye Idol” and its merchandise on crowdfunding platform Tumblbug on January 25th. The average donation per person was about 134,000 won, leading to explosive demand from fans to obtain various goods such as comic books, special photo books of the members, key rings, mugs, and photo cards.

마법소녀 이세계아이돌 프로젝트 모금

< Donations on Tumblbug for the ‘Magical Girl Isegye Idol’ webtoon (Source: E Daily) >

“Isegye Idol”, or “Isedol” for short, is a six-member girl group that debuted in August 2021. They are directed and owned by popular YouTuber and streamer Oh Young-taek, better known as “Woowakgood”. The members, who are also individually active as internet broadcasters, were selected through an audition.

The debut song “Re : Wind” exceeded 12 million views in a year and ranked 80th on the Melon chart and 1st on the Bugs and Gaon download charts. There aren't many music videos that can reach 10 million views in just one year domestically, and the fact that virtual idols have achieved this feat proves their popularity.

이세계 페스티벌 홍보 포스터

< Promotion poster for Isegye Festival (Source: FM Korea) >

At the “Isegye Festival” held in September last year at Songdo Moonlight Festival Park in Incheon, where Isegye Idol was the headline act, all 10,000 tickets sold out within eight minutes of going on sale. “It is estimated that about 20,000 fans gather whenever Isegye Idol holds a performance or sells merchandise,” said an official from Parable Entertainment, Isegye Idol’s agency.

2. MAVE:

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< Mave: (Source: Netmarble) >

Co-produced by Kakao Entertainment and Netmarble, MAVE: is another virtual girl group gaining huge popularity. The semicolon in their name represents a link that connects two different worlds- virtual and reality. The four members are all from different countries- Korea, the U.S., France, and Indonesia. The four countries were specifically chosen since they are where K-pop has gained significant popularity. As such, they are more popular internationally than domestically.

Their music video for their debut song “Pandora”, released in January 2023, garnered 27 million views in 11 months and their second album “What’s My Name” also recorded more than 10 million views on YouTube within two weeks.

< MAVE making an appearance in Korean Airline’s safety video (Source: YouTube) >

The members were also featured in Korean Air’s in-flight safety video as passengers along with another virtual model, Rina. Webtoons and web novels featuring them are also set to be launched this year.

3. Plave

< The hottest trending virtual idols, Plave (Source: Maeil Kyungjae)>

Arguably the virtual idol group that has received the most attention and has rapidly grown a huge fandom is Plave, which consists of five members and boasts flawless visuals and charming vocals.

Their first mini album sold more than 200,000 copies in the first week of release, surpassing the initial sales of “WHO!” (110,442 copies), the debut single of BOYNEXTDOOR, a boy group under the major record label HYBE.

< Plave’s performance on ‘Show Music Core’ that earned them 1st place (Source: MBC KPop YouTube) >

In their first year of debut, Plave proved their star status by entering the ‘Hall of Melon’ and ‘Top 100’ sections on Melon, Korea’s largest music streaming site. Last March, they ranked first place on the terrestrial music broadcast ‘Show Music Core’, becoming the first ever virtual idols to do so. The fact that they surpassed real human singers such as Le SSerafilm and Bibi shows how much the virtual idol fandoms are growing.

플레이브 지코 댄스 챌린지

< Plave doing a dance challenge with Zico (Source: Plave YouTube) >

Plave takes fan interaction seriously, communicating with fans through their YouTube channel, which currently has almost 700K subscribers. They have even filmed popular dance challenges such as Illit’s “Magnetic” and danced with challenge veteran Zico! Most recently, they became brand models for major skincare brand, “Mediheal”.

< Mediheal’s newest brand models, Plave (Source: Insight) >

Besides the three groups mentioned above, there are many virtual idols already in the market or emerging. It’s no doubt that the virtual idol business is booming. Members of the younger generation who grew up in a world of smart devices, metaverse, and the COVID-19 pandemic are used to digital narratives and can learn quickly to adopt to them. Someday, they may become mainstream in the K-pop market since groups like Plave are already overtaking many real-life artists in terms of album sales and popularity!

At Avocado Giant, we specialized in influencer and ambassador marketing. Virtual influencers are great, but there are irreplaceable quirks that real human influencers have, like being able to carry out authentic storytelling. Whatever your campaign needs are, we’ll help you find the perfect influencer to embody your brand story and image, helping you achieve whatever goal, whether it be conversions or brand awareness. Reach out to us today!

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