This week I met a pop star who doesn’t exist. At least not in the real world!
Polar may be a rising social media star with 1.6 million followers on ICT Tac and millions of views on YouTube, but to “meet” her, you have to enter the metaverse – or rather, my own hyper-realistic digital avatar – Bernard 2.0 did.
The real analog self had to settle for talking to one of Polar’s creators – Patrik Wilkens, VP of Operations at TheSoul – the agency responsible for creating the latest potential chart-topping virtual pop star.
Virtual pop stars are not a new phenomenon. What is new are the means now available to us to interact with them. For me, the most interesting aspect of the metaverse – a term that simply refers to the “next level” of the internet, far more immersive and experiential than the flat 2D web we’ve grown accustomed to – is the blurring of the boundaries between the real and virtual.
So in this article I want to take a look at the phenomenon of virtual pop stars and influencers, where they come from and what they tell us about how we will seek entertainment and even art in the digital worlds from the future .
What are virtual pop stars?
Today’s virtual pop stars – like Polar – can trace their lineage back to early singers and cartoon artists who left film and TV to release records in the ‘real world’ over the past century. .
Some of the earliest examples were The Archies – a cartoon band inspired by the Monkees – who were themselves actually a made-for-TV band inspired by the Beatles! When they released their record Sugar, Sugar, it both knocked The Rolling Stones off the top spot of the charts and made them, as far as I know, the first “virtual band”.
Other bands born in cartoons around the same period also enjoyed chart success in the real world, making them “meta” – a term that, at its root, refers to something that is “beyond” or “transcendent”. They include Alvin and the Chipmunks and Josie and the Pussycats.
Fast forward a few decades and we come to Gorillaz – a musical and artistic collaboration between Blur singer Damon Albarn and Tank Girl illustrator Jamie Hewlett. Gorillaz were promoted as the world’s first virtual band, and their main innovation was that they performed live shows, with the characters projected as holograms in front of a live audience.
The era of virtual influencers
Gorillaz arrived at the dawn of the internet age, shortly before the arrival of social media and influencer culture, which spawned a whole new breed of digital celebrities.
These include the likes of Hatsune Miku – a Japanese virtual idol that was created as the personification of a software voice synthesizer, Kizuna AIconsidered the most successful virtual Youtuber of all time, Lu do Magalua virtual anchor for the YouTube TV show created by Brazilian retailer Magazine Luiza, and Lil Miquela, who has collaborated with brands including Samsung and Prada and appeared in Vogue magazine.
And then ?
Which brings us to today and Polar. Polar – whose creators say they were inspired by, among other virtual acts, the recent Abba Travel show featuring holographic representations of Sweden’s superstars at their peak – is more than a virtual popstar or influencer – she’s a metaverse star.
Her creators told me in our recent webinar that she’s teaming up with another virtual pop star to release a musical collaboration, and will also soon feature as a character in a major upcoming video game (exact details of these two games are still secret).
What’s new with metaverse pop stars is that beyond just watching their videos or following them on social media, fans can meet and interact with them in the myriad of immersive worlds in 3D that make up the metaverse. When Bernard 2.0 chatted with Polar, she told me (virtually) how much she enjoyed meeting and dancing with fans during her performance at the recent Solar Sounds metaverse music festival. Polar also chose the platform where Solar Sounds took place – the mobile game Avakin Life – to launch their debut single, Close To You.
It’s easy to see why pop stars, first virtual and now metaverse, are appealing to both fans and the record producers and companies that use them to sell music and influence. First, they can be programmed to behave exactly as their creators intended – there’s no way they’ll generate bad publicity through bad behavior like real pop stars do from time to time.
In fact, part of the reason the first virtual pop stars – The Archies – were created is said to be due to record producer Don Kirshner stating, “Damn The Monkees, I want a band that won’t answer! “
They never get old, tire of constantly touring and promoting records, developing drug habits or making excessive demands for private jets and five-star hotels.
They can also be algorithmically designed to deliver whatever fans want – by collecting and analyzing behavioral data to create the “perfect pop star”.
They can also be in multiple places at the same time – one of the features Wilkens tells me she loves about Polar is that she was recently able to perform a gig in Latvia while simultaneously recording music for her debut album in London!
Should we be afraid?
Of course, as with all new technology, the increasingly important role of metaverse influencers and pop stars should be treated with a touch of caution.
To begin with, we can assume that since AI-powered computers are already capable of write songs, it won’t be long before virtual pop stars are nothing more than mere animated spokespersons for human-created songs. At this point, we have to ask ourselves, is art created by machines really art? After all, pretty much the only answer that has ever been accepted to the question “what is art?” is “something created by an artist.” And can a robot or a machine really be considered an artist?
Secondly, will this type of virtual artist or metaverse (if they are artists) be able to create something really stimulating or valuable? Most of what we’ve seen involves business activities such as promoting, selling, and influencing. Is this aspect of virtual culture capable of giving rise to a virtual equivalent of, say, the Sex Pistols or Public Enemy? Acts that go against the “establishment” and in doing so create something uniquely progressive? So far, I’d say we haven’t seen much to suggest that.
Finally, another cultural issue arises due to the potential of virtual celebrities to be used as proxies by the people who created them. For example, the creators of the female African virtual mannequin Shudu – themselves white men – have been criticized for effectively adopting a high-tech form of “blackface” – allowing themselves to cash in on building brand relationships and winning endorsement deals under the guise of a (non-existent) woman of color.
These are questions society will no doubt find answers to as the metaverse becomes more of a part of our lives over the next decade, and the boundaries between the real world, real influencers and celebrities, and the virtual become more and more blurred.
Personally, my feeling is that virtual celebrities, artists and musicians will never completely replace the “real” ones when it comes to the culture at large. They will co-exist alongside real-world artists and influencers, creating a digital extension of real-world people as well as completely synthetic digital alternatives.
One thing is certain: just like the metaverse itself, virtual pop stars and influencers will be a powerful marketing tool for brands looking to build new bridges with customers, especially the younger generations of digital natives who will constitute the citizens. of the virtual world. .
You can watch my full interview with metaverse pop star Polar, as well as one of its creators, Patrik Wilens, VP of Operations at TheSoul, here.
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