K-pop gone virtual: will AI girl group hit the charts?

K-pop artists are becoming more prominent in international pop culture, but Korea takes it to the next level. Meet ETERN!TY; these eleven Korean-looking artists are made with Artificial Intelligence (AI). On 25 October, they uploaded their newest single ‘DTDTGMGN’, which already has over 6 million views on YouTube. But Stefano Beccaletto, a Digital Media Experience developer, says that AI algorithms can add much more to popular culture.


The Korean company PULSE9 created the girl group ETERN!TY. They designed 101 characters virtually, and people could vote through the ‘AI Heartbeat Challenge”’ which AI idols they liked the most. The group debuted with their single ‘I’m real’ on 22 March 2021. In the comments of the music video on YouTube, the company said: ‘Eternity is the first of our projects to research and improve face-providing technology. The dancers and singers in the video are not trainees but artists we collaborated with.’

However, they also acknowledge the questions and worries of K-pop fans. ‘We intend no harm to the idols in training’, PULSE9 states in the comment. ‘We are simply showcasing the capabilities of AI technology.’


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Digital Media Experience developer Stefano Beccaletto sees the benefits of AI artists too. ‘The main benefit is that AI algorithms can help artists create unique and complex artworks that would be impossible for humans to create in real life’, he explains. ‘Additionally, AI can help artists save time and effort by automating certain tasks, such as colouring or adding special effects. AI art can help artists push the boundaries of creativity.’


The creation of the avatars

Pulse9 used deep learning technology to create the avatars of ETERN!TY. The company’s CEO, Park Jieun, says in an article by the BBC that the eleven fan-picked characters were animated to conform to how the fans wanted the idols to be. When the group does live chats, fan meetings, or makes videos, the designers place the character’s face on that of an anonymous artist who works for Pulse9. The company uses a deepfake filter to make their artists look more realistic.

Deepfake is often associated with pornographic movies and imitating famous people. However, Park Jieun says in the BBC article that her company tailors towards the Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI that European Union created in 2019.

‘Some people also find AI art unoriginal because AI algorithms are more likely to produce predictable results’ – Stefano Beccaletto

Other than the ethical concerns, Stefano Beccaletto also sees different disadvantages. ‘AI can potentially lead to the loss of jobs for human artists because it can be difficult for them to compete with the abilities of algorithms’, he says. ‘Then, there is the question of ownership of the artworks. Some people also find AI art unoriginal because AI algorithms are more likely to produce predictable results. Lastly, some people argue that it lacks emotional depth and authenticity.’


Millions of views for virtual characters 

And the work is paying off, ETERN!TY has over 24,000 followers on Instagram, and PULSE9 has more than 103,000 subscribers on YouTube. The group also participates in numerous online activities, such as interviews and dance covers. The company also published that the group has been showcased on more than 200 Korean and international media.

The four digital singles all have more than a million views on YouTube. Their last single, ‘DTDTGMGN’, released on 25 October 2022, has almost 6,5 million views. The success was partly due to the improving deepfakes techniques that PULSE9 has used. In their latest music video, the viewer can hardly tell the difference between the deepfake mask and the artist underneath.

‘AI can analyse data from popular culture and predict future developments’ – Stefano Beccaletto

However, Stefano Beccaletto sees a future collaboration between pop culture and AI. ‘AI algorithms can be used to create music, videos, and other forms of digital entertainment’, he says. ‘Also, it can generate content for social media platforms, which can help shape public opinion. Additionally, AI can analyse data from popular culture and predict future developments.’ ETERN!TY will not be the last we see of AI in pop culture.


Text: Hanna Daniels
Image: © PULSE9