The Korea Herald


[Herald Review] Up-close experience with aespa makes VR concert worth it

By Choi Ji-won

Published : Oct. 31, 2023 - 12:05

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Karina (left) and Giselle from aespa experience a virtual reality concert in a behind the scenes video for the Karina (left) and Giselle from aespa experience a virtual reality concert in a behind the scenes video for the "Lynk-Pop: The 1st VR Concert." (AmazeVR, SM Entertainment, Studio Realive)

How many times in life do we get the chance to see our favorite stars stand a meter in front of us, looking straight into our eyes as they perform?

The Korea Herald got to experience girl group aespa's first virtual reality concert firsthand, which was a rare and unforgettable moment.

The event kicked off in Seoul on Wednesday as part of the launch of SM Entertainment's VR concert brand, "Lynk-Pop," introduced by SM's subsidiary, Studio Realive (formerly Studio Kwangya), and AmazeVR, the global front-runner in the VR concert business.

The virtual show was launched offline at Coex's Megabox in southern Seoul. Tickets for the first week have already sold out, according to AmazeVR, with tickets quickly running out for the rest of the shows, which are set to take place through Nov. 21.

The first surprise is the Meta Quest 3 headset -- released only around two weeks ago -- which is the viewing platform that sets the stage for the live music show. The AmazeVR engineers clearly put a lot of hours into creating this project.

All hints of the real world are quickly pushed aside as a star-studded night sky opens up right in front of the viewer's eyes, and any skepticism about the quality of the technology soon fades at the sight of the cosmos. Indeed, the view is so realistic that the viewers feel as though they are floating in space.

The show kicked off after around five minutes used in connection, and aespa's Karina, Winter, NingNing and Giselle appeared on a stage that felt like it was mere meters away. Donned in glamorous pink outfits, the girl group performed "Black Mamba."

The background graphics were not as breathtaking as the performance, although they were almost indistinguishable from the girl group's past music videos, which centered around the metaverse.

A poster for K-pop girl group aespa's virtual reality concert, A poster for K-pop girl group aespa's virtual reality concert, "Lynk-Pop: The 1st VR Concert" (AmazeVR, SM Entertainment, Studio Realive)

The VR experience itself was certainly unique.

A concert in the real world can sometimes be overwhelming, given the size of the space and the deafening crowd. But concerts can also be full of adrenaline, fueled by the magnificence of the extravaganza and creating a night of unforgettable memories.

The atmosphere of the VR gig was much subtler and more intimate. The camera movements take the viewer close to the singers, so close that tiny details like the small bruise on Winter's left shoulder is visible. Just as with live performances, there were genuine moments, like NingNing throwing back her plaited hair to stop it from interfering with her moves, and Karina and Winter cheekily smiling as their eyes met.

The limited perspective of the gig was comparable to a live concert, but the key difference was that, in VR, the camera transports you to various positions and angles that one could never have reached in any other circumstances. AmazeVR's technology gives viewers a sophisticated and intimate experience with their favorite artists.

The VR concert lasted for 20 minutes and featured five aespa songs -- "Black Mamba," "Illusion," "Life's Too Short," "Spicy" and "Next Level."

A short intermission followed "Life's Too Short," during which the four members gathered and spoke directly to the viewer. The members mostly made formal remarks before handing the viewer a virtual light stick, which could be grabbed as Quest 3 can detect hand movements.

One small glitch could be detected here, as the light stick kept popping up unexpectedly when it detected any kind of hand movement, which disturbed the immersive experience slightly.

As the girls said goodbye, the gig came to a close, taking the viewers back to reality in a dim cinema. A short video of the behind the scenes of the production played on the screen at the front, showing the four girls surrounded by film and camera equipment in front of a green backdrop.

While aespa's "Lynk-Pop" concert didn't leave this reviewer completely awestruck, it shook up any ideas I had about the future of VR concerts in K-pop.

VR cannot completely replace real-life performances, and this is not something it even intends to do in the first place.

For artists, it creates new possibilities for showcasing their content in a more innovative setting, and in the long run, VR is a new form of content itself that is realizable only in extended-reality.

People experience aespa's virtual reality concert, People experience aespa's virtual reality concert, "Lynk-Pop: The 1st VR Concert," at Coex's Megabox in southern Seoul on Wednesday. (AmazeVR, SM Entertainment, Studio Realive)

VR may also increase accessibility to concerts. K-pop gigs, usually priced at around $100 dollars or more, are a big expense for most people. Of course, an approximately two-hour one-time live music event and a shorter, pre-taped experience are different experiences, but VR concerts can be the more affordable choice for fans who might not otherwise be able to see their favorite artists perform. That fact alone makes VR worth the exploration.

Of course, the head-mounted display essential to the experience is no cheap game either -- a 128-gigabyte Quest 3 is priced at a minimum of 690,000 won ($511) here. But this may soon change as the technology advances at an ever faster pace, leading to a price drop over time.

In case of aespa's "Lynk-Pop" in cinema, a standard package ticket -- coming with one random photo card of aespa members -- is sold at 22,000 won, while a special package ticket -- coming with extra pictures -- is rated at 33,000 won.

SM Entertainment has led the K-pop industry, and this time, it has taken the next big leap. While the company does have its fair share of past attempts at far-fetched ideas, this latest "virtual" venture seems more real.

In July 2022, the company established a joint venture with AmazeVR, Studio A, kicking off its VR concert production. The first public unpack of their joint creation came this March at the South By Southwest festival where aespa's concert was premiered.

The second "Lynk-Pop" production is already underway, with its release confirmed for January 2024. The spoiler for the next episode was shown at the end of aespa's screening at Megabox, which revealed Exo's Kai as the next VR performer.

Whether VR will become a game changer for the future of the K-pop industry is not yet clear. But through aespa's "Lynk-Pop," we have witnessed the technology's promise, opening up the possibilities for more interactive and immersive K-pop experiences.