The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] Unmasked by avatar: K-pop idols show true selves in metaverse

Producers say virtual audition program ″Girl's Re:verse″ opened up a new world for talented singers

By Choi Ji-won

Published : March 1, 2023 - 16:55

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Kakao Entertainment's online idol survival show Kakao Entertainment's online idol survival show "Girl's Re:verse" producers Son Su-jung (left) and Cho Joo-yeon (Kakao Entertainment)

One of the most memorable moments in producing Kakao Entertainment's online audition program "Girl's Re:verse" was when one of the contestants made a rude finger gesture to the others, says producer Son Su-jung.

It was the first time all 30 of the contestants' virtual characters had gathered in the metaverse, and Muneo's unexpected cursing not only caught the producers off-guard, but the other contestants as well.

"(Muneo's action) smashed the boundary (of pre-conceptions) the girls had. They found the situation funny, not because of the curse itself, but because they realized it's okay to just have fun and fool around here," Son said during a joint online interview with the local press held on Tuesday.

"The girls seemed more relaxed after that point and spoke and acted more openly," the producer added.

With only the final round left until the winners are decided, Son and her co-producer Cho Joo-yeon conducted a joint online interview with the local press to share their thoughts.

"Girl's Re:verse" is a 12-episode show that began airing in January and has since followed the journey of 30 singers as they competed through their avatars in the metaverse to make it to the final five.

Muneo's action is symbolic of the value the producers believe "Girl's Re:verse" had achieved -- to free idols of the restraints they had been bridled by in the real world and to just be themselves.

The strict anonymity of the singers, whose identities were kept not only from the viewers but from the other contestants as well, is what differentiated "Girl's Re:verse" from other survival shows. Only those who were disqualified could reveal their identity.

The girls weren't allowed to meet or find out about each other's identity until the very final shooting.

"This resulted in double the amount of work for the staff as we had to take extra care in reserving the shooting and recording time, making sure to hide their identities while moving around in the studios. But we believed that if the girls met in the real world and the boundary (between the real and virtual) was broken, they wouldn't be able to immerse themselves in the metaverse as they had done before," Son said.

The deep immersion of the girls was what pulled the program through, despite the skeptical views it faced in the beginning. Uniting two minor cultures -- two-dimensional animation and K-pop idol -- into one mixing pot was a risky move that could have cost the program its popularity.

"Even some of our staff had a hard time focusing at first," Son said. "We knew we had hurdles to overcome and our first and most important goal was building intimacy."

The start of this journey goes back almost a year. In April 2022, the producers held meeting after meeting with each of the girls to create their avatars. The girls customized almost everything about their characters, from their name and personality to their appearance, hair and eye color. In this process, the girls immersed naturally into their virtual counterparts.

"We believed if the singers themselves could really immerse into the characters, the viewers would soon follow suit," Son said.

Poster of online idol survival program Poster of online idol survival program "Girl's Re:verse." (Kakao Entertainment)

Making a virtual survival show required three to four times more money and effort compared to programs involving only humans in a real-life environment, the producers said.

Even so, watching the singers lower their guards to show off their talents in the virtual space, made even the staff genuinely want to root for the girls, the two producers said.

"During our final shoot, when the girls all gathered together, they would speak on a friendly manner with each other because they don't know the real identity. Outside (in the real world), I've seen even members of the same group address each other using honorifics. But here, they've let go of such social boundaries and are busy showing off their unique personalities and charm," Cho said.

In leaving the show, rapper Nada, who was revealed to have been Barim inside the show, had said, "I thought becoming the virtual character made me put on a mask, but as it turned out, I'd actually taken off my mask as 'rapper Nada.'"

Son said Nada's words resonated deeply with her thoughts after producing the series.

"Just as (the girls) had done for themselves, they came to view the other girls in the same way, free of any stereotypes," Son said, adding, "It is thanks to the unprejudiced attitudes the girls had throughout the episodes that the program could have come so far."

The five winners, who will be decided in the last episode set for release next week, will officially debut as a group. While not confirmed, Son said it is highly likely the five winners will remain undercover even after their debut.

"We want the girls to try many things inside the metaverse space, and to do that, we think it's better for them to stay anonymous," she said.

A debut plan is still being negotiated, Son added. "We'll be releasing a new song with the five members. As for now, our goal is to release the song some time in May."

The final episode of "Girl's Re:verse" will be shown at 9 p.m. on Monday via Kakao Page and on Thursday March 9 via the program's YouTube channel.