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SM chief Lee Soo-man talks about online concerts, robots, avatars in future for K-pop

(SM Entertainment)
(SM Entertainment)
Lee Soo-man, the chief producer and founder of one of South Korea's biggest music agencies SM Entertainment, mentioned the potential of online concerts, robots and avatars in the future for the K-pop industry during a forum here Wednesday.

The company, which manages K-pop megastars EXO, SHINee and NCT, was one of the first in the music industry to hold an online concert this year as the new coronavirus pandemic prompted governments to mandate social distancing and effectively blocked traditional concerts.

Following project boy band Super M's "Beyond Live" concert in April, SM teamed up with JYP Entertainment to launch a joint company specializing in the online performance format that makes use of technologies like augmented reality (AR) and allows artists and audience to interact in real time.

Lee said while online concerts were first devised to overcome caveats from the infectious virus, it has turned out to improve performances and diversify engagement with fans.

"It goes beyond simply broadcasting offline performances online. Rather this can be seen as a new, online optimized concert form, enabling real-time interactions with viewers, made possible with the latest AR technology and a multi-point video connection system," Lee said during his keynote speech in the World Cultural Industry Forum that was streamed online.

The SM chief said the virtual format enabled musicians and music companies to go beyond the spatial and time limits that came with traditional concerts.

"During offline concerts, due to limited access to stage equipment and spatial and physical constraints the stage has, stage moods cannot be changed instantly. In 'Beyond Live,' no such limitations exist, and it's possible to direct the stage freely," he said.

"Even though it's being held online, rather than feeling apart, they feel that same togetherness as they did offline," Lee said, mentioning how hundreds of screens showing fans allow fans from around the world to enjoy the show together.

The SuperM concert, for instance, was held at 3 p.m. here -- which is not an usual time for a concert -- so that fans in Los Angeles could join at 11 p.m. and those in Paris could watch at 8 a.m.

The entertainment guru, meanwhile, projected the entertainment industry to further grow in times of pandemic, as people stay at home for social distancing and spend more time listening to music and watching videos.

To meet that demand, Lee said seemingly far-fetched areas like nanotechnology, biotechnology and artificial intelligence may be the next big thing for the industry.

He went on to introduce the agency's upcoming girl group, "aespa," whom he explained works on a combination of real-life musicians and virtual artists, or "avatars," of the artists.

"This group is what I've dreamed of as it projects a future world centered on celebrities and avatars, transcending boundaries between the real and virtual worlds," Lee said.

A video featuring the girl group's member Karina showed her talking to a violet-colored avatar while they danced together and even held an Instagram Live session.

"The future that I envision will be defined by a world of celebrities and robots. With the global pandemic, the whole world is practicing social distancing. As people spend more time at home, their interest and needs for celebrity and entertainment are only growing higher," Lee said. (Yonhap)
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