A unique presence has emerged in the ever-evolving K-POP scene, incorporating music and diverse cultures and trends. APOKI, a virtual K-POP artist who debuted in February 2021.
“Concept,” “world view,” and “communication with fans” are essential elements for K-POP artists, but APOKI interacts with fans of the Earth as “a rabbit living somewhere in the universe.” It looks like a girl group with a slender figure and a cute face like an overseas anime character. The appearance of singing and dancing shows a natural and mysterious presence as if it were a living being.
Various VTubers such as Kizuna AI are gaining popularity in Japan. How was APOKI born, and what kind of prospects it has in its activities, which spans both virtual culture and K-POP culture. Is it? This time, we will explore the possibility of new expressions that appeared in the K-POP scene by interviewing Mr. DK Kwon, the representative of A fun Interactive, a Korean startup company that gave birth to APOKI, and an email interview with APOKI himself.
“Rabbit living somewhere in the universe” suddenly appeared in the K-POP scene.
Recent developments in gaming engines (software used to develop games) such as “Unreal Engine” have made it possible for “virtual artists” to read and move the movements of human performers in real-time. Even the precise and intense dance of K-POP can be easily made to dance by the beautiful avatar of 3DCG.
As a result, many virtual idols have not yet entered the K-POP scene, and the virtual K-POP artists have been active with firm guidelines and have succeeded in making their major debut with original songs. Currently, there is only one. That is APOKI.
APOKI, a “rabbit living somewhere in space,” suddenly appeared on the video platform in 2019 and attracted attention with the covers of K-POP songs such as BLACKPINK, MAMAMOO, and BTS.
Adorable 3DCG visuals seem to have jumped out of the Disney world, with sharp dance and a husky singing voice. The facial expressions and actions have a human-like charm that does not seem to be CG.
Perhaps because of the newness and unusualness, fans are already attached to all over the world. TikTok has more than 2.2 million followers. The 2021 “Global VR Social Influencer Top 100” announced this year by Taiwan-based information terminal maker HTC won 5th place among the top Asians. Although it is selected based on HTC’s criteria, it can be seen that it has a high degree of attention.
On the other hand, its newness also leads to the difficulty of categorization. It is difficult to explain “what is APOKI” because it is active across two scenes with different characteristics and contexts, “virtual” and “K-POP.” Compared to the global popularity of TikTok, the number of YouTube subscribers is modest at less than 300,000, probably because it is not yet fully recognized in its home country, South Korea and Japan, where K-POP is popular.
Until now, APOKI has been active only on the cover of K-POP songs but finally made its debut in February this year with the original song “GET IT OUT.” In June, the second song, “Coming Back,” was released, and it’s time to pay attention to future development. I would like to briefly explain the background of the activity so that both K-POP fans and fans of virtual culture will know the charm of APOKI.
First of all, artists and characters, generally called “virtual” at present, are based on the principle that human movements are read by motion capture equipment and reflected in 2DCG and 3DCG avatars.
As a result, the character will behave more “humanly,” and the performer will act with some freedom from the living body’s attributes, gender, and appearance. In addition, since it is no longer necessary to manually move the character as in classic animation, the hurdles for creating video content using the surface have been lowered, and the frontage has expanded dramatically.
However, even if the principle is the same, the actual “virtual” way and the form of activity are so diverse that we cannot introduce the whole picture here. By checking some typical examples such as Kizuna AI of VTuber in Japan, CodeMiko of virtual streamer working on an overseas game live platform, imma, and Lil Miquela of virtual influencer, I understand the breadth the way. It would be best if you got it.
Regarding Korean virtual culture, K-DA, a unit derived from the characters of the online game “League of Legends,” and K-, a girl group that is attracting attention for its unique world view using avatars. The background of the POP scene characterizes it, and although the scene is not so big, there is also a Japanese-style VTuber. In addition, the avatar app “ZEPETO,” which became a hot topic in collaboration with BLACKPINK, is also popular with the younger generation and is one of the foundations of avatar culture.
Because it is “virtual,” it can embody a fictitious world view and settings in a “real” way.
What’s interesting about APOKI is that it doesn’t belong to any of those scenes. She seems to be developing her territory by herself.
Of course, APOKI’s production team’s selection of people and their performance style are wholly based on K-POP manners, as they call themselves “virtual K-POP artists.” For example, Melanie Fontana provides songs to many K-POP groups, including BTS and TWICE—choreographed by NARIA (belonging to the famous Korean dance studio PREPIX STUDIO) also handles K / DA. And the director of the MV is Jinooya Makes (belonging to AOMG, a music office by Jay Park), who also runs MVs for NCT DREAM and Taemin (SHINee) can be said that it is a luxurious lineup in a K-POP context.
After the release of the original song, he participated in a relay dance project sponsored by TV station Mnet, performed a collaboration with a band in the live performance series “It’s life,” and held a publicly recruited cover dance contest. It is also true that they are doing activities like POP artists.
But on the other hand, at least at the moment, he hasn’t participated in significant music shows or big K-POP events, and he doesn’t seem to be very interested in his success in the K-POP scene. For APOKI, K-POP is just a resource for activities, not a field for success.
And instead of having an easy-to-understand affiliation scene, APOKI is building a unique world view unique to virtual. As you can see from the fact that the name of APOKI comes from “Apollo 11 + Tokki (meaning rabbit in Korean)”, she is a sci-fi setting as a resident of the universe (= another world = virtual world). We are developing activities while undertaking. This tendency is extreme before and after the debut of the original song.
For example, in the live stream on December 30, 2020, just before the debut, APOKI, who had generally been talking until then, suddenly noticed something and went out of the room. The screen switches to the outdoors, and when APOKI takes the space shuttle to space, the distribution ends there. Naturally, the comments section was confused.
From there, a live stream that continued to show only the interior of the spacecraft continued for about two weeks, and the fans left in the comment section waited for APOKI’s return while decoding the occasional Morse code. Finally, on January 13, 2021, the video of APOKI landing on the moon was uploaded, and the production and debut of the original song was announced later. To inherit the world view of these large-scale productions, the MV of the debut song “GET IT OUT” is studded with homages of various science fiction movies.
Of course, the debut production itself with such a unique worldview and setting is unusual in the K-POP scene. However, what is essential is that APOKI is a virtual entity in the first place, so it is possible to express such a world view “realistically.”
Typically, when an artist plays some setting, there is always a gap between the character in the scene and the actual “person.” However, in APOKI, since its existence contains a fictional element, it does not become a “lie” even in a fictitious worldview. The phrase “I want to share love, and positive energy with the people of the earth” is a fact, not a “setting,” at least for “APOKI.” And because this authenticity is the heart of the charm, the information of the so-called “people in the middle” is consistently kept secret (even if it is rumored that it is related to K-POP due to its high-performance skill). Probably.
Taking such a unique route may be that the project team that supports APOKI is not an existing entertainment agency. Founded in 2016, A fun Interactive is an up-and-coming tech startup that has created 3DCG content based on real-time rendering technology. It looks like the APOKI project suddenly started in 2019, but I don’t know why startups suddenly (albeit virtual) embarked on artist management. It’s also unclear why they can produce such full-scale K-POP songs and music videos.
After all, the question of what APOKI is is caught. What is APOKI (project) for, and what is it aiming for? What kind of thought does APOKI have about himself? Once you know that, you should be able to enter the world of APOKI further.
This time, to clarify the mystery as much as possible, we interviewed A fun Interactive’s representative DK Kwon and APOKI himself. From here, we will deliver the contents (APOKI is an email interview, and DK Kwon is an online interview).
APOKI’s creator, the representative of South Korea’s “A fun Interactive,” talks about the background of the project
-Why did A fun Interactive, a 3DCG company, start working on the character business in the first place?
DK: We were initially a company that undertook the production of 3DCG from a large domestic company. However, since many creators are enrolled, one day, we wanted to develop our original content IP (Intellectual Property, which generally refers to characters and works).
Therefore, I made a trial VR animation, “Buddy VR,” using Hollywood 3G animation characters. Fortunately, this work was selected for the Best VR Experience Award at the 2018 Venice International Film Festival, which gave momentum to developing our IP.
-Did you decide from the beginning to select “Virtual K-POP” as the IP?
DK: Yes, I planned to train virtual K-POP singers and release an album from the beginning. However, I didn’t have the foundation as an entertainment company, so four years before I started planning the project, I gathered staff through trial and error and placed a system.
-Please tell us more about the current production system.
DK: Is it crew or family-style? MV producer Jinooya and choreographer NARIA belong to their respective companies, but they are 100% involved in APOKI’s project when we release new work.
And most important is the musical DNA. A-Dee, who is in charge of beat make-up, joined our company as an executive music producer when the debut song “GET IT OUT” was produced. The song he made is also on the US Billboard chart (Prince Royce’s “My Angel,” movie “Furious Speed SKY MISSION” OST).
Melanie (Fontana) often works in teams with A-Dee in the United States. It’s like Melanie writing the top lines (melody and chords) and A-Dee making the tracks. Also, MV director Jinooya is involved in many parts of our creativity, not just the direction of the MV.
DK: For the new song “Coming Back,” the beat make-up, choreography, styling, etc., are basically all produced in-house. I’m learning how to do this little by a bit while using other K-POP offices as benchmarks.
-Did you plan to transform into an entertainment company from the beginning?
DK: Yes. At the stage four years ago, I wanted to develop like that. To that end, we have envisioned a character, searched for someone to perform, and trained and prepared for the performers and staff. As a result, I could do more things little by little, which led to my debut this year.
Encounter with APOKI. “Like any other artist, think of APOKI as it is.”
-How did you meet APOKI during the preparation period?
DK: Originally, I was thinking of having a K-POP trainee perform as a performer, and I also consulted with a Korean entertainment company. However, there weren’t many such projects at that time, so I thought I was a stranger so that I couldn’t talk about it (laughs).
Meanwhile, I happened to meet APOKI. She believed in a virtual future and told me she would love to do it when I called out.
DK: She often gives her production opinions. For example, I want to play a bright song next time. In that sense, I think it’s more like an artist who sings the songs he wants to sing and acts as he wants, rather than being a K-POP singer (idol) who the company often produces.
-The character is also very frank and friendly, but is that also close to her usual girlfriend?
DK: That’s right. Just like any other artist, you can think of APOKI as it is. At first, I was thinking about preparing a character set, but in the end, even if it is virtual, the essential part of the person comes out. It’s not something that the management side can create and control personality, so now I feel free to let myself out as it is.
-What did you think about the visual design? The taste of Disney and Pixar’s 3G animation seems to be strong.
DK: APOKI’s father and mother gave birth like this … (laughs). Some of the staff have been studying and working in the United States, so that kind of atmosphere may come out naturally.
The secret of technology that enables natural movement. Ready for live performance
-I was surprised that even though I was dancing so violently, the slowness of movement and even minute fluctuations were expressed with high accuracy. I even get the impression that APOKI is alive and real. Does your technical advantage make such a delicate expression possible?
DK: The equipment is no different from other companies, so we don’t have a unique advantage. However, we continue to improve the missing parts through trial and error over time.
For example, if you take a dance video and find something that feels unnatural, improve it immediately. Not only movement but also hairstyle and fashion. Almost everything from the background visuals of dance cover videos to small props is created in-house from scratch, but we use the same technology by finding and improving each small element. But I think it will make a big difference in quality.
-Is it possible to produce live performances in real-time that are as good as videos?
DK: At this time, we haven’t modified any animations for live broadcasts. So we think we are ready for real-time performance. All we need is a stage opportunity and more fans!
-How conscious are you about the activity format of K-POP? For example, if you are a general K-POP idol, it is crucial to appear in a music program for each release (comeback) and be ranked high. Does APOKI have such a goal?
DK: To be honest, I’m hardly aware of it. Some parts refer to K-POP activity styles, such as comeback, but I don’t have much consciousness to enter the ranking of music programs. Instead, it is more supportive of the activity that many people find APOKI interesting.
-I think that the number of cases of “virtual x K-POP” such as K / DA, which is a pioneering case, and aespa, which debuted from SM last year, is gradually increasing. Is there any difference between those groups and APOKI?
DK: I feel that the goals themselves are probably the same. K-POP singers generally have a short life span of about 3 to 7 years, but virtual can overcome that weakness to some extent. APOKI also has a vision of wanting to be loved for a long time like American and Japanese characters.
“The most important thing I always think about is to make the viewers enjoyable in the fantasy world.”
-What are your thoughts on the opportunity to communicate with your fans?
DK: I’m planning to hold an exchange event as other singers do. After all, there aren’t many opportunities for the general public and singers to communicate directly. We will practice it while referring to the efforts of other singers.
-It’s a difficult question, but how do you think about the mental health problems of artists, troubles with fans or the masses, and cultural friction caused by working globally, which was not originally an entertainment agency? I want to ask you. In the case of a virtual being, things may be different from ordinary idols and artists.
DK: At least for now, I don’t feel that kind of problem or friction. Thankfully, APOKI and the fans seem to have a good relationship with each other. However, the background to such concern is apparent.
One thing I am aware of in APOKI’s activities is not to emit bad energy. I try to avoid mentioning negative things as much as possible, and I try not to mention the keyword “corona.” Always the most important thing is to make the viewer enjoyable in the fantasy world. Entertainment must be made up of such fun things.
DK: Actually, VV Entertainment is a company in the virtual world (laughs). If the company name of A fun Interactive remains, it seems that it is a tech company, and I thought it might not be possible to convey that I am doing content business, so I tried to divide the name playfully.
-I found out why almost no information came out when I looked it up (laughs). How will APOKI develop in the future?
DK: I can’t tell you the details yet, but we are preparing to expand into the Japanese market. I’m thinking of having fun, so please look forward to it.
Interview with virtual K-POP artist APOKI email. “There is no artist like me on earth.”
-First of all, congratulations on your debut! In another interview, you mentioned your aspiration that “I’m delivering from a small room now, but someday I want to release an original song and become a millionaire.” How do you feel frankly now that you have released the second song?
APOKI: Even when you were broadcasting from a small room, you were confident that you could release your album someday. I’m delighted that it can be achieved so quickly!
But I think it’s more important what kind of activity we will do than releasing the song itself. So, rather than just being happy, the feeling of “I have to work harder!” It is more prominent, and now I’m full of motivation.
-In the MV of “GET IT OUT,” a scene is drawn in which another APOKI releases the captive APOKI. There are phrases in the lyrics that call for you to remove yourself. How does APOKI interpret this setting and songs?
APOKI: What? What is the setting …? (Lol)
I tried to put the meaning of “let’s breakthrough my potential” in the lyrics. In another sense, I wanted to convey that I should jump over the wall between my fans and all the fans who live in a different dimension.
In the cover dance contest for the same song, there were applications from fans in Korea and worldwide. Why do you think they are crazy about you?
APOKI: I think it’s because there are no artists like me on Earth. Also, at first, I started YouTube activities with a cover of songs and dance, but it seems that I was interested in covering the songs of the fans’ favorite artists in style unique to APOKI. I am always full of gratitude.
APOKI: Before, I was addicted to social media, and I watched the reaction of the videos I posted all the time before going to bed. But lately, that kind of time has been decreasing little by little, and now I’m exercising in my free time and playing “Philis’s Atelier-The Alchemist of Mysterious Journey” on the PlayStation.
-What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a virtual rabbit?
APOKI: The advantage is that you can do everything you can imagine. Unfortunately, I can’t hug all the fans directly, but I think I’ll be able to embrace them soon. I’m thinking.
-Please introduce the back dancers’ OVA and DOSE. What kind of characters is each of them?
APOKI: OVA and DOSE are children like me who love dance and music very much. Initially, I was a famous dancer in my place of residence, but I got to know each other naturally and have been working together since December of last year in Earth time. Following the first song, we danced together in the second song. Unless you fight, I think you’ll be working together forever!
-Watching your ASMR video and game distribution, I was impressed by the natural way of speaking and behavior that you didn’t decorate in a good way, just like a friend. Is there anything you are aware of when talking to your fans?
APOKI: Thank you very much for having fun and watching. Game distribution and ASMR are talking alone and answering alone, so I think you can speak comfortably. In the distribution that interacts with the fans in real-time, I try to be careful whenever my remarks do not hurt anyone. Real-time distribution cannot be edited!
Musically influenced by Mariya Takeuchi and Tatsuro Yamashita. I want to co-star with Doja Cat and Lil Cherry
-What kind of music have you been influenced by? Would you mind telling us if you have any chance to like singing and dancing?
APOKI: Where I live, I can watch broadcasts from other planets, but the music of the Earth is prevalent. Many songs on the Earth make you feel at ease, and many songs bring an image to your mind, so I get a lot of inspiration from them.
It’s not because it’s an interview in Japan, but I’m influenced a lot by the music of Mariya Takeuchi and Tatsuro Yamashita. I also love Studio Ghibli music.
I naturally liked singing and dancing rather than having something to do with it. After I realized that I was talented, I felt like I became even more fond of music.
-Are there any artists or influencers who have goals or references?
APOKI: Many people often compare me to other artists. Whether or not I’m compared to someone, and whether or not I think I’m similar to someone, the people who see me interpret me as I am. I think it’s interesting.
APOKI: I ‘m wondering what kind of synergies will come from working with people who have a clear color, such as Doja Cat and Lil Cherry.
-What do you want to do most now, and what do you want to achieve?
APOKI: I want to make the concert faster!
-What kind of impression do you have about Japan? And finally, what do you want to convey to Japanese readers?
APOKI: Japan is a country with a lot of delicious food! And a country with lots of kinds, delicate and cute things! It is an impression. I also love to eat, and there are also surprisingly light aspects, so I think it suits the country of Japan.
I want to enjoy activities in Japan from now on. Would you mind looking forward to my various activities in the future? And see you soon in Japan! Please love the new song “Coming Back” released this time!