Helping K-pop fans meet stars in the flash
IN SOUTH Korea, one of the world's most wired and tech-savvy countries, music and entertainment mingle with futuristic gimmicks.
Holograms and virtual-reality (VR) technology are being increasingly deployed as an alternative to live performances, as Seoul seeks to entertain the burgeoning group of K-pop fans visiting the home country of their idols.
Although it may sound creepy to some, hologram concerts and virtual spaces where fans can digitally interact with their idols are a real business here, with the government planning to invest 240 billion won (S$300 million) by 2020 to nurture related industries.
"Holographic concert venues are a wonderful example of the creative economy as they combine K-pop, the mainstay of hallyu, and digital technologies to create a new revenue source," said Yoon Jong Rok, Vice-Minister of South Korea's Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning.
One example of how K-pop embraces futuristic technology is SMTOWN@coexartium, which SM Entertainment - one of the country's top K-pop idol-generating agencies - opened with much fanfare earlier this month.
Located in Samseong-dong, southern Seoul, the five-storey complex is a one-stop shop for all things SM Entertainment, K-pop memorabilia and the latest in hologram programming.
Opened on Jan 14, the complex is a K-pop fan's paradise, with every inch of the space oozing K-pop splendour. Not surprisingly, it has already become a must-visit site for K-pop pilgrims.
Much more than just a location to purchase albums, the building features an in-house VR studio, a cafe, a K-pop merchandise shop and a hologram theatre.
One of the complex's main attractions is the SMTOWN Studio, a virtual space where guests can experience first-hand what it's like to be a star.
The studio gives visitors the option of a total makeover prior to a professional photo shoot. Fans can also have a one-of-a-kind chance to meet their favourite SM artists - or more precisely, their digital reconstructions - through vocal and dance training sessions, and music-video shoots. Within less than a week of opening, studio reservations for the whole of this month had been completely booked, according to a staff member at SMTOWN.
In the hologram theatre, visitors can watch holographic concerts of their favourite SM artists, such as Girls' Generation, Super Junior, TVXQ, EXO and SHINee, or enjoy the world's first hologram musical, School OZ.
The 110-minute musical is set in the fantasy world of OZ, starring f(x)'s Luna, TVXQ's Changmin, Red Velvet's Seulgi, EXO's Xiumin and Suho, and SHINee's Key.
The complex also houses the SUM celebrity merchandise shop and the SMTOWN LIVErary Cafe, which features a music lounge and a K-pop-themed dessert bar.
YG Entertainment, SM's archrival and home to such monster K-pop acts as Psy, Big Bang and 2NE1, has been running hologram concerts of its artists at the world's first hologram concert hall in Seoul since last year.
Established in partnership with telecom firm KT, Klive in Dongdaemun, Seoul, has attracted more than 50,000 visitors as of last month, most of them foreign. It runs four concerts featuring YG artists every day, except Monday.
KT said it plans to open more Klive halls in Seoul, on Jejudo Island and in China.
YG is also planning to spend 100 billion won to set up a K-pop culture cluster site in Uijeongbu, north-east of Seoul, by December 2018.
Covering 49,600 sq m, the envisioned complex will consist of a handful of concert stadiums, multiplexes and merchandise shops, featuring plenty of futuristic technology.
THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK