While AI artists can spare fans from the disappointment of boy band breakups, their increasing popularity raises questions about whether today’s music centers on connection or capital
If we could effectively collect and extract the salt from the tears produced as a result of boy band breakups, we’d likely alleviate the droughts of California and Texas, at least. The solo offshoots from members of bands like NSYNC and One Direction are often eventually accepted, but the announcements of their breakups produce gut-wrenching pain for their fans. As social media makes it increasingly difficult to puppet master artists who can go public when they are upset by unfair contracts and unreasonable requests, the only way for music execs to keep artists on track and intact, perhaps, is to integrate members that can’t quit. If their behavior can be coded, they can’t leave to pursue their career independently or tweet about being upset; AI musicians are explicitly controllable, and surprisingly good at dancing.
This year, the K-pop boy group SUPERKIND introduced its newest member, Saejin, designed by AI and near-indistinguishable from the airbrushed faces of his living, breathing bandmates. Effectively, the only threat of him leaving the band lies in the label’s ability to fund his continued existence. He can’t feel underappreciated or sleep with a bandmate’s girlfriend, instigating an ending to the project—at least not yet.
“The question then becomes not whether or not AI stars carry the ability to generate an audience, but whether they should.”
But can fans connect with artificial pop stars? The short answer, surprisingly, is yes. There are already a number of AI musicians who are faring well in their development of a fan base committed enough to devote money to, by all the same revenue streams of human artists: merch, album sales, even live shows. Their live shows are so popular, in fact, that a recent Reuters article about the digital star Polar transitioning from the metaverse to the real-world instigated immediate backlash on Twitter for failing to acknowledge that virtual pop stars and influencers have long existed in the physical world, generating massive crowds. Like Japanese vocaloid Hatsune Miku, who never has to age beyond 16 (unlike real child breakout stars like Justin Beiber, who can quickly lose their charm and, more importantly to those who have invested in them, their profitability).
With the proliferation of parasocial relationships—a concept repopularized by the frenzied reactions to John Mulaney’s divorce and subsequent relationship—it’s clear that in-person interactions with celebrities are not imperative to the devotion (or disgust) the general public feels for them. The question then becomes not whether or not AI stars carry the ability to generate an audience, but whether they should. The rise of technology initially brought good in its ability to connect (real) people. Bonding to a personality that can’t hurt or reject you has obvious appeal, but does that choice encourage a disconnect with real people?