I’m all for the use of technology to progress society, and I love hearing about new and unique ways to use technology to our benefit, but when it’s used to essentially clone young women for the sake of entertainment . . . that’s weird, and, actually, feels like the exact opposite of progress. That is, unfortunately, what K-Pop girl group aespa’s entire concept is, though.
Artificial intelligence groups might seem like a great way to have the fan-idol interaction that COVID-19 is preventing, but, in all honesty, it seems more like an excuse to hypersexualize women for money — because that’s what we’re used to. It’s 2020! This year is a dumpster fire, but can’t we at least be over that?
SM Entertainment (aespa’s record label) is known for its somewhat strange but interesting concepts, like the idea of NCT (Neo Culture Technology) having infinite members, as well as the oddly complex ‘tree of life’ concept that EXO had in their debut days. With aespa, SM Entertainment Founder Lee Sooman is trying something very strange and not that interesting. As a matter of fact, it’s pretty d—n concerning.
On the group’s concept, Lee said, “aespa will project a future world centered on celebrities and avatars, and will be born into a group of completely new and innovative concepts that transcend the boundaries between the ‘real world’ and the ‘virtual world.’” Does this not sound extremely dangerous, and sort of manipulative, too? It’s bad enough that we spend so much time sucked into various sizes of a screen; is Lee seriously trying to break the barrier between reality and virtual reality even more? What happened to going outside, touching the grass, breathing as much fresh air as you can possibly get through your COVID mask?
That’s the thing: Lee Sooman claimed to be doing this because of the pandemic, which is preventing things like fansign events, concerts, and other face-to-face (or as close as you could get to a celebrity, anyway) activities. Okay, that’s understandable. The thing is, though, there are already so many platforms that K-Pop idols use to connect to fans: Twitter, Instagram, VLive, and countless other apps, many of which allow certain fans to join group chats or receive both automated and the rare actual responses from these idols. What, exactly, is the use of creating a virtual world for these four women that fans — or literally anyone at all — can interact with? Too many young, or very old, fans already fantasize about actually having relationships with these idols. This is practically a free pass to live in a fake world.
To make matters worse, the AI versions of the aespa members look nothing like them. Instead, they look a whole lot like the typical video game woman: invisible waist, big bust and hips, thick thighs — the ‘perfect female body,’ with the long, flowing hair to match. The hypersexualization of the aespa members is most clear in some of their concept pictures, where the AI versions of themselves are placed right next to them.
The worst of the teasers, and the one that really set aflame people’s already-burning frustration, was Winter’s teaser picture, as she is the only one standing side-by-side with her AI ‘clone.’
What’s particularly frustrating about this image is the fact that the AI’s shoes managed to stay exactly the same as Winter’s, but nothing else is consistent between the two. From the AI’s extremely long hair, to her dramatically cinched waist, she’s just another dramatized and unrealistic image of a woman. It’s even worse that the two are standing side-by-side, and the difference is so striking. I’m not asking for the AI to be an exact copy of her, but to put this ‘perfect’ image of herself right next to a woman is like saying “this is what you should look like,” and that does not sit right with me at all.
It gets worse. A quick Google search, likely to lead you to every K-Pop fan’s beloved KProfiles website, tells you that the oldest of the aespa members, Karina, is 20, and their youngest, Ningning, is 18. These girls are young as s—t! They’re younger than about half of the Whittier College campus! So not only are they being hypersexualized and dehumanized for marketing, this is happening to them just following their impressionable years. Mind you, the K-Pop training process is often a long and gruelling one. Again from KProfiles, we find out that all the members, save Giselle (who trained for 11 months), trained for four years. Three out of four members have been targeted as the next awful marketing strategy since they were 14 to 16 years old.
On top of everything else (because, yes, there’s one more thing), Lee Sooman has also been accused of copying K/DA’s concept — not that K/DA would be worth plagiarizing anyway, but the popularity is, somehow, still there. Chalk it up to how ‘perfect’ these fake women look, I suppose. Perhaps it was inspired by the ‘Vtuber’ trend, in which YouTubers create avatars of themselves to represent their channels, that 2020 has brought us. Either way, it just seems like an uncomfortably weird marketing strategy. It is unfortunate that this concept is not new, nor is it unpopular, which makes tackling and processing it that much more difficult. Instagram models are already perpetuating unrealistic physical appearances; now we have ones crafted with no flaws, such as AI musician Miquela Sousa (aka Lil Miquela). Shudu Gram is an unapologetically Black model, but there’s one issue with that: she is CGI and her creator . . . we’re really letting White men have an opinion on what Black women should look like again? Have women of color not been through enough? Something has got to give.
My take? Throw the whole concept away. “Black Mamba,” aespa’s debut song, wasn’t great anyway, and some of the camera angles in the music video were questionable at best. Again, I’m all for technological advancements and brand new ways for fans to interact with their artists, but if it involves dehumanizing anyone at all, it’s not worth it.
Feature image: Courtesy of aespa / Twitter