Does Plave's success signal a virtual future for K-pop? CEO reveals boy band's next steps

Five-member virtual boy band Plave [VLAST]

Fandom growing at a monstrous rate, investment from K-pop powerhouse HYBE and technology advancing by the day — the industry's next BTS could have been born in the virtual realm. Enter K-pop’s rising virtual boy band Plave.

“I’ve always believed that there are some things that can only be achieved in the virtual realm,” Lee Sung-goo, CEO of Plave’s production company and agency Vlast, told reporters in a press conference on Monday in western Seoul.

“Human society has always evolved around the idea of communication. It’s only the means that changed over time. We used to send words, then it was voice communication and then pictures and video. Now, technology has allowed us to open up a new digital realm in the form of games and characters that allow us to share more information than ever.”

The press conference came more than a year after Plave’s debut and a month after the boy band won MBC’s weekly music show “Show! Music Core” on March 9 with its latest track “Way 4 Luv.” The group has become the first-ever virtual K-pop "idol," as the profession is referred to in Korea, to take the No. 1 prize on one of Korea’s regular television music programs.

Lee Sung-goo, CEO of virtual boy band Plave's agency and production company Vlast, answers questions from reporters during a press conference held Monday in western Seoul. [VLAST]
Lee Sung-goo, CEO of virtual boy band Plave's agency and production company Vlast, answers questions from reporters during a press conference held Monday in western Seoul. [VLAST]

Plave is a five-member virtual boy band — with real people behind the group — created by Vlast, a local tech startup that began as a special project from television broadcaster MBC in 2021. The company was founded in February 2022 and rolled out Plave on March 12, 2023.

Plave’s success has drawn interest and much curiosity, which is why Lee decided to open the doors to reporters.

“A lot of people have been telling us that it must be easier because we’ve eliminated the ‘human risk’ with Plave, but that’s not the case,” Lee said.

Human risk refers to the risks that all idols are exposed to for being human and is considered the biggest threat to an idol’s career longevity. It can range from the inevitable temporary halt in activities for men when they have to fulfill their military duties or fan backlash due to dating scandals or getting caught engaging in criminal activities.

Five-member virtual boy band Plave [VLAST]

One of the things that make Plave special is bonche — the actual human idols behind each member. Bonche in Korean literally means the “main body” and is used to describe the human actor behind a mask, such as the human bonche wearing the costume for EBS’s popular penguin character Pengsoo.

For Plave, the five bonche are all human K-pop idols who debuted in the past but were unable to achieve success on their own. They work on the band’s songs and choreography.

“From the moment we began the Plave idea, we were doubtful as to whether an intellectual property (IP) with no human appeal at all could be loved by consumers,” he continued.

“It would certainly minimize the risk to have no human behind the characters, but we were certain that it was the humanity that people would like to see in their content. That’s why we cast members who could sing, dance, make their own songs and communicate live with fans. And we believe that’s the reason that Plave worked.”

Five-member virtual boy band Plave [VLAST]

And it has worked indeed. In addition to Plave's triumph on television, the group sold 569,000 copies of its second EP “Asterum: 134-1” within the first week of its release in February, the 99th highest first-week sales figure in K-pop to date. The band has over 650,000 subscribers to its YouTube channel and 89,800 members in its online fan club.

More than 70,000 people logged on to the ticket seller’s website for the band’s recent fan concert, which took place on April 13 and 14 at Olympic Hall in southern Seoul.

“It’s not that we were absolutely sure it would succeed. We were worried about the whole idea,” Lee said.

“In fact, we started with around 20 people watching the video for the casting process and 100 people on our first-ever livestream. But the reason we kept going was because of the passion that those few fans showed us. They logged on to every livestream, and sent us letters and pictures they drew of the members. We saw the numbers slowly grow and that’s when we began believing that we could actually make it work.”

Five-member virtual boy band Plave [VLAST]

The biggest challenge that Plave faces currently is not related to the content or the members themselves, but the technical limitations that come with having to perform live, whether that be for a live concert or a TV appearance. Vlast’s capabilities have allowed the company to present the group's members through various domestic content, but an overseas expansion would take much more effort, according to the CEO.

“It is our goal to get Plave onto the global market,” Lee said. “To that end, we’re in talks with overseas agencies to expand Plave’s market in various ways. I’m not sure that it can be done within the year, but we’re adamant about making the virtual IP loved around the world, not just in Korea.”

The company “recently received a small investment” from K-pop powerhouse HYBE and music publisher YG Plus, Lee said without disclosing the amount or the stake that Vlast and the two companies will hold. Still, the investment will be used to help Plave set the foundation for its overseas launch, Lee said.

“We’re aiming to roll out something by the end of the year that only a virtual idol can,” Lee said. “We can’t share the details yet, but we hope it will serve as a way to show fans what it really means to enjoy a virtual idol.”

Find out more about Plave at Celeb Confirmed