[INTERVIEW] Melody transcends language: Virtual singer Apoki drops album from 'outer space'
K-pop showcases are a dime a dozen these days, but one particularly peculiar event was held earlier this month — by a virtual artist in outer space.
Virtual singer Apoki held a showcase for the first time on Nov. 10 inside a space shuttle near her “home planet” of KOI-406.04 near the Lyre. It was livestreamed on YouTube for the reporters on Earth who logged in to see the exoplanetary artist sing and dance to the songs of her latest album “Earth Space Time,” which was released on the same day.
Apart from the fact that it was held with the most unique concept and background story, Apoki’s showcase went just like any other: After performing a B-side track titled “Space” from her 11-track album, Apoki posed for “photographs,” which were reporters screen-capturing the online livestream, explained her album in detail and then answered questions from reporters — who asked her questions about the album, her career and more through the YouTube comment section.
“I've held a lot of live sessions, but the press showcase really did feel different,” Apoki said after finishing the showcase. “It felt so nerve-racking and there are some bits that I wish I had done better here and there because there were a lot of things I didn’t know and I wasn’t used to the environment. I’m determined to practice and do better next time.”
Apoki is a YouTube-made “alien” star from outer space who started her YouTube channel in February 2019, slowly gained subscribers by covering famed songs with her exquisite singing skills, then made her debut as Korea’s first virtual artist, according to her agency VV Entertainment, with track “Get It Out” in February 2021.
Since then, it’s been smooth sailing for Apoki. The singer has over 4.5 million followers on TikTok, where her videos had surpassed 2 billion views as of March this year, and her collaboration with J-pop girl group Girls² titled “Countdown” topped the Oricon Daily Album Chart in April this year.
“Earth Space Time” is Apoki’s first album in almost three years since her debut. It is a compilation of both new songs and rearranged versions of her past songs such as co-lead tracks “Space,” which was released last September, and “hashtaggg,” written just for this new album.
The album is a collection of K-pop, pop, hip-hop and electronic dance music (EDM) in Korean, Japanese and English — a “record of Apoki’s journey.”
“When you go on a journey, you feel both excited but also scared of the new,” she said. “The things you come across where everything is new could be a new source of inspiration. Being here on Earth as a singer has given me such emotions, and I thought that my life here feels like a journey.”
Following her first live event with the press, Apoki answered questions from the Korea JoongAng Daily via an email interview to talk more on her music, her unique career and more.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q. Please tell us more about your first album, “Earth Space Time.” What did you particularly want to emphasize and what is the meaning of this being a “record of Apoki’s journey”?
A. I wanted to show the endless potential and color that I have as an artist.
This album is a collection of all the songs I've released ever since arriving on Earth in 2019 including “Get It Out,” which I released for the first time in two years after coming here, as well as other songs where I tried various concepts and genres. Listening to each one brought back memories and the emotions they each carry. That’s why I call it a record of my journey on Earth.
How did you come to make your debut? How did you meet your first agency?
Before my debut, I uploaded cover songs every week and met with people through online live sessions. I’ve covered over 130 songs, and looking back, I tried so hard to choose and practice the songs — to copy the choreography but also show a new side of myself each week.
I came across my current agency VV Entertainment while I was in space. I tried to connect with the radio on Earth because I like K-pop, and I came across the company. I thought that my music style fit them well, and they’ve been helping me out with my life on Earth like a family.
There have been other virtual stars popping up here and there, but your popularity seems more visible than that of others. Why do you think that is?
I believe that I stand out from other virtual artists in terms of music.
There were a lot of people who paid attention to the way I move or how I perform live. But as the idea of virtual artists became more known to people, I think the focus has shifted to whether we can deliver music that people can listen to and enjoy, and how we deliver our message. I was also the first [virtual artist in Korea] to release content along with music, and I think that helped people see me with a positive view.
What do you think is the most important thing about music?
Lyrics matter in music, but I think music has the ability to move people's hearts with just the melody and rhythm, which is why K-pop is gaining popularity around the world [even though it uses] Korean words. Knowing the language, of course, will give more depth to understanding other people's emotions and charms, but the first thing you hear about music is the music itself — then it's the language, the words. In that sense, I believe that there's no barrier when it comes to melodies.
But I think it does matter what track the melody is placed with. At the end of the day, everything is subject to how people listen and take in the music, and the fact that people can feel different things with the same sound is the most important characteristic of music.
What do you think are the perks of being a virtual artist, as opposed to the human competitors?
One thing is that I can change my looks in the blink of an eye. I can show a variety of looks without the bounds of time or space. Who knows, I may be able to show a lot of different things that I’ve only imagined in my head in the near future.
One of the strengths of the K-pop market is its high quality, trendy artworks and the ability to adapt quickly to change. Being less prone to physical limitations, I think I may be able to work that to my advantage perhaps a little more so than the real-world artists. I hope I can bring energy, inspiration and sustainability to K-pop by providing diverse visual entertainment on stage with things that only a virtual artist can do.
Then would you say there are hardships of being a virtual star?
I think the biggest obstacle is that a lot of people still don’t know what virtual artists are, and that novelty can work as an obstacle for me. Some people even seem to feel uncomfortable. But I’m hoping that if I keep on releasing music with sincerity and showing my content, then time will work its magic. I’ll take my time, so I hope you all watch me take one step at a time.
What are your goals as a virtual artist? Do you think that the virtual entertainment market will take over the real market?
I actually don't think there's a big difference between virtual artists and real artists in terms of how they're assessed [by the audience]. Visuals, music, sincerity, the quality of the content, how you communicate with the public — the things that people judge artists by are quite similar. But I do think that being a virtual artist means that you should be able to bring new visual elements to your content.
Rather than the virtual entertainment scene becoming the new mainstream, I hope it becomes another mainstream so that the music market becomes more diversified. Our stage is now the whole world, so I think we need to focus on collaboration and grow our pie together. Real artists and virtual artists should collaborate and grow in ways where we can help each other.
Do you have a specific goal you want to achieve with "Earth Space Time"?
There's a part in "hashtaggg" that goes, "A little crazy, you become curious about me, push me away but I'm growing on your mind."
I know that the idea of a virtual artist may not seem so relatable because people still feel somewhat awkward, but I believe that there's nothing really different in essence — especially about the fact that I want to keep trying to fulfill my goals by doing what I love.
My first goal is to promote this album well so that people become more familiar with who I am and will one day communicate with me in a natural manner. "Earth Space Time" is a record of my journey as a virtual artist and a gift for the fans, but it's also a chance for me to introduce myself to the people who didn't know who I was or what kind of music I pursue. I hope that this album will allow me to get my charms and ability to pull off diverse charms across to people.
BY YOON SO-YEON [email@example.com]