K-pop combats key industry issues with innovative digital solutions

“Lynk-pop: The 1st VR Concert aespa,” aespa's virtual reality (VR) concert [AMAZE VR]

Going digital isn’t the solution to everything, but it may be for K-pop.

As the ever-growing industry faces ailments in the real world, spanning from illegal ticket resales and plastic CDs to reaching out to fans in remote corners of the world, digital platforms are increasingly becoming the answer to the many obstacles that K-pop is working to overcome.

On Jan. 1, singer Jang Beom-june of folk band Busker Busker canceled his concert and refunded all tickets just two days before the event, after he found out that the tickets to his concerts were being resold for more than six times the original price. Admissions were priced at 50,000 won ($37) but jumped to more than 300,000 won on online secondhand markets.

He returned three weeks later in partnership with Hyundai Card and non-fungible token (NFT) developer Modern Lion. His concert was renamed “Hyundai Card Curated 92 Jang Beom June” and was scheduled for six nights every Wednesday and Thursday starting Feb. 7. All 2,400 tickets sold out, according to Hyundai Card.

Concert poster image of “Hyundai Card Curated 92 Jang Beom June” [HYUNDAI CARD]

The tickets to the six concerts were sold in the form of NFTs, which can only be bought and verified by the initial buyer’s identification details. Different forms of NFTs can be transferred to a third person, but the transaction can be tracked and parts of the royalty fee can go back to the concert organizer.

“We plan to innovate our technology in order to bring about a healthy performance culture,” Modern Lion said.

Digital albums also seek to alleviate the environmental concerns brought on by the K-pop industry, namely the physical CD albums — that no one really uses to listen to music — and their oftentimes elaborate packaging.

More than 115 million copies of Korean albums were sold in 2023, up 49 percent compared to the previous year, according to market tracker Circle Chart. Twenty-nine albums sold more than 1 million copies within a week of release, an indicator of a “popular” artist in K-pop. More than 800 tons of plastic were used in 2022 to make CDs, 14 times more than the 59 tons used in 2017, according to the Ministry of Environment.

Girl group NewJeans [ADOR]
J-Hope of boy band BTS [BIGHIT MUSIC]

CDs are not recyclable due to their composition of different materials, and seldom do people actually keep the tens, possibly hundreds, of albums they buy in order to get the random photo card they want or a ticket to the meet and greet. Generally, each single CD purchase has one random photo card and counts as one lucky draw chance to attend the fan event.

Companies have been experimenting with “platform” albums in order to reduce plastic waste by offering digital methods of listening to music, while still delivering the photo cards and other goodies that usually come with an album.

J-Hope, a member of BTS, released "Jack In The Box" as a digital album through the Weverse community app in 2022, for which buyers were given a QR code that connects them to the music files and photographs. Girl group NewJeans also released a Weverse album of their debut album “New Jeans” (2022), in addition to two physical versions.

Startups including Minirecord and Nemoz Lab also create albums sans CDs and instead provide QR codes to music files, for artists such as Stray Kids, Twice, ITZY, Victon, TRI.BE and more.

Girl group Black Swan's b.stage fan community service page [SCREEN CAPTURE]

Online apps have also been rising as a means to help artists from companies both big and small reach out to a larger audience, especially outside of Korea.

HYBE’s fan community app Weverse and SM Entertainment’s Dear U bubble are more well-known examples of providing fans a chance to communicate directly with artists, but newer companies have also been catering to artists from relatively smaller agencies striving to reach an international audience.

BeMyFriends’ do-it-yourself platform b.stage allows artists to set up their own page and customize it for whatever purpose they want to use it, whether it be selling merchandise, communicating with fans or livestreaming videos. K-pop acts such as Ateez, Kara, Black Swan, Kiss of Life, POW, TIOT and Young Posse have been using the app, as well as non-K-pop brands such as Esports team KT Rolster and the Kansong Art and Culture Foundation.

Audiences experience aespa's first virtual reality (VR) concert ″Lynk-pop: The 1st VR concert aespa″ at Megabox's COEX branch in southern Seoul [AMAZE VR]

“K-pop has always been quick to adapt to new technologies in different ways,” music critic Cha Woo-jin said, citing girl group aespa’s recent virtual reality (VR) concert held last October. A 50-minute VR concert titled "Lynk-pop: The 1st VR concert aespa” was screened at the Megabox Coex branch in southern Seoul.

“Such endeavors are bound to help artists and companies reach out further in the global stage, and investments made toward virtual technology will rapidly increase,” he said. “We’re going to be seeing so many new things, especially in ways where it mixes with other genres such as films or games.”