Superkind has a member with a difference — but it’s virtually undetectable

From left, members Daemon, SiO, SAEJiN, Eugene and Geon of boy band Superkind pose during an interview at the JoongAng Ilbo building in Mapo District, western Seoul, on July 19. SAEJiN is a virtual member. [DEEPSTUDIO]
From left, members Daemon, SiO, SAEJiN, Eugene and Geon of boy band Superkind pose during an interview at the JoongAng Ilbo building in Mapo District, western Seoul, on July 19. SAEJiN is a virtual member. [DEEPSTUDIO]

Imagine a K-pop idol who never gets sick, never has to practice his dance routines, and never ages.

This is a reality for rookie boy band Superkind — well, at least for one of its members. 

SAEJiN, a computer-generated virtual member hit the K-pop scene with his actual human bandmates SiO, Geon, Daemon, and Eugene (stylized in all caps) on June 20 with “Watch Out.” The digital single was released under the title “PlaySuperkind : Apply for a beta test.”
 
All of the members have a signature K-pop idol look and when they dance in perfect sync (known as kalgunmu in Korean), it is hard to figure out which one is SAEJiN. There are many more factors that make him quite literally a superhuman idol, free from all the troubles that his mortal counterparts go through.  

Virtual member SAEJiN of boy band Superkind [DEEPSTUDIO]
Virtual member SAEJiN of boy band Superkind [DEEPSTUDIO]

“SAEJiN doesn’t have to watch his weight,” said the group’s leader Geon. “I was so jealous of him when I was on a strict diet for our debut, hitting the gym at 5 a.m. on an empty stomach. He never catches a cold either.”

“He can change his hair color without having to bleach it for hours as we do,” Eugene chimed in.

As one can tell from the title under which the digital single was released, Superkind takes on a game-like theme. After initially grabbing attention with its virtual member, Superkind has a whole new interactive K-pop experience to offer. 

Superkind [DEEPSTUDIO]
Superkind [DEEPSTUDIO]

The four human members, with SAEJiN in their hearts, sat down for an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily on June 19 at the JoongAng Ilbo building in western Seoul.

“When I first heard about this project, I thought, ‘Is this a K-pop agency or an IT company?” said SiO. 

DeepStudio, the firm that launched Superkind, was originally a start-up specializing in computer vision and deep learning. It currently uses technology ranging from visual effects to artificial intelligence to bring SAEJiN to life.

Since the advent of the internet, the K-pop market has made many attempts to create a virtual pop star, going all the way back to “cyber singer” Adam in 1998. Recently along with the metaverse craze, members of girl group aespa debuted in 2020 with their computer-generated alter-ego avatars, said to inhabit the digital world.

But unlike any attempts that came before, Superkind always includes SAEJiN as part of its regular lineup. In fact, SAEJiN often takes the role of “center” and is assigned a large chunk of the screen time and lyrics to sing. He is added to photos and videos in the post-production process using computer graphics, which takes up to a week — the same process used to create the photo for this interview. 
 
This means the human members have to practice their choreography and film music videos with SAEJiN’s spot left empty, making the process all the more challenging.  
 
“As the person in charge of choreography, it’s so confusing to get an idea of the members’ moving lines in the formation, or the distance between members without SAEJiN physically there,” Daemon said. “We’re like, ‘Hey, you’re in SAEJiN’s way’ although he’s not practicing with us.” 

Boy band Superkind performs in a scene from its music video for its debut digital single "Watch Out" (2022). SAEJiN is second from left. [DEEPSTUDIO]
Boy band Superkind performs in a scene from its music video for its debut digital single “Watch Out” (2022). SAEJiN is second from left. [DEEPSTUDIO]

“Since he’s not in the physical world with us, at first we couldn’t quite grasp the idea of SAEJiN,” he continued. “It’s still elusive sometimes. It’s still a secret to us who voices SAEJiN. But the moments we feel a strong bond with SAEJiN as our bandmate are when we see the final results, with him added in. It’s like we’re becoming friends.”

Members say they also regularly receive education sessions about the band’s elaborate backstory, centering around two rivaling kinds of humans.

“Superkind is an anagram of NUKE, PRID, and S,” explained SiO. “NUKE refers to members from the virtual world we call ‘story world,’ and we belong to the PRID kind, meaning actual humans from the real ‘physical world.’ SAEJiN is the only NUKE member as of now.”

According to the members, NUKEs like SAEJiN transcend age, nationality, and language. 

Superkind has an elaborate backstory, centering around two rivaling kinds of humans called PRID (actual humans) and NUKE (virtual humans). [DEEPSTUDIO]
Superkind has an elaborate backstory, centering around two rivaling kinds of humans called PRID (actual humans) and NUKE (virtual humans). [DEEPSTUDIO]

“Because they come from completely different worlds, they [NUKEs and PRIDs] have very different values,” SiO continued. “Together, we form a new kind of humans, hence Superkind.”  

What does the S stand for? NUKEs and PRIDs’ journey of cooperation and competition to find that mysterious S, which remains a secret even to the members, will be the story that unfolds. The lyrics of Superkind’s debut song “Watch Out” signal that the competition between PRIDs and NUKEs has begun. As the story proceeds, more members will be revealed. Just this Wednesday, new PRID member JDV (Juchan.D.Vector) was unveiled via Superkind’s YouTube channel. 

Members say the beauty of Superkind lies in its story. True to its game-inspired theme, it’s up to the fans to decide how the band will develop. Fans can offer their opinions online — currently only on Twitter but soon on the band’s own platform called PlaySuperkind, which is now under development. 

Superkind members call their fans “players” and consider each of their new releases a new round.

Superkind's debut digital single "Watch Out" (2022) [DEEPSTUDIO]
Superkind’s debut digital single “Watch Out” (2022) [DEEPSTUDIO]

“I’m an avid gamer myself, and a big part of the excitement comes from seeing different results depending on the path I choose,” said Daemon. “We want our fans to not only be consumers, but also active producers of our content. They all have so many ideas on what they want to see from us, and they get to make their ideas become reality.”
 
“K-pop idols today are all about having unique world views, and we’re going to create ours by having the players add more elaborate plots to our backstory,” Eugene said. “Basically, we are characters in this game called PlaySuperkind, which unfolds based on the players’ creative input, as if they’re programmers. Us members are equal players as well, often taking inspiration from fans’ suggestions. Fans are just as much of a creator as we are.”
 
Fans comment their opinions regarding which backdrop they want to see in music videos, what concept they want to see in the band’s next release, how the storyline of NUKEs and PRIDs’ rivalry will unravel, and what superpower each member possesses.

Boy band Superkind performs in a scene from its music video for its debut digital single "Watch Out" (2022). SAEJiN is second from left. [DEEPSTUDIO]
Boy band Superkind performs in a scene from its music video for its debut digital single “Watch Out” (2022). SAEJiN is second from left. [DEEPSTUDIO]

The concept of a choose-your-own-adventure boy band is unheard of in K-pop.  

“I think this shows how people always have a thirst for the next level,” Daemon added. “K-pop fans have only been consuming the content given to them, and they’ve started to wonder what’s next. Now they want a new way of enjoying K-pop; participating themselves. We’re here to give them that new paradigm.”

“Decentralization is a hot keyword nowadays,” Geon said. “When I was first told about this concept before joining this agency, I thought this is the decentralization of K-pop. We’re literally all in this together with our fans.”

SAEJiN [DEEPSTUDIO]
SAEJiN [DEEPSTUDIO]

What does it feel like to be the first K-pop group to perform with a virtual member full-time? Members say SAEJiN is a “perfect” colleague that strikes them with awe and also inspires them to do better.  

“He can master any dance routine instantly,” said SiO. “Of course, NUKE members are designed to be perfect beings from the start, and we can’t realistically always be like that. But it does spark a friendly rivalry when we think, ‘Hmm, I want to be more like SAEJiN.’”

As the group’s key activities take place online, and SAEJiN is a virtual member, Superkind is met with very few limitations in terms of time and space. Perhaps it is natural that it started gaining traction among international K-pop listeners first. In the online sphere, fans have been offering their feedback and producing memes based on Superkind’s unique concept.

Fans joke about SAEJiN's "past" before his debut. [SCREEN CAPTURE]
Fans joke about SAEJiN’s “past” before his debut. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

“These days, some stars get into trouble when scandals from their past come to light,” Daemon said. “Our fans joke that SAEJiN never has to worry about what he did wrong in the past. It made us chuckle.”

Superkind’s concept also comes with a message of humanism.

“While NUKE members can impress you with their flawless results, I think the greatest charm of human beings is that we’re unpredictable — be it the process of our growth or our emotions,” said SiO. “That’s the fun of it! Us PRID members can show fans our multifarious human side. That’s our competitive edge against NUKEs, as well as what makes the two sides compliment each other.”

Superkind [DEEPSTUDIO]
Superkind [DEEPSTUDIO]

Superkind is currently preparing for its next release, reflecting feedback from enthusiastic fans. If technology allows, SAEJiN may be able to join live performances in the future.  
 
“Being the first of something is an honorable thing, although it adds some pressure too,” Daemon said, wrapping up the interview. “But I actually think being the first is the easiest part. What’s more important from now on is to become an idol group that survives until the end. We are devoted to that goal — to make a stride in K-pop history.”

Celeb Confirmed: Get to Know Superkind

DAEMON (Go Dae-yun)  
Date of birth: April 10, 2001
Zodiac sign: Aries  
Birthplace: Seoul  
Debut: June 20, 2022, as a member of the boy band Superkind  
Agency: DEEPSTUDIO

EUGENE (Gil Gi-sung)  
Date of birth: Sept. 20, 1999
Zodiac sign: Virgo  
Birthplace: Daejeon  
Debut: June 20, 2022, as a member of the boy band Superkind  
Agency: DeepStudio

SiO (Hong Suk-young)  
Date of birth: Feb. 6, 2004
Zodiac sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Seongnam, Gyeonggi
Debut: June 20, 2022, as a member of the boy band Superkind  
Agency: DeepStudio

GEON (Jung Geon)  
Date of birth: Jan. 10, 2000
Zodiac sign: Capricorn  
Birthplace: Incheon  
Debut: June 20, 2022, as a member of the boy band Superkind  
Agency: DeepStudio

SAEJiN (Jung Sae-jin)  
Date of birth: Undisclosed
Zodiac sign: Undisclosed
Birthplace: Undisclosed
Debut: June 20, 2022, as a member of the boy band Superkind  
Agency: DeepStudio
 
This information was confirmed by DeepStudio on July 25, 2022. 

BY HALEY YANG [yang.hyunjoo@joongang.co.kr]