Giselle, Karina, Ningning, and Winter should be tired. They just arrived in California after a long-haul flight from Seoul, after all. But the four stars of the K-pop girl group aespa have an important job to do—and they know the stakes. For one of the first times in their short career, they are performing for a live audience. And not just on any stage: the much hyped Coachella. Having launched in the thick of the pandemic in November 2020, aespa has only existed in a world in crisis. But there’s something that sets them apart: aespa also exists as four virtual avatars, each carefully crafted to match their human counterpart, in a fantastical metaverse, Now, they’re ready to prove they’re more than just what fans have seen on screens.
Quiet and focused, the four women of aespa sit lined up on a couch in a small hotel room where they have congregated for a pre-Coachella photo shoot. It can be disconcerting to see them without their avatars, which appear in photos and videos alongside their real-life inspirations. The uninitiated viewer might do a double take. Aespa is an experiment, but it may also be the inevitable next step for the music industry: a fresh way to bridge the virtual and the real. So far, aespa has released only a few singles and one six-song EP—but that EP broke records, debuting on the Billboard 200 album chart higher than any previous K-pop girl group. Their first music video, “Black Mamba,” had YouTube’s fastest climb to 100 million views for a K-pop debut.