Entertainment company HYBE—the corporation behind international phenomenon BTS—partnered with blockchain technology company Dunamu to launch Levvels Inc. Based out of Los Angeles, the company intends to connect fans with artists through Web3 and NFTs. Its upcoming project is Momentica, an online blockchain platform that will offer collectible assets related to K-pop groups Seventeen, fromis_9, Tomorrow X Together, Enhypen and Le Sserafim. Its first collection, TAKE, will feature photos, videos, voice recordings and autographs.
HYBE’s latest launch, however, comes at a time when K-pop fans have turned against NFTs. In 2021, the notoriously passionate fanbase criticized HYBE’s partnership with Dunamu's last NFT-based business venture over environmental concerns, propelling #ARMYsAgainstNFT to trend on Twitter.
Despite claiming to have a fan-first ethos, HYBE has seemingly ignored fans’ criticisms with the launch of Levvels. Their latest announcement has fostered similar concerns, though not to the same degree. Perhaps because Momentica, Levvels’ first project, uses a cloud-based blockchain service platform that claims to use 30 million times less electricity than Ethereum.
Still, the introduction of a new NFT platform joins a crowded Los Angeles NFT space even as the crypto markets remain rocky. As such, appealing to a specific fanbase may help give Levvels an edge. But K-pop fans' previous disdain toward NFTs could squash those dreams.
More generally, the continued push for Web3 content reflects K-pop’s general turn towards an increasing number of tech investments: HYBE, considered one of the big four South Korean entertainment agencies, recently acquired Supertone, an AI company that can clone voices. Last year, Supertone’s tech was featured on the Korean reality show, “Competition of the Century: AI vs Human.” The company used AI to recreate the voice of deceased singer Kim Kwang-seok. In addition to Supertone, HYBE has also invested in a number of international, entertainment-based tech companies.
To that end, South Korean entertainment company CJ ENM recently invested in Los Angeles-based AmazeVR, which will produce virtual concerts for its talent roster. CJ ENM’s other investments include HYPERREAL, a metaverse studio, and AFUN Interactive, the 3D graphics company behind virtual musician Apoki.
The metaverse has also been bolstered by K-pop companies. SM Entertainment formed Aespa, a group combining both virtual and physical singers, and its founder views the metaverse as “the future of K-pop.”
Of course, K-pop corporations have long run their musical acts like businesses: BTS—HYBE’s most successful boy band—was formed through auditions, and the group has gone on to make millions through merchandise and sponsorships. But that success comes as K-pop corporations face pushback for heavily controlling their talent to bring in more money. After going public two years ago, HYBE’s interest in tech is more than likely just another way to support its music groups. And NFTs offer an easy method to engage fervent fans through content that would otherwise go unmonetized.
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