(Courtesy of Riot Games, League of Legends)
November 3 saw the formation of K/DA and the release of their breakout single "POP/STARS." Less than two weeks later and that single has topped Billboard's "World Digital Song Sales" chart, garnered over 59 million plays on YouTube alone, and shows no signs of slowing down (evident by the number of times we have had to go back to change this number since first drafting this article).
However, the astonishing viral success of K/DA is not the result of an unpredictable YouTube algorithm or the byproduct of a major label's carefully executed social marketing stunt. K/DA is the brainchild of one of the world's largest video games and fastest growing entertainment sectors - League of Legends and eSports.
For those of us whose last video game encounter resembled something more akin to passing a polygon between two parallel blocks or rescuing a princess from a castle, League of Legends is a multiplayer online battle arena game developed by Riot Games. The massively popular online game, which currently boasts over 100-million players, hosted its annual World Championship earlier this year to jaw-dropping numbers.
Bringing in over 200-million viewers to watch 24 teams compete for a prize pool of 2.5-million dollars, it was the largest year yet for League of Legends and Riot Games. So, what's the story behind K/DA, the all-female pop group who made their live debut at the opening ceremony performance 2018 World Championship?
Blurring the line between fiction, augmented reality, and real-life pop sensation, League of Legends' K/DA serves as both a clever nod to kill-death ratio and quite possibly one of the most novel inventions to happen in the world of pop to date. With a sound that blends trademark K-pop elements with Western pop, K/DA has unsurprisingly found a foothold not only amongst avid League of Legends players but people who simply cannot say no to an outright bop.
Comprised of four of the game's champions, Kai'Sa "Daughter of the Void," Akali "the Rogue Assassin," Evelynn "Agony's Embrace," and Ahri "the Nine-Tailed Fox," the vocal talents behind K/DA are those of real-life pop stars. Miyeon and Soyeon of the real-life K-pop group (G)I-dle embody Ahri and Akali, respectively, while budding American pop stars Jaira Burns and Madison Beer respectively embody Kai'Sa and Evelynn. Now, what's the narrative purpose or creative desire behind creating a fictional pop supergroup voiced by real-world artists you might ask yourself? Well, to sell in-game costumes of course.
(Courtesy of Riot Games, League of Legends)
K/DA is the vehicle Riot Games has chosen to promote its newest line of cosmetic skins for the four aforementioned playable characters, and, based on the streaming numbers, it seems to be working. All clever marketing tactics aside, K/DA truly stands as a fascinating innovation in music that likely would not have been possible in any other time but the present. This was made readily clear in the group's live performance.
It would have been easy enough to simply have the group perform as a series of holograms, similar to the hologram spark that quickly fizzled following 2012's Coachella, or just have the group's four real-life counterparts perform. Yet, Riot Games went full utopian Black Mirror and decided to bring us a live performance that saw Madison Beer, Jaira Burns, Miyeon, and Soyeon performing alongside their video game counterparts who were brought to life through augmented reality.
The video may have a bit of an uncanny valley effect, but for those willing to see past that, it speaks volumes to the exciting possibilities present at the crossroads of emerging technology and music.
With increased globalization, we have already witnessed a breakdown in what were once commonplace boundaries of spoken language, geographic location, and genre. As music consumption, and in turn marketing, shifts toward broader worldviews, K/DA likely to be the last innovation of its kind.
Music, video games, e-sports, and other forms of entertainment no longer exist in a vacuum. And with the emerging realms of virtual and augmented reality, the line between reality and fiction grows fainter every day. What does that mean for the future of music as we know it? No one knows exactly. But if it means more video game companies allocating the majority of their marketing budget to create pop supergroups, we're all here for it.