November 3 saw the formation of K/DA and the release of their single “POP/STARS.” Less than two weeks later, and that single has topped Billboard’s chart for “World Digital Song Sales” and has 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 result of a major corporation paying a social media influencer with millions of followers. K/DA is the product 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 ball 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 Riots Games. So, what’s the deal with 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 unveiled K/DA, their new K-pop supergroup, much to the Internet’s elation. 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, K/DA has found a foothold not only amongst avid League of Legends players but people who just like music and flashy visuals.
Comprised of four of the game’s champions, Kai’Sa “Daughter of the Void,” Akali “the Rogue Assasin,” Evelynn “Agony’s Embrace,” and Ahri “the Nine-Tailed Fox,” the vocal talents behind K/DA are those of real-life pop artists. 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.
K/DA is the way that 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 wouldn’t 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 more than easy enough to simply have the group perform as a series of holograms, similar to the hologram craze that ignited following 2017, or just have the 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 of both the current and future possibilities of music as an art form.
As the world becomes more globalized, we have already witnessed a breakdown in what were the commonplace boundaries of spoken language, geographic location, and genre. Now, we are seeing walls break down in every way imaginable. Music, video games, and e-sports are becoming more and more intermingled. With virtual and augmented reality, the lines between reality and fiction are becoming increasingly difficult to see. What does that mean for the future of music as we know it? Who knows exactly. But if it means for more video game-inspired pop supergroups, we’re all here for it.