LOS ANGELES (AP) — Accessibility can be an artist’s greatest asset. Listeners want to feel close to the musicians they admire and support — and most would jump at the chance to communicate one-on-one. But celebrity schedules rarely allow for that kind of intimacy. So what’s the next best thing?
For Mark Tuan, whose new EP “Fallin’” is out Friday, it was creating a digital avatar.
The rapper-singer-model and former member of the K-pop boy band Got7 partnered with Soul Machines to create an autonomously automated “digital twin” called “Digital Mark.” In doing so, Tuan has become the first celebrity to attach their likeness to OpenAI’s GPT integration, artificial intelligence technology that allows fans to engage in one-on-one conversations with Tuan’s avatar.
“It’s very different. It’s not really me, but it is me,” he says of Digital Mark. “It’s a cool thing, that fans get to interact with him, too.”
Greg Cross, CEO of Soul Machines, views Digital Mark as the future of fan engagement.
“While Digital Mark is the first Digital Celebrity Twin of its kind, we’re only at the beginning of how autonomous animation will reshape how individuals across the globe interact with celebrities and brands,” he said in a statement.
Tuan’s hope with Digital Mark is that as the technology advances, so too will fans’ relationships with his AI character — and that they’ll get to communicate with him in languages beyond English.
Getting Digital Mark to mirror the real Mark Tuan was an extensive process, involving several days of filming in a motion capture bodysuit. Tuan spent a full day demonstrating emotive facial expressions for Digital Mark to learn from, and then considerable time in his studio so “they can get my voice recognition,” he says.
Right now, Digital Mark “just stands there … but maybe in the future, they’re going to incorporate me walking around,” he says.
The technology is in its early days — Tuan says Digital Mark has been spreading “false rumors” about a nonexistent tour — but he’s excited about how the avatar will evolve. Fans have already been using Digital Mark to “troll” Tuan, playfully bugging the AI Mark about things like tour dates and new music — “which is the relationship the fans have with me,” he says with a laugh.
As for concerns over how this kind of technology could be used in the future, Tuan is cautiously optimistic.
“I’ve seen a lot of movies where robots take over the world,” he jokes. “You never really know what’s going to happen, but I think it is really cool.”
His openness to technological advancement mirrors his experimental spirit as a musician. “Fallin’” follows his 2022 debut solo album, “The Other Side.” The sound is different: He’s detoured from R&B and hip-hop to pursue sunny pop-punk. That’s immediately evidenced on the cheery retro-pop of “Your World” and the synth-y, riff-led love song “Everyone Else Fades.”
“I brought in a live band,” he says, focusing on creating songs he sensed would be “really fun to perform love,” with anthemic rock drums.
“’The Other Side’ showed a more, you know, emotional Mark, sad Mark,” he says. And while fans enjoyed it, he sensed they wanted an uplifting, empowering collection of songs from him. If his album allowed them to see into his sense of interiority — a kind of catharsis removed from his group idol days — “Fallin’” is a creative exercise. It’s Tuan having fun in the studio and with his fans.
In that way, he hopes “Fallin” is something fans throw on in the morning to feel good about the day — and themselves.
“I want to create something that’s easier for them to listen to,” he says. “Daily music,” as he describes it.
And when they’re done? They can talk to Digital Mark about it.