APOKI, the virtual K-pop artist from South Korea, recently released his new single, “West Swing,” featuring E-40. Her fourth single, this marks her first song entirely in English. It’s a song aimed directly at global music scene, with the feeling of new jack swing, the genre that was so popular in the late 80s and early 90s. It also features legendary rapper E-40, who has been active on the scene since the 1990s.
The APOKI project is backed by a collaboration between AFUN INTERACTIVE, a Korean tech venture company, and Sony Music Solutions. CEO DK Kwon of AFUN INTERACTIVE, which has won countless awards for its cutting-edge technologies, expressed his hope for the collaboration, saying, “The Sony Group is not only a manufacturer of advanced, reliable electronics products, but also a group with tremendous strengths across the globe in all content areas, such as music, games and images.” He continued: “At AFUN INTERACTIVE, we are pioneering the new genre of virtual entertainment, so we look forward to seeing the various kinds of synergy we will produce with Sony. We are grateful to Sony for its reliability and hard work , it contributes to the creation of this new market, and we do our part by providing high-quality content and new technologies.” You can catch a glimpse of the tribute to Sony in the recently released music video for “West Swing feat. E-40.”
APOKI debuted in February 2021 with “GET IT OUT”. She quickly raised her profile in South Korea, Japan and around the world. Billboard Japan spoke with her about “West Swing feat. E-40,” the virtual artist concept and her vision for the future.
For all readers who don’t know, APOKI, you are a rabbit living somewhere in space and you debuted as a virtual artist in 2019. How has this time as a virtual artist been for you?
It has been absolutely amazing to get so many comments from my many fans around the world and so many people watching my streaming shows. Having said that, my debut has been called “the birth of an intergalactic star”, so I want to make even more of a splash (laughs) and I plan to release even more songs.
One of the things that makes you so appealing is the diversity of your musical sensibilities, which include elements of trap and electro.
We decide on a concept for each song and then build the details from there. I also actively come up with ideas. In addition to input about the music itself, I also make suggestions for, for example, my hairstyle, clothes and music videos. Not all of my ideas are used, but on the other hand, it’s not like my team is forcing me to do everything their way either. We’re professionals, so we bounce ideas off each other throughout the creation process.
What are your own musical roots?
What got me into making music was K-POP, but then I started listening to a lot of different music and learning about different artists. I’m really into Doja Cat and would love to do a song with her. She publishes all kinds of music. I used to upload videos of covers to YouTube and when I covered her “Say So” I tried really hard to recreate the sweet atmosphere of the original. Doja’s vocal expression and emotional shifts influenced my own song, “Coming Back”. I also love the collaboration between Doja and Naomi Watanabe, “Kiss Me More feat. Naomi Watanabe.” I listen to a lot of new music and keep a close eye on trends, but I don’t aim to be a trendsetter with my own music. It’s a lot more fun to make music doing what I’m good at, working with the genres I like and creating what I feel like creating at the time.
How do you feel about communicating with fans?
When I communicate with fans, I make an effort to let them know that I’m real. In my Instagram and TikTok live streams, I read many of the comments posted in real time and give shout-outs to my fans. That’s why I wanted to do today’s interview with ZOOM, not email.
What do you see as the positive aspects of being a virtual artist?
First of all, I can do anything we dream of. It’s a shame that I can’t put on a show in real life, but there are many things that I’m capable of as a virtual artist that makes up for that and more. I also don’t have to worry about maintaining my figure, so I can eat as much as I want (laughs). Japanese virtual artists are so cute – the way they look, their attitudes, the way they talk, everything. I also look cute (laughs), but I don’t think my attitude is that cute.
Being a part of the entertainment industry can be really emotionally draining. What do you do to keep yourself in a healthy headspace?
I play games. When I really get into a game, I forget about my worries, or I feel like I can take them on, or they’re not that big anyway. Recently I have been playing Odin Sphere!
Let’s talk a little bit about your new single, “West Swing feat. E-40.” This song has a bit of a new jack swing feel to it, doesn’t it?
It is true. As the whole crew talked, the idea of making a new jack swing song was born. We had never done a song like that before so I thought it was a good idea. I didn’t know much about new jack swing before, but I listened to a lot of new jack swing when we were working on the song and I have to say it’s amazing. We didn’t just want to replicate that feeling, but instead tried to give it a stylish finish. What we came up with was a really strong track and we wanted a unique rapper who had been active in the new jack swing days so we got in touch with E-40. He listened to the track and immediately came back to us and said he wanted to be a part of it. “He laid down some amazing bars. The song was mixed by Dave Way and mastered by Randy Merrill. Both are some of the most talented professionals in the world and they created a truly wonderful sound that has driven the evolution of the APOKI sound even further.”
There is also a lot of buzz about this being your first song sung entirely in English.
The lyrics of my songs, starting with my debut single, “GET IT OUT”, have mostly been in Korean. I also released Japanese versions of “Coming Back” and “Shut Up Kiss Me (feat. Lil Cherry).” They were a lot of fun to make, but this time we wanted to share this wonderful song with the world, so we went with English lyrics. I’m actually not that good at English, but I’m good at repeating things I hear and pronouncing them well, and I love doing it.
The music video, with its space setting, is also wonderful.
The theme of the video is “beyond the boundaries of space and time.” In the last scene is the visual link to the lyrics, so be sure to check it out! The dance scenes also stand out. Like my previous music videos, the choreography was provided by my friends Ova and Dozu and we worked on it together and exchanged ideas.
What is your vision for the future?
I want to do a live show! I want to sing in front of my fans and I also want to gather people around the world in the metaverse and put on a show. I want to try fun, interesting things that bring people joy. I also want to become an artist who will continue to perform for many years to come. That’s why I think it’s important to release a wide variety of music. I feel like it can be hard to build long-term fans if I always do the same thing. I want to try my hand at all sorts of different genres and show my cute side, my powerful side, my serious side – all sorts of different aspects of myself. I want to keep creating music in all sorts of new styles.
It seems that the horizons of your expressive abilities will continue to expand.
I hope so. When I work in new genres, there are times when I discover new and surprising aspects of my own personality. I discover new things about myself. I am sure there is new, untapped talent in me that I have yet to find.
I can’t wait to see what you do next! Do you have any final words for your fans?
I read all your messages and comments and they really give me energy and support me. I will keep doing my best and I hope I can continue to enjoy your support!
– This interview by Tomoyuki Mori first appeared on Billboard Japan