May 24, 2024
Virtual Music Headsets - Cyborgs, and Legal Wranglers

FN Meka, the Virtual rapper sporting a black cyborg appearance, green braids, facial tattoos, and gold chains, has garnered a massive following on TikTok, boasting millions of devoted fans.

However, what sets FN Meka apart is the fact that it was created by the white founders of Factory New, an innovative music company specializing in virtual beings.

AI-Driven Creation and Surging Popularity

While the voice behind FN Meka remains uncredited, the other elements of the character are the result of advanced artificial intelligence technology. Factory New claims to have developed a groundbreaking system capable of analyzing popular songs in specific genres and generating various musical components such as lyrics, chords, melody, and tempo.

Although FN Meka has been around since 2019, its recent surge in popularity on TikTok has propelled the virtual rapper to new heights, accumulating over a billion views. This unprecedented success led to a significant announcement: Capitol Records signed FN Meka, making it the first AI artist to secure a major record deal. However, this achievement was short-lived, lasting only ten days.

Controversies and Backlash

The international spotlight on FN Meka triggered a renewed examination of past controversies. Concerns were raised regarding the use of racial slurs in one of FN Meka’s 2019 songs and digitally created images depicting the rapper being subjected to police brutality on Instagram. Industry Blackout, an activist group, expressed their outrage through an open letter, denouncing FN Meka as “offensive” and “a direct insult to the black community and our culture.”

According to the group, FN Meka represents a combination of offensive stereotypes and appropriative mannerisms derived from black artists, including the incorporation of slurs in its lyrics. Industry Blackout further highlighted the stark contrast between FN Meka’s virtual mimicry and the real-life consequences faced by black artist Gunna, who is currently incarcerated on a felony racketeering charge for rapping similar lyrics. The group accused FN Meka of enjoying immunity from legal repercussions.

In the aftermath of the controversies surrounding FN Meka, online investigators succeeded in identifying the anonymous human voice behind the virtual rapper. This individual came forward, revealing that they had never received compensation for their involvement in the project. As a result, Capitol Records swiftly announced their immediate dissociation from the FN Meka project.

Virtual Artists and the Metaverse

Although FN Meka is not the first entirely virtual artist, its rapid rise and fall set it apart from previous attempts. Another notable contender in the virtual music landscape is Polar, a female AI pop singer created by The Soul Publishing.

Polar, characterized by her signature turquoise pigtails and doll-like features, may not have achieved FN Meka’s social media success, but she recently headlined the Solar Sounds Festival, a fully-virtual event attracting millions of attendees. Hosted by the life-simulation game Avakin Life, the festival takes place in Facebook’s Metaverse a virtual reality (VR) social space that has gained prominence during the pandemic. Experts project the Metaverse to become an $800 billion market by 2024.

The increasing utilization of virtual reality in the music industry has given rise to complex questions surrounding copyright and ownership. The emergence of “deep fake” music, where AI-generated virtual voices mimic popular artists, such as Katy Perry and Frank Sinatra, presents a novel challenge. While public performances of music require specific licenses and payment of royalties, no such licenses exist yet for the Metaverse.

The Quest for Control and Accountability The issue of artists’ control over their own likeness takes on new dimensions in the digital realm. From holograms of deceased artists like Tupac Shakur performing at concerts to the rise of posthumous performances in South Korea, questions surrounding accountability and ownership become increasingly complex. The presence of anonymous development teams and the difficulty in establishing clear responsibility allow developers to evade scrutiny, as was the case with FN Meka, which evaded questions and accountability for three years.

The Future of AI in the Music Industry

It is evident that AI’s impact on the music industry will continue to expand. However, the future lies not solely in anonymous creators developing virtual musicians from scratch but in collaborations between the real world and the virtual one. As virtual reality (VR) headsets become more commonplace in households, attending a virtual concert is not a matter of “if” but “when.”

Real-life artists have already begun harnessing the power of the virtual world with remarkable success. Surveys indicate that a significant percentage of adults, particularly Gen Z, and millennials, are interested in attending live music events in virtual spaces. Virtual concerts, often free to attend, encourage fans to purchase virtual merchandise for their digital avatars. The impact of such events is undeniable, with examples like Marshmello’s Fortnite concert resulting in a substantial increase in social media followers and YouTube views.

Travis Scott’s Fortnite concert, which attracted a staggering 27 million visitors, garnered $20 million in merchandise sales alone, eclipsing the income generated from his entire world tour. Notably, other artists like Snoop Dogg have also embraced the metaverse, releasing exclusive music videos in digital spaces. Major players in the music industry, such as Warner Music Group, are even planning to create music-themed virtual parks and concert venues featuring renowned artists.

Final Words

FN Meka, the virtual rapper, has gained a massive following on TikTok with its distinct black cyborg appearance, green braids, facial tattoos, and gold chains. What sets FN Meka apart is its creation by the white founders of Factory New, a music company specializing in virtual beings.

Using advanced AI technology, Factory New developed a system that analyzes popular songs and generates various musical elements like lyrics, chords, melody, and tempo. FN Meka’s recent surge in popularity on TikTok resulted in over a billion views and a record deal with Capitol Records, making it the first AI artist to achieve such recognition. However, the record deal lasted only ten days.