A Chinese virtual idol group called A-Soul, backed by ByteDance, has found itself embroiled in a social debate after it canceled the livestream of a virtual member named Carol.

Why it matters: By canceling a virtual member, A-Soul inadvertently prompted a debate on the working condition of the often invisible artists behind virtual idols. Virtual idols are often supported by teams of real human artists who provide voices and dance moves through motion captures and other technology. 

  • China’s virtual idol sector has seen a boost after many high-profile stars fell from grace with scandals, such as Kris Wu arrested for rape charges in July 2021.

Details: A-Soul announced on May 10 that it will cancel the daily livestreams of Carol, a leading virtual vocalist of the five-member group. The announcement said Carol will enter a dormant period due to “schoolwork and medical issues.” 

  • Fans were shocked by the sudden announcement and expressed feelings of loss on social media platforms. 
  • Soon, suspicious fans dug up old social media posts of the actual artist behind Carol, finding that the person has complained about being overworked and has developed multiple illnesses, according to a May 15 report from Chinese media outlet PEdaily (in Chinese).
  • On May 11, A-Soul denied in an announcement published on Bilibili (in Chinese) that the artist behind Carol had been overworked and rebuked the base salary of RMB 11,000 ($1,619), which was revealed by social media discussions. However, many fans said they weren’t convinced in the announcement’s comment section. Three days later, A-Soul followed up with another announcement (in Chinese), apologizing for causing trouble to all parties, and published contract termination files of the artist behind Carol. The announcement also denied any “bullying or oppression” in the workplace.
  • A-Soul promised that they will not introduce a new member to the idol group and won’t hire another person to control Carol either. The group also said in the announcement that they pay artists with a base salary, benefits, and a 10% commission of livestream income, without revealing exact numbers.

Context: A-Soul was launched in November 2020 by ByteDance and Beijing-based firm Yuehua Entertainment, which manages notable Chinese artists like Han Geng and Wang Yibo. The group’s most popular video has 5.3 million views on Bilibili. Dismissed member Carol’s top 10 videos each have more than 1 million views each on Bilibili.

  • Virtual idols have become incredibly popular on Bilibili, a Youtube-like platform for video creators and fans of animation, comics, and gaming content.

Ward Zhou is a tech reporter based in Shanghai. He covers stories about industry of digital content, hardware, and anything geek. Reach him via ward.zhou[a]technode.com or Twitter @zhounanyu.