V Live, the hugely influential live-streaming platform that ushered Korean pop music to global prominence, has gone dark. The mobile app and desktop site hosted a public library of tens of thousands of live streams that documented a period of growth in which the Korean music industry evolved from a regional phenomenon to a global market superpower. The result of a merger with fellow fan-artist engagement app Weverse, the closure of V Live and its video database is tantamount to burning K-Pop’s Library of Alexandria.
V Live was created by Korean tech company Naver in 2015 as a streaming platform for the country’s music artists and actors. It was a pioneer in the live-streaming industry, which was still in its infancy. In 2015, startups like Meerkat and Periscope were popping up to compete with Twitch. Facebook’s live-streaming feature also launched that year, and YouTube and Instagram introduced streaming in 2016.
As a niche platform for Korean artists, V Live offered a more controlled environment than any of its contemporaries. It was used ubiquitously across the Korean pop industry, with more than 1200 artists producing content on the app at its closure. In addition to livestreams and their recordings, V Live hosted original artist content like reality shows, performance videos, and, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, live-streamed concerts.
Broadcasting K-pop as it broke through abroad
V Live was a critical force in K-pop’s global spread and made the industry accessible to an international audience in real time. The app was extremely popular among viewers, with some well-known groups drawing hundreds of thousands or millions of live views per stream. Once broadcasts ended, they were saved to V Live for on-demand viewing and were often subtitled in multiple languages to make them accessible to fans outside of South Korea. The platform hosted its own subtitling service, V Fansubs, through which users could submit translations. Those subtitles were approved by the service and uploaded to the platform, which made some streams available in more than a dozen languages.
No group extended the reach of V Live further than superstars BTS. The band’s particular brand of authenticity was bolstered by the looseness and spontaneity of their lives, which they used as a main form of communication with fans. At the time of closure, BTS’s V Live channel hosted over 860 videos and had acquired more than 166 billion likes, 12 billion views, and 2 billion comments. As their fame grew abroad, BTS would forgo star-studded awards show afterparties to hurry back to their hotel and stream on V Live for millions, most notably after their appearances at the 2020, 2021, and 2022 Grammy Awards.
Gamifying fandom in real time
As part of its focus on artist-fan communication, V Live offered unique engagement and gamification features. Users were assigned ranks within an artist’s fandom — called their “Chemi-beat” — that could be boosted by watching videos, sharing content, and engaging with livestreams as they happened. Fans could also earn Chemi-beat cred by commenting on a stream or rapidly tapping an icon in the corner that sent multicolored hearts across the screen. Fans sometimes worked together to surpass 1 million hearts before a livestream ended, which would trigger an on-screen celebratory message for both the viewers and the artist. Idols would often be seen “hearting” their own livestreams while on camera.
V Live offered several paid features, monetizing fandom with varying success. A digital currency called “V Coins” could be purchased to access premium content, including concerts and original series. Until December 2021, users could also use V Coins to buy live chat stickers and, for certain artists, a digital “V Lightstick” that resembled the artists’ official lightstick. The V Lighstick would double the value of each tapped “heart,” increasing a user’s Chemi-beat and their support for the artist.
Sharing in the spontaneous thrills of live-streaming
The unpredictable nature of live-streaming was a compelling foil to the often highly orchestrated public image required of Korea’s pop idols. Though some livestreams were carefully produced events monitored by staff behind the camera, many were intimate and chaotic missives from artists’ personal lives. They’d broadcast from their homes, in cars on the way to appearances, and in hotels while on tour. They went live while intoxicated, eating, or visibly emotional. They bickered, celebrated birthdays, and produced music. In one notable livestream, BTS’s Jungkook worked his way through a bottle of wine, growing noticeably tipsy as he bemoaned being stalked by overzealous fans and assured the audience, “I’m not drunk, I’m just buffering” while searching for the right words to say.
V Live offered a convincing illusion of privacy, which some idols took advantage of to discuss topics they’d be discouraged from addressing in official interviews. Until a few weeks ago, for example, Bang Chan of Stray Kids hosted a weekly livestream on the platform that he called “Chan’s Room,” in which he spoke openly about mental health, relationships, and professional pressure from his production studio. He also listened and reacted to music from peers — an unusual occurrence in an industry that prioritizes face-saving politeness — and addressed taboo subjects like menstruation and fanwars. (He’s now hosting his weekly streams on YouTube.)
Leaving history in the hands of fans
V Live’s integration with Weverse was first mentioned in January 2021 and confirmed in March 2022. Weverse is owned by HYBE, the entertainment conglomerate that also manages acts including BTS. Since August, HYBE artists Tomorrow X Together, Seventeen, and Enhypen have streamed exclusively on Weverse ahead of V Live’s closure. In a comment to Mashable in November, a Weverse representative said that artists who were not a part of the Weverse community had been given ample time to download their archives for future use elsewhere. Artists also had the option to join Weverse to have their content transferred to the app automatically. It’s likely that this option wasn’t viable for dozens of major artists who already had standing contracts with competing artist-fan engagement apps.
The loss of V Live’s library is most painful for fans who credit the platform for sparking their love of Korean pop music. When the app disappeared, many of their memories did, too. Before the app’s closure, some fandoms had taken it upon themselves to salvage their favorite artist’s V Live content by recording each video and hosting it elsewhere. Fans of Ateez have re-uploaded the group’s V Live recordings to Google Drive, where they have been neatly organized by group member and year. Since October 31, 2022, a single YouTube channel created by fans of the group A.C.E. has archived over 580 of the band’s V Live streams by re-uploading them to YouTube. Another channel has uploaded more than 750 for SM Entertainment groups EXO, NCT 127, NCT Dream, and SuperM. Listings of these fan-made archives are documented in Reddit threads and tweets.
In addition to Weverse, V Live is survived by K-pop specific fan-artist communication apps JYP Bubble, Lysn, Universe, and Fab, as well as larger platforms like Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube. Artists have already begun using those channels as livestream replacements, essentially recreating the intimacy of V Live in a new setting. But while the features of the app can be replicated, its archive and influence cannot. The V Live library documented six years of sonic, stylistic, and personal development for hundreds of artists at a crucial time for K-pop, which has only existed in its modern form for around 30 years. The app’s closure is a devastating loss of that history and the joy it brought to millions.