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Extended reality (XR) technology was used during The9’s first live concert as the girl group sang and interacted with their fans over the course of two nights earlier this month.

Chinese girl band The9’s first live concert a virtual experience that felt real thanks to extended reality technology

  • Extended reality (XR) technology combines virtual, augmented and mixed reality, and was used with impressive results during The9’s first live concerts this month
  • The girl group were able to react and interact with their virtual environment in real time, and met their fans via live-streaming on wraparound screens

Against a three-dimensional backdrop of a firefly-studded forest, five members of hit Chinese girl band The9 performed their song Hunting on a Jeep that rolled past trees and fallen trunks.

The details of the images generated using extended reality (XR) technology, such as the jolting of the Jeep and the creeping moss that carpeted rocky outcrops, were impressive.

Held in late March, the online concert – The9’s first live concert since the band formed last year – featured more than a dozen XR-generated locations.

The images were projected onto wraparound screens on a 1,200 square metre (12,900 square foot) stage in a new virtual production studio in Hebei province.

The9’s Yu Shuxin performing onstage.
Billed by event organiser and streaming platform iQiyi as the world’s first immersive and interactive concerts using XR technology, the events drew tens of thousands of viewers.

Tan Yinzi, director of the concert, says XR, which combines virtual, augmented and mixed reality, can create a virtual whimsical world that looks real – yet no 3D glasses are needed. “It is much better than the green screen and motion capture technology used in films,” she says. “Performers cannot see how well they match with the background instantaneously using motion capture and green screen.”

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Tan refers to the forest locale used for Hunting to illustrate why XR makes for a better backdrop.

“The girls were standing on top of a moving Jeep [used as the stage]. When they shuttled through the forest, the leaves and twigs brushed against their bodies, they ran into climbing plants and so on.” The band members could, thanks to the screens around them, react to their virtual surroundings in real time.

Yu Yan, one of the band’s nine members, told the Post the technology is impressive. “The concert left an indelible memory,” Yu said.

The9’s Liu Yuxin performing onstage.

Dressed in a red suit, Yu danced and sang a solo, Palace of Roses, on a virtual rose-shaped stage overlooking a dark, fiery abyss. 

The 23-year-old Beijing native says she has come a long way since winning fourth place on the second season of Youth With You, a Chinese girl group reality-TV contest, in 2020.

“I never thought that I would win. At the time, I didn’t even have time to eat and sleep. There was no time to think of other things [besides practising and performing]. The journey since then has been wonderful.

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“When I first started, I couldn’t sing at all. While talent is important, hard work matters more. I wanted to be a singer so I kept practising and learning. I get the chance to do what I love, so I don’t feel tired.”

Yu stands out on stage for her cool and nonchalant persona. She says she does not want to define how a girl’s personality should be.

“People sometimes think I am cool and indifferent. But that’s just because I am in an unfamiliar [environment]. [How I appear] changes with my mood. There’s no need to project a particular personality. What’s important for me is to sing and dance well.”

An Qi, an ethnic dance graduate from Guangxi Arts Institute, wants to try composing songs and mixing traditional Chinese culture with pop. “I am an adventurous person who is willing to try everything,” the 24-year-old tells the Post

Yu Yan performing onstage.

“There are many kinds of performances I have not tried before. I want to give surprises to my fans. Being Chinese, I am very touched by [traditional] Chinese music and dance. I always want to try mixing them with pop on stage.”

An performed a solo, Yea, against a futuristic background filled with glimmering skyscrapers. While she was excited by their first live performance, An was sad that she was not able to physically meet fans because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It’s my first [live] solo performance. I feel so cool. The first thing I told my fellow band members after I finished doing my solo was that it’s not enough and I want to do more [solos].”

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Besides the nine solo tracks band members performed, the concert included five songs performed by the group, among them Lion, which featured a huge 3D red lion looming over the members.

Tickets for the 160-minute-long concerts cost 139-399 yuan (US$21-US$61). The more expensive tickets came with special privileges, such as getting to talk to the singers via live-streaming on the LED screens, and virtual glow sticks to wave during the show.

Tan says they chose The9 for their virtual production studio’s inaugural show because the band’s style and performances lend themselves well to complex stage work. The studio is outfitted with various advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence and motion capture.

An Qi performing onstage.

“Our idea was to turn the stage into a multidimensional ‘X-City’, where each of the nine members had their own territories. The city can accommodate their boundless imagination. Depending on their wishes, their territories, involving a planet, a highway and a subterranean abyss, were their stage.”

Tan says most of the systems used in the concert were developed by in-house iQiyi staff.

“Our technical team has several thousand people. There is specially designed software and hardware to create the immersive experience. Although the XR tech [in the studio] is only used in concerts for the time being, we hope that it can be applied in the making of films and television programmes in future.”

Liu Wenfeng, iQiyi’s chief technology officer, says its XR tech heralds the next generation of entertainment.