This isn’t just a result of the AI boom. Companies have been trying to make AI influencers, models and musicians happen for years. Shudu Gram, the first digital supermodel, was created in 2017. CGI model and musician Lil Miquela first posted on Instagram in 2016.
Every day it seems new fake faces pop up and earn splashy headlines. And the recent explosion of AI-based products has made AI-based influencers easier than ever. The latest one? CGI avatar Noonoouri, first launched in 2018, is now the “first AI virtual pop star” thanks to a record deal with Warner Music. AI will pull from a real, unnamed singer’s voice to sing songs created by “a group of songwriters and musicians.”
Some people are predicting that this is the future of both the music and influencer industry. Of course, many of these virtual creations have found moderate success. They can rack up anywhere from 60,000 followers (Milla Sofia) to two million followers (Lil Miquela). Shudu Gram collaborated with Oscar de le Renta and was featured in Vogue Australia.
Noonoouri herself—or, Joerg Zuber, who created her — has worked with brands like Versace and Dior.
It’s easy to see the appeal of working with these “creators” — if we even want to call them that — from a company’s perspective. For starters, virtual influencers are far more predictable than living people. Human creators can drag a brand into their personal drama. Like the time fans put beauty influencer Mikayla Nogueira on blast for using fake lashes to make a L’Oréal mascara appear more effective than it really was. In addition, sometimes creators fail to deliver promised content. Theoretically, working with one of these virtual influencers can mitigate that risk.
But that strategy doesn’t always work. Just look at Lil Miquala, who has faced pushback after sharing her “experience” with sexual assault. People were upset that she capitalized on an assault narrative, which she described in detail, to appear more authentic to her audience. Capitol Records had to drop virtual rapper FN Meka after people spoke out against his white creative team making the black avatar use racial slurs. Similarly, the white artist behind Shudu Gram, Cameron-James Wilson, has been criticized for profiting off of the image of a black woman.. Levis was condemned for announcing it would use AI to create diverse models instead of actually hiring people from diverse backgrounds. Which is all to say that the idea that virtual influencers aren’t prone to controversy hasn’t quite panned out the way it was supposed to.
But even the brands that work with AI influencers have not cast aside real people. PacSun, which worked with Lil Miquela in 2022, launched an influencer program later that year. Versace and Dior both still engage with influencers as well. In some respects, the advantage of working with an AI influencer is often short-lived. It gains the brand a headline but it also could alienate human creators and jeopardize those relationships.
At the end of the day, what has made the creator world explode is a perceived level of authenticity. Not that every single influencer is completely open and honest—but many of their followers view them as such. There’s no evidence that working with virtual influencers drives more sales than real influencers. Meanwhile, 63% of consumers trust influencers more than brands.
So, no, Noonoouri is not the future of music. Just like Shudu Gram wasn’t the future of modeling and Lil Miquela wasn’t the future of influencing. Whether they are followinge-girl styles or postingoffice outfit photos, they aren’t setting trends—they are reacting to trends set by real influencers.
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