So my question prior to X1’s debut on Aug. 27 was, are they going to match or top Wanna One, the previous male band formed by the “Produce 101” franchise that disbanded earlier this year after their yearlong contract expired.
Well, considering their first big win, on SBS MTV’s “The Show,” for “Flash,” came five days after their debut, they’re off to a good start. They beat Wanna One, whose first award came nine days after debut, as well as the six-day record on MNET’s M Countdown, for a boy group, held by YG’s Winner after releasing its debut single “Color Ring.”
👁: X1 “Flash” music video
Whether they continue on this way is still a question mark for me because of that cloud over the “Produce” voting process that already prevented them from debuting on KBS2’s “Music Bank.”
It’s also hard for me to be objective about the group’s formation because I was with these members for four months during the “Produce X 101” competition, and feel too attached to some members to watch them as if being introduced to them for the first time.
I like the song and video, but is the song as strong as Wanna One’s “Energetic?” I don’t think so. Because I try to learn K-pop dances, I also noticed there’s no segment in the choreography that’s particularly catchy. So it lacks that dance hook that gets people excited to perform and share cover dances, also a measure of the success of a particular song.
I feel like 11 members is too many for newbies to become close to a group. I mean I’m glad that number accommodates most of my favorites, but I think an ideal group size is five to eight. If I were new to the group, the quick edits and dark styling of the music video for “Flash” would make the members seem intimidating, and it wouldn’t give me enough time to get to know their faces or to sort out who’s dancing or singing at any given time.
Luckily, they have a built-in audience of the millions who tuned into “Produce,” and already picked out their favorites, which for me are center Kim Yo Han and sub-vocalist and X-boy Lee Eun Sang, who I think is a rising star. Only 16 by American age, he has the poise of a young adult and presence to match members of the group who already debuted with other groups prior to joining “Produce.”
He is at the center of this teaser for M Countdown, which has him confessing his fears about the stage, only to be told by the hyung line and Han Seung Woo, that they manage their nerves by taking flash selfies.
Meanwhile the maknae line’s Son Dong Pyo shares that they quell their fears by dancing.
Eun Sang thanks them, then goes off to do his own thing.
Meanwhile, at a press conference for their debut, Yo Han had promised that they would all put their hair up in apple style if they won first place on a music show. On Sept. 3, they fulfilled that promise, which delighted their fandom, called One It! Very cute as you can see at the top of the page.
I was also curious to see what the Woollim trainees would come up with for their W Project 4 debut. They have some strength in dancer Hwang Yunseong, vocalist Lee Hyeop and rapper Kim Dong Yun.
But overall their dancing is not as precise and powerful as X1’s, and they have a way to go before they can match those groups in the upper echelons of the K-pop world.
Two weeks after the finale of “Produce X 101” I am still processing all that happened on the K-pop survival show.
Overall, I am happy about the final “audience-produced” lineup for X1, the group that emerged out of the competition that started with 101 male trainees, whittled down to the Top 10 plus the X-boy, the trainee outside the Top 10 who accumulated the most votes during the show’s 12-week run.
I’m surprised by how calm I was up until the finale. It’s not like “Treasure Box,” where I was appalled and in a state of anger all season long because of the way YG treated it’s top trainees, who should have received more respect.
This time around, I promised I would not become overly attached because it just leads to disappointment when my favorite trainees are ousted, and with 101 vying for 11 spots, disappointment was to be expected.
Fortunately, the ones I liked at the beginning of “Produce,” Kim Yo Han and Song Hyeong Jun, not only made it through the entire season but will debut with X1 on Aug. 27.
Yes there was upset along the way, like when Urban Works Kim Min Seo failed to crack the Top 60 because he was never given screen time. Even though he is very talented, I didn’t want to get attached because he is a little weird and I knew that the South Korean audience that was allowed to vote for the group members are not fond of behavior outside their norm. In Korean society, everyone must fall in line.
The biggest disappointment was the elimination of Lee Jin Hyuk, a talented rapper and dancer who had already debuted with fellow member Kim Woo Seok in Up10tion. He wasn’t originally one of my favorites because he initially seemed a little cold and arrogant. But as time passed, he was able to show leadership, plus the soft, playful and brighter side that earned him the nickname Baby Sun. Unfortunately, because the audience did not warm up to him until late in the season, he was not able to debut with X1, even after being in the Top 10 for the last few weeks.
👁 I made this vid because I was sad that Jin Hyuk didn’t make debut team. Click on the YouTube link at the end of the video for details about the EXO song “Don’t Go” that I used:
I really expected him to finish in third place as did many others who were heartbroken when he failed to place, and again when he failed to become the X boy, the trainee who had accumulated the most votes from throughout the season.
Another favorite of mine, Lee Eun Sang became the X boy. I had expected him to be in the Top 10 as well because he had finished there all season long. It’s just that in the last vote, when it mattered most, Lee Han Gyul and Cha Jun Ho came on strong, displacing others I thought were shoe-ins. Kang Min Hee also surprised people by finishing in 10th place when he had never been in the Top 10 before, but I totally expected him to debut. His star had been rising the previous three episodes. Even though he was not the most talented of his Starship family and has a way to go in developing that talent, he has the potential to be a star. His boyish looks and charm are sure to win fans over, and he does work hard to improve.
I really didn’t want Han Gyul or Jun Ho in the final lineup but I am OK with Jun Ho because even though he is devoid of presence, he has a beautiful voice.
But it still upsets me that Han Gyul is in the lineup because he is such a poor singer and when I look at the group now, I still hate that he’s there. I don’t even want to look at him because I feel that he took the spot that should have gone to Jin Hyuk, who would have been a perfect complement for this group in looks, talent and stage presence.
Through all this, I have to wonder if the audience is played into thinking they really had their say in the making of this group. Like, how is it that the producers put all their focus on Yo Han from the beginning, making us love him, and surprise, he finishes in the No. 1 spot, though he too has a way to go in becoming the perfect performer.
The more I study him, the more I feel that Yo Han is me. Don’t laugh, I really believe he is the quintessential everyman, someone who came in from outside the industry to rise to the top. He was a taekwondo champion who decided to try fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a K-pop idol. With only three months of music and dance training, he showed that he could compete with the best of them, including trainees that had already debuted and performed professionally for four years.
His was a Cinderella story, and everybody loves a Cinderella story, right? K-pop is full of them. In watching these trainees, I think everyone who dreams of a career on stage can feel that with dedicated practice, they can be standing there too. I am often shocked how poorly the trainees perform. I can sing better than 90 percent of them. I can’t dance, but in my advanced age I am trying to learn. I only dance two hours a week, but what if I danced 11 to 16 hours a day as they do? They make everything seem possible to every kid who wants to be on stage. I wonder whether this was MNET’s storyline from the start.
There was also focus on cute Hyeong Jun, and the person South Koreans considered most handsome, Kim Min Kyu. Whoever the cameras focused on became the top vote getters. Was this coincidence or contrived, as if producers were pointing a finger toward the desired outcome. I think most people expected Min Kyu to become the X boy, but he clearly needs a year or two of training to get up to par. I am so happy that Eun Sang got in. For once, talent won over visuals. Eun Sang is considered handsome as well, but not as much as Min Kyu. But Eun Sang has so much potential, at only 16, but able to hold his own against seasoned competition. He fit right in with sexy concepts, alongside trainees and debuted artists in their 20s.
My K-pop professor told our class not to believe anything we see because show business is an industry that relies on fantasy and manipulating audiences.
How was it that so many could not sleep and cried for weeks after Jin Hyuk lost? How did we end up caring so much for this person we didn’t initially support? Because I expected him to be in the Top 3, I was devastated to learn he would not debut, even though he wasn’t one of my biases in the show.
Some conspiracy theorists proceeded to take a look at the number of votes and found that the difference between many of the rankings was the same number 29,978 votes. That is so fishy and MNET refused to comment on the matter. In addition, the agencies involved all agreed they were satisfied with the outcome. But there may be a legal showdown coming, because Netizens are claiming fraud and are relentless when it comes to protecting the interest of their boys who may not have made it due to such manipulations. Stay tuned to this continuing story.
If deals were made behind closed doors, then the trainees are just pawns in the game. You could see from the looks on their faces, the elation and tears, that none knew what the outcome would be.
The trainees have since gone back to their lives. Fans are pushing to have a second group, Be Your Nine (BY9), comprising the top 12th to 20th finalists. That would be Jin Hyuk, Min Kyu, Keum Dong Hyun, Hwang Yun Seong, Koo Jung Mo, Ham Won Jin, Song Yu Vin, Tony and Lee Se Jin. Fans really want this to happen:https://www.instagram.com/p/B0usaL9FHw_/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link
But I don’t think this will happen because Jin Hyuk is so popular he already has a number of commercial projects to consider, some have groups to return to, and the bigger agencies are able to debut their trainees with others in their companies. Jung Mo and Won Jin’s company Starship is rumored to have plans to debut a boy group early next year, and both are certain to be in the lineup if that happens.
Yet, fans continue to dream of what could be or could have been. As do I. That’s K-pop.
That time has come. After 12 weeks, the finale of “Produce X 101” is upon us, airing on Vlive Thursday eve.
The top photo represents my attempt to guess who will win a slot on the debut group. The popular ones are already clustered at the top. It’s the ones on the bottom half of the list that makes predictions difficult, but I put Kan Min Hee on the list because his star has been on an upward trajectory over the past few weeks and I believe viewers have a soft spot for this boy who didn’t shine as much as his peer at the beginning of the broadcast, but put in the hard work to improve himself.
I’m thinking that Son Dong Pyo, the original center for the “X1-MA” theme song, will end up being the X boy 11th member because although he started off on a high note, the voting public never quite responded to propel him into the high ranks. But he has been a constant vote getter since the start of the competition.
The only other X boy would be the visual favorite Kim Min Kyu if he fails to place in the Top 10. But I don’t think his fans will let him down.
Photo 2 is the unlikely scenario of who I actually want to see win. Lee Eun Sang has been the biggest surprise to me. The ones I liked since the beginning, like Kim Yo Han, Kim Woo Seok, Lee Jin Hyuk and Song Hyeong Jun have enough charisma to outshine all the rest so I didn’t notice Eun Sang at all until he joined the “U Got It” team, although in rewatching the earlier episodes to see trainees I’ve come to know but missed in the getting-to-know-you phase, he was there all along. He has turned out to be a real charmer in a low-key, goofy way … as well as talented of course. I stan talent! That’s why, even though he’s popular, I didn’t want Min Kyu on my personal list.
For every K-pop success story like BTS there are dozens of groups that never make it.
Even BTS had a rocky start, struggling for years in South Korea, as a hybrid rap-idol group that drew criticism from both sides, being considered too glossy to be taken seriously in the rap underground, yet too ugly to be idols.
Lucky for them they were from a small start-up agency, Big Hit Entertainment, that had little to fall back on, and whose founder/producer had a bigger vision of redefining what an idol could be. A larger agency might have cut its losses after one or two years without giving the group a chance to prove themselves and grow an audience.
The large number of groups that never make it suggest that for all the scouting and training the entertainment companies do, they are at the whim of a fickle public, so one template for band creation is to simply let the public decide. If the public votes members into a group, the assumption is they will form a loyal fanbase around that group.
You can watch this concept in action with the latest “Produce 101,” this time with an “X” attached to denote that mysterious X-factor that eludes producers and talent managers, but captures an audience’s heart. The series started airing on MNET four weeks ago but don’t worry if you have to play catchup. The process of whittling down the 101 candidates to 11 to create the next big boy band is a slow one.
It was much more manageable on “YG Treasure Box,” when 29 candidates from YG Entertainment’s Korea and Japan training centers competed for spots on what would eventually become the 13-member group Treasure, and sub-unit Magnum.
It was fairly easy to get to know all 29 Treasure competitors within the first episode. This time it’s much harder to get to know them because not all of them have been getting screen time. It’s only now that they just completed their first group performance covering famous K-pop bands that I am beginning to see their individual talent and potential.
Going into this, I knew I didn’t want to get overly invested in the candidates because I became super angry and agitated while watching “Treasure Box.” The sad part of these shows is that if you become attached to any of the trainees who don’t make it, you may never see them again. I didn’t want to feel that way again, but I was curious to see who is out there because past “Produce” shows have resulted in popular hit-making acts such as iZ*one and Wannaone.
Before the show even started airing, videos of all the competitors were placed online so that people could get to know the candidates and start picking their favorites, usually one or two. One of my friends went as far as picking his Top 10. I told him I would do the same, but after watching about six videos I realized that there was no way you could gauge their full talent. Some sang, some danced, and some just showcased their personalities; it wasn’t an even measure, so I stopped and waited for the season to begin.
I knew only three of the candidates going into the series because they were part of “YG Treasure Box.” One of them, Lee Mi Dam, left that competition and company because the pressure was too intense for him, so I was shocked to see him back for another survival show with even more competition than from within his agency, which he left to join the Aap.y agency. The other two are from Japan and Taiwan, respectively Hidaka Mahiro and Wang Jyun Hao. I think both are too green to go very far although Jyun Hao has the brightest smile and that counts for something.
In the beginning, the other competitors were intimidated by the YG, SM and JYP presence, but they quickly found the SM candidates came from their modeling agency and didn’t have much musical ability, and JYP’s candidate Yun Seo Bin was not only kicked off the show but kicked out of the agency when he was found to have been a bully in high school, a character flaw unforgivable to the South Korean viewers. I didn’t like the way he challenged Mi Dam for the No. 1 chair so wasn’t surprised by the bullying accusation.
I’m still not overly invested in the competitors the way I was with Choi Hyun Suk and Keita Terazono in “Treasure Box.” It’s not wise to do so because in the process, I found out that my international taste and the South Korean taste in visual and ability really differs. The South Koreans prefer a really doughy, soft look in their idols. I prefer sexy cute. And when it comes to their behavior, I don’t know what it is but the people I like turn out to be the ones that the Koreans really hate!
That being said, during episode four I finally took note of a couple of people who stood out. One is Kim Min Seo from the Urban Works agency (note there is another Kim Minseo in the show), who went blond for “Produce.” His voice is amazing, clear as a bell and as pretty as an angel’s. From certain angles, his look reminds me of BTS’s Kim Taehyung. I think it was probably a mistake for him to go blond; I think he would have more appeal to the Koreans with dark hair. But he would stand out to an international audience as a blond. At any rate, I think he is a one-of-a-kind talent, but I’m not sure he will get enough votes to win because his visuals are so different from what the Koreans would vote for.
The second one who stood out is Kim Yo Han, a taekwondo elite student who gave up a scholarship and career in the martial arts for a chance at idol stardom. He considers himself a singer, but is turning out to also be a pretty good rapper. He actually stood out in audition as well, but his dancing ability was questioned. What also got my attention is that he is a ringer for YG’s Ha Yoon Bin, who I am well familiar with because he was the one the Koreans wanted in place of my Choi Hyun Suk in Treasure (both made it).
Yo Han has the visuals that the South Korean fans love so I’m sure he’ll go far as long as he doesn’t mess up any performance.
👁 🎧 Watch: Kim Min Seo performs Nu’est’s “DejaVu” with his team
I will try to lock in my top 10 next week, although it’s just an exercise that doesn’t attempt to pick who will win. That would be a totally different list. I generally know my picks will be longshots because my international taste varies so much from the Korean point of view. But it’s fun to think what a band I would assemble would look like.
As for that 11th place in the show, it’s reserved for that person who might be overlooked by the judges throughout the season, but one who possesses that mysterious X-factor loved by the public. It’s the only way to explain how someone like Lee Eugene is already so popular with public voters, though he hasn’t shown any special skill. He is already recognized as an actor in South Korea, but has little talent for singing or dancing. Maybe the training they are getting will pay off. I don’t know whether voters really like him or are just familiar with his name.
The Koreans also love Jellyfish Entertainment’s Kim MinGyu because they think he is so handsome, but I don’t agree. On top of that, he has very little musical talent, but they are voting for him.
👁 🎧 Watch: Kim Yo Han performs NCT U’s “BOSS” with his team
The other 10 spaces will be decided by a mix of judges’ votes and viewer votes. New episodes air on MNET Friday nights (Thursdays in the United States).
👁 Watch: Kim Yo Han’s first ranking audition with judges
Top photo: Wannaone, top of page, was formed via “Produce 101.” The group had only a one-year contract under the show’s terms, and disbanded earlier this year.