‘Produce X 101’: A Cinderella story

By Nadine Kam I

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.

X1 debut members from left to right, top to bottom: Kim Yo Han, Kim Woo Seok, Han Seung Woo, Song Hyeong Jun, Cho Seung Youn, Son Dong Pyo, Lee Han Gyul, Nam Do Hyun, Cha Jun Ho, Kang Min Hee and X boy Lee Eun Sang.

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.

A lot of good songs came out of this season of “Produce,” but I thought “Boyness” was the best. I had other favorites during the run, but it’s been a different experience to see the songs performed and to now be listening to them in my car without bias and visuals. The song was written by Flow Blow with Pentagon’s Hui, the same team who wrote Wanna One’s debut hit ”Energetic.” I just wonder why Hui doesn’t keep the really good songs for Pentagon??!! I don’t feel that they’ve had a hit on the scale of “Energetic.” Unfortunately, the center here, Song Yu Vin didn’t make the X1 debut team either.

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 proposed lineup for Be Your Nine (BY9), left to right from top to bottom: Lee Jin Hyuk, Kim Min Kyu, Koo Jung Mo, Keum Dong Hyun, Tony, Song Yu Vin, Ham Won Jin, Lee Se Jin and Hwang Yun Seong.

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.

SHINee’s next phase: service to country

By Nadine Kam I

Last year was a triumphant, bittersweet year for SHINee, which celebrated its 10-year anniversary while still trying to heal from Jonghyun’s suicide on Dec. 18, 2017.

This year has also been one of exhilaration and change, bittersweet for Shawol—the group’s fandom—who on top of losing Jonghyun has seen the departures of leader Onew and rapper Key for their mandatory military service in December and March respectively, and rapper Choi Minho will also be joining the Republic of Korea Marine Corps in mid-April. This leaves only the group’s maknae Taemin to solo music pursuits.

Last month, Taemin, left, and Minho, right, sent a shaved Key off to the military.
At top of page, the members said goodbye to Onew in December.

In light of their 21-month absence, they’ve been hard at work to present their individual gifts of music to fans to keep them in our hearts while they’re away. It’s been great to hear the first solo recordings by Onew, Key and now Minho, but there is also a sadness associated with the end of an era.

For myself, new to the works of K-pop, it’s sad that they are gone just after I got to know them. I don’t know how 10-year Shawols feel, the fans who grew up with SHINee ever since they were unpolished teens.

It’s a lonely time for the members as well. They seemed to have become more reflective after the death of Jonghyun and last year’s anniversary gave them reason to look back at their whirlwind career.

After their anniversary events ended last summer, their group activities slowed down considerably. Although I was happy to see them pursuing other interests, it saddened me to see them spending significant time apart.
I imagine they must have felt somewhat unmoored to be apart from the people they once spent 24/7 cohabiting, working and training together. Minho, who along with Taemin, is one the more stalwart members of the group, is only now beginning to feel the loneliness that consumed Jonghyun, and talks about it here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BvTYUANnmXa/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

No doubt their time in the military will give them even more time to reflect, and think about what they really want in life. Everything up until now has been thrown at them, and almost every decision made for them. It’s said that joining any military outfit turns boys into men. It will be interesting to see how they emerge and what life they will create for themselves when they emerge nearly two years from now.

Onew in his Korean army uniform.

The boys were really sweet in the naming of their albums. It started with Taemin’s first mini album released in 2014, “Ace.”

Jonghyun’s answer to that was “Base” in 2015. Key released “Face” on Nov. 26, 2018, and following in that somewhat rhyming tradition, Onew released “Voice” on Dec. 5, 2018, just five days before joining the Korea army.

I wasn’t expecting to hear something from Minho, a rapper who arguably has the weakest singing voice in SHINee. I mean, it’s pleasant, but not as defined as the others. Two years ago he talked about wanting to put out a solo album but worried that his flaws would show during solo promotions. He surprised fans with a solo song, “I’m Home,” released on March 28. It’s about seeking comfort in light of the loneliness of day-to-day life.

👁 🎧 Watch and listen to the solo songs

Key”s song “I Wanna Be” might be taken as a love song, but the lyrics suggest it is about Jonghyun. A lot of SHINee’s “Story of Light” songs were also about Jonghyun.

The lyrics in part:

“Because I will raise this earth straight up and give it to you (give to you!)
On top of your palm (shiny!)
I put that star (bling bling!)
While everyone’s asleep, only we’re awake on top of this universe.”

Bling bling was Jonghyun’s nickname upon their debut. They came to be embarrassed by their nicknames, but they stuck over time.

Key’s video also seems to echo Jonghyun’s last video in color and set design, his red suit and blond hair.