Unpretty Rapstar Volume 3 is well underway and while it’s certainly not as entertaining as the show’s first season in terms of the drama, it’s certainly stepped up a great deal from both the first and second seasons by way of improving upon the rap quality and the competitive balance. Unlike prior seasons, there’s yet to be a clear favorite to win the show. The competition in the upper echelon is so dense that there’s really no way of telling who will come out on top. Furthermore, the middle and lower tier rappers are actually faring a lot better than expected.
Despite the focus on casting more marketable people — namely idols — and structuring competitions which favor those who have greater public exposure, this season has been very solid so far. I enjoy the ever increasing focus on the music writing process, getting a glimpse of how the rappers prepare for their stages. At its very core, Unpretty Rapstar is a show about female songwriters who are earning their stripes based on their skill and wit, and not their bodies — at least for the most part, we’ll get to the exceptions.
Episode one: One-take MV Challenge
The one-take MV challenge has become mandatory by now for the first episode. Giant Pink won the unofficial challenge by penning the best lyrics for the song’s bridge, edging out her labelmate Miryo through a vote of her peers. She also won the one-take MV challenge by receiving the most first place votes from her peers. Having received the most last place votes from her peers, Kassy had her verse removed from the first track, “She’s Coming,” and was subsequently edited out of the official MV.
Episode two: Team Battle Stage and Solo Battle for Track 2
Winning the first challenge turned out to be a huge advantage towards winning the second track. That’s because the following challenge came with three sample beats which required three teams to create a stage performance in front of a live audience. Long story short, Giant Pink chose the beat which by far resonated the best with the audience (the other two tracks came from different eras) and her team of Miryo and Yuk Jidam won the challenge.
The winning team received the privilege of battling for the second track in front of producers Gil and Mad Clown. Miryo and Jidam came with lighter performances which better suited the song. As in season one, Jidam won the first solo track.
Episode three: Collaboration Battle Stage and Solo Battle Stage for Elimination
The contestants paired up to face one another on a battle stage in which they must collaborate to perform in front of a live online audience. Following the live online voting, it became clear that Jeon Soyeon has the largest following, receiving more than twice the number of votes than the next closest competitor.
Having received the least amount of online votes, Kassy selected Grace as her opponent for the solo stage elimination battle. Grace did her impression of Yezi’s “Crazy Dog” from season two. Like Yezi, the performance struck a chord with her peers and she was saved from elimination, meaning it was the end of the road for Kassy.
Episode four: Diss Battle and Solo Stage for Track 3
After surviving a brutal selection process, Ash-B and Kool Kid were allowed to join the show just in time for what we’ve all been waiting for: diss battles. Kush came out to judge the diss battles, all of which were filled with fanfare and pyrotechnics.
Janey vs. Yuk Jidam
Ever since episode one when Janey called out Jidam for focusing too much on her looks and openly voted her for last place in the challenge, Jidam did her evil laugh and had it out for Janey ever since. Jidam went all out in this battle. She wore a wedding dress complete with a crown and a bouquet to play on the idea that she’s overly concerned with her appearance. Jidam demonstrated her technical superiority, mocked Janey’s delivery, and her tone was overly intimidating. Janey called Jidam a ‘tease girl’ and recovered well from messing up a line. Kush praised Janey on her smooth recovery and, to everyone’s surprise, declared Janey the winner.
Giant Pink vs. Nada
Perhaps a bit overconfident, Nada was the only rapper to step up against Giant Pink during the selection process. Pulling out her bag of tricks, Nada brought a sketch artist drawing of Giant Pink, an elimination candidate sticker from Show Me the Money 5, and topped it off by lifting up her shirt. Giant Pink faltered and forgot most of her lyrics. Nada advanced due to a stroke of luck.
Grace continued the procession of props by bringing out a magazine containing an Ash-B photoshoot in order to mock her for using her sexuality to gain exposure. Grace threw another unexpected punch by aping the song that Ash-B performed in season two which got her eliminated. Ash-B demonstrated her technical superiority and called out Grace for her rapper cosplay. Point goes to Ash-B.
Jeon Soyeon vs. Kool Kid
Soyeon was on fire coming into this and, having made it out of the rapper addition deathmatch, Kool Kid seemed like the only person who could have matched Soyeon in terms of confidence. For whatever reason, Soyeon came out in her full Produce 101 attire and showed that her diss rap is every bit as good as her performance rap. Kool Kid basically forgets all of her lyrics in what turned out to be the most lopsided diss battle of all three seasons.
Ju Yun vs. Euna Kim vs. Miryo
Since nobody wanted to battle Miryo, she chose to be on the team with the least amount of threats. Ju Yun continued to dodge Miryo even during the diss battle by refusing to diss Miryo and choosing instead to diss Euna Kim twice. Euna Kim seems too genuinely nice to be a diss rapper and made a lyrical mistake while dissing Miryo. Miryo disses Ju Yun for having used ghostwriters in the past to write her raps. Miryo won by default.
At the end of all five battles, the winners performed on a solo stage in front of a live audience to determine the winner of track 3. The crowd loved Soyeon and voted for her unanimously. As the song’s producer, however, Kush also had the privilege of choosing a second rapper to be on the track. And for the second time in the episode, he made a mind-boggling decision by choosing Nada to be the second rapper on the track.
Before we get into what happened with Nada and all the other structural inequities with this show, I’m going to provide a tier-by-tier analysis of each rapper, not specifically based on their rap skills, but more so based on how they have been portrayed and how well they will likely do on the rest of the show.
Bottom Tier: Ju Yun, Janey, and Kassy
Ju Yun is a good example of an idol rapper who is on this show to resurrect her career. Having been out of the industry since the disbandment of Jewelry, she seemed over her head in the first two episodes, having breakdowns because she couldn’t memorize her lyrics. She finally showed signs of life in her battle stage against Soyeon and received a handful of online votes but she’s still barely holding on and is a prime target for elimination.
Janey is another example of an idol rapper who’s on the show to get back in the public eye. Starting a rivalry with Jidam probably wasn’t the best idea and Jidam is correct in pointing out that Janey has trouble enunciating her lines. She received a big break when Kush selected her as the winner of the diss battle but she will be constantly picked on by the other rappers for as long as she’s on the show.
Kassy really got the short end of the stick. She seriously hurt her chances by generally not getting along with any of the other rappers. She was considered the lowest by her peers at every opportunity. As a relative unknown, she received the fewest audience votes and she lost out in the elimination battle, again, due to peer voting. Part of it was her fault for being antisocial but the reasons for why she always came in last had little to do with her actual skills as a rapper.
Middle Tier: Euna Kim, Grace, Ash-B, and Nada
Euna Kim’s career began as a highly-touted trainee for YG Entertainment before she decided to leave and debut as part of the now disbanded group, The Ark. She’s since been out of the industry and shown to be working at a cafe. This is also her attempt at regaining relevance and to rectify what was at one point a promising future. It’s unfortunate that she is on the brink of elimination after Kool Kid chose her by random to be part of the elimination battle that will take place in episode five. As I said, she is seemingly too nice to do well on a show like Unpretty Rapstar.
Grace is a relative unknown whose self-promoting nature prompts her to wear the most outlandish outfits accompanied by the most outrageous accessories such as a heel shaped to look like the head of Elvis. Ash-B may be partially correct in that she’s merely cosplaying as a rapper, having earned virtually zero stripes before the show; however, her cosplay of Yezi was really effective during her elimination battle as it sparked a large reaction in many of her peers. Her skill ceiling is still relatively low and her antics will only get her so far.
Ash-B comes in hungry for redemption after being eliminated from season two. She doesn’t have a ton of flash but she’s an experienced rapper with a high technical competency. I can see her possibly winning a track and gaining a ton of exposure after the show, similar to how Kisum and Heize were able to utilize Unpretty Rapstar to gain mainstream appeal.
Nada came out of nowhere to win the third track due to a combination of luck and one highly questionable stage that caught the attention of Kush. To her credit, her decision to step up on Giant Pink actually paid off as Giant Pink somehow forgot her lyrics at a critical juncture. In her track 3 solo stage, as if to amp up the cultural insensitivity levels, Nada goes full on dreadlocks not unlike the caricaturish ones worn by Zico in “Nillili Mambo.” To top it off, she uses the term ‘Bootyful’ and accompanies it with a sexy butt dance. Then, in perhaps the show’s most cringeworthy moment to date, Kush actually compliments her for coming up with such a creative term and awards her the track for bringing such an original concept to the table.
Top Tier: Jidam, Giant Pink, Miryo, Soyeon, and Kool Kid
Yuk Jidam came into this season as a completely different person. No longer was she the likable tomboy from season one. In fact, her self-absorbed attitude from having been on the show before makes her the villain who nobody likes. However, she still has one of the best deliveries on the show and, like everyone else on this tier, is a threat to win it all.
Giant Pink is a relative newcomer who posses a great voice. And by that I mean that her delivery is really masculine — a low pitch with an aggressive tone — which is a formula that worked well for Jessi in season one. People tend to gravitate towards this type of delivery and it’s gotten Giant Pink in a good position thus far. She was the clear favorite after the first three episodes, but has since fallen in with the rest of the pack after her diss battle blunder.
Miryo may very well be a threat to win every competition thrown at her and yet not win a single track on the show. Everyone is absolutely terrified to challenge her, and it makes sense given her track record. She’s probably had more experience than all the other contestants combined, yet she really hasn’t been relevant in quite a while. She’s here to prove that she can still make a hit track, and she’ll receive plenty of opportunities, but she’s zero for two so far.
Jeon Soyeon has yet to show any signs of weakness. She’s clearly the most popular and the most fearless. She’s gained a small lead in what is clearly a crowded pool of talent. And for those of you who have a problem with her raspy voice, it’s part of the reason why she is so popular. Rappers with extra nasally voices are more distinguishable and it’s what allows the likes of G-Dragon, LE, CL and Jimin to stand out from the competition.
Kool Kid struck a chord with me in the rapper addition battles in that her delivery is so different from everyone else’s. It’s like the words come out of her so effortlessly and she’s having so much fun when rapping. It’s highly unfortunate that she completely choked in her diss battle against Soyeon and is now on the brink of elimination. It’s questionable whether she belongs in the top tier but I believe that if she survives elimination, she will come back stronger and more prepared to make another run at Soyeon.
Readers, who do you like so far on Unpretty Rapstar 3? How does it compare with prior seasons?
(YouTube, Images via Mnet, Music K Entertainment, Star Empire Entertainment)