Just last week, YG Entertainment aired the finale of their popular survival show Mix and Match, where they announced the final lineup of their newest boy group iKON. This show came just months after YG’s first foray into the world of survival shows, when they debuted Winner after a fierce competition on the show WIN: Who is Next? Even Starship Entertainment just released a teaser for their own trainee survival show No.Mercy.
These survival shows, although wildly popular, have been receiving sharp criticism from a lot of fans, including on this site. For the uninitiated, YG’s past two survival shows have centered on their young trainees competing against one another for a chance to debut. Essentially, the shows derive their entertainment value from depicting children competing against one another to please the audience and the judges, for the slim chance that they might debut and acheive some sort of job security. It is no secret that many fans consider the survival show a harsh and tasteless enterprise, bent on creating a spectacle of young trainees battling it out for a chance at their life dream.
And of course, the vote of the survival show is key — it gives the fans the power to control who joins the group and who gets cut. Allowing viewers to basically choose who gets to be in this group gives them a sense of ownership over the final “product”.
But morality aside, is this even a good idea? Can YG rely on viewer votes to make a viable, cohesive, and successful group ?
The K-pop groups of today are the result of years and years of research, practice, and fine-tuning. Each idol group must be like a well oiled machine, working in concert to produce a perfect performance. Each part of the machine needs to fit together; in other words, in order for the group to be viable, the members’ talents need to complement each other.
There’s a reason 5 is the magic number of K-pop groups: every group needs a leader, a vocalist, a rapper, a dancer, and
most importantly a visual. Companies across the board work to ensure that their groups have a little bit of something for everybody. If viewers vote simultaneously for their favorite member to go through, how can we even hope for a result that has a good balance of strengths?
What if everyone’s favorites happened to be rappers? What if none of the favorites had an ounce of dancing ability? A group full of similar positions might be easily solved by having the group only perform those kinds of songs, but what if the group was filled with rappers save for one balladeer?
Even if the winners’ talents all complement each other, a the new group has to be just that: a group. A cohesive group must enjoy each others’ company and work well together. The friendliness to the point of homoerotic fanservice is all good and well on the camera, but viewers might not see what goes on in the training rooms and hallways of the company.
And even if all the trainees do like each other, the simple act of voting could potentially sow discord amongst the members. Imagine knowing that, even if you got into this new group, you were the member with the least number of votes — or the most. Even the most down-to-earth idols would let this knowledge haunt them, looking down on members with less votes while being jealous of those with more. As the past year as shown even successful, traditionally-built groups like Exo and SNSD have proven that the family-like bonds of the group can be severed.
Finally: success, perhaps the most important factor, to both the company and the group itself. At the end of the day, the group is there to make money. If the group can’t do that, it fails. By voting, it is possible that fans feel more involved and personally attached to their group; personal attachment is always good when trying to convince fans to buy several ‘versions’ of the same album. But what about fans of the trainees who did not make the cut? In a world where fandom is thicker than blood, will devotees of a failed trainee continue to support the group that rejected him?
Plus, the other two factors definitely come into play here. If a group doesn’t have a variety of talents — or if viewers vote for the less talented trainees — then wouldn’t the company sell a lot less albums? And if group members leave because of discontent, then isn’t the company definitely losing out on their investment in these idols?
Perhaps, instead, the answer to all of these questions is — it will never happen, because YG won’t let it happen.
For WINNER, the voting issue was cleverly sidestepped. YG previously curated the teams and seperated the trainees into two groups, the balancing and synergy between the members already figured out. That being said, the same can be partially true for iKON as well; by no surprise, all former members of Team B (who previously appeared and lost on WIN) took the top places in the voting results. Only one non-Team B trainee made it through to debut.
Was this, too, a calculated move by the beloved Papa YG? Perhaps the CEO has also realized these flaws in the survival show model. If so, he’s taken the best of both worlds.
The dark, dog-eat-dog world of trainee life is no secret, and in fact the road from trainee to debut is a familiar topic for idol TV; even to this day SM Entertainment is chronicling the rise of their trainees through SM.Rookies. B2ST, Big Bang, and more had their predebut journeys broadcast in documentaries; VIXX‘s Mydol was even an elimination style show as well, although without voting the decisions are left entirely to the company.
But even with voting, YG has proven that power might not lie solely in the hands of the voters after all. The past documentaries where viewers passively follow trainees encouraged early fandom formation; but YG has figured out that by providing the viewers with even a semblance of power, they become truly emotionally involved. However, the composition of Winner and iKON suggest that YG is influencing the outcome more than we might think. I am not accusing YG of vote fraud without evidence, but it is fact of the television industry that reality TV episodes are written and edited to skew viewer opinion one way or the other. In addition, seeing as iKON is basically Team B+1, perhaps YG predicted that Team B fans would unite to vote all of their members through. He even ensured that his favourite three members had a guaranteed spot in iKON. If YG already truly knew who he wanted in each group, then it would be easy for him to pull all the strings and set up a scenario where he gets what he wanted.
Of course, this method is far from foolproof. There is always the chance that the viewers may take strongly to a certain member that the company might not favour so much. But at the end of the day, the integration of the survival show into YG’s business model has so far proven to be profitable. Winner debuted spectularly earlier this year, with a triple all-kill for their album 2014 S/S. iKON has had individual successes, such as Bobby taking home the top prize on Show Me the Money 3. Their popularity before an official debut is not something to be ignored, even if they have yet to prove themselves as a group. By allowing viewers their own say in creating their beloved idol groups, while still controlling factors and variables behind the scenes, YG might have created something very promising in the future of K-pop. Time will have to tell if his plan is truly successful.