20141223_seoulbeats_winner_minoThere was never a question if there would be a fourth season of Show Me the Money (SMTM). Rather, fans wondered how they would top their previous season? How could they guarantee huge ratings and enough buzz to generate interest before the show begins?

Why not bring in a Winner to compete? I’m talking about Huge Boy, formerly of the underground rap crew Royal Class. You may know him better as Mino.

The recent announcement of him joining the line-up of SMTM4 hopefuls was met with mixed reactions. Some fans were ecstatic over his inclusion, but others expressed unfairness at his addition. If you break down some of the arguments, however, there is justification for both sides.

The world of competitions is not a fluffy little league where everyone gets a trophy for showing up. For someone to win, someone else has to lose; it’s that simple. This means you will have broken dreams, and some contestants going home feeling like they failed life. This is probably why fans debate passionately over who should be allowed to compete on these shows.

The basic premise of SMTM was to highlight fairly unknown rapping talent. Because most of the names of early contenders came from the underground, the assumption was this show featured underground artists only. A few rappers signed to labels would occasionally show their mettle, but for the first two seasons, no huge names made waves for the show.

20141212_seoulbeats_bobby2Fast forward to SMTM3 and the game appeared to change with iKon‘s Bobby and B.I. auditioning for a shot on the show. Despite arguments over their idol status, they were given a chance. In the end, Bobby won, but it caused some to wonder if it was based on pure skill or because of his celebrity status before entering. Regardless of what fans thought, it’s clear what the producers figured out: putting in idols generates more attention. In the world of TV, that’s money!

In spite of this controversy, the producers upped the ante this year by adding more familiar names to the show’s roster. Tablo will return as a judge, accompanied by label mate Jinusean. Verbal Jint and San E will also be judges along with Jay Park and Zico.

If the judge roster wasn’t enough for buzz, then the contestant line-up definitely flooded interest. CL‘s former rap mentor P-type, Zico’s older brother Taewoon, and Monsta X‘s Jooheon will battle it out for a spot in the competition along with Mino. All of this adds up to extra attention for the show, but the real questions centered around the inclusion of a few specific names — Jay Park, Zico, and Mino.

All three generated a great deal of conversation among fans about their rapping repertoire and what qualified them to be on the show in their respective roles. Some scratched their heads over Jay Park and Zico because some fans felt their rapping abilities lacked in comparison to the kinds of contestants this show usually draws. Same argument was made for Mino, with angry fans citing his idol popularity as an advantage, but these views are somewhat shortsighted when you consider everyone’s history.

After a scandal caused him to leave 2pm and South Korea, Jay Park returned years later to re-establish his name as an artist and start his own label. Zico has his share of controversy, but he also possesses numerous producer credits under his belt for other artists. As for Mino, who seems to be inciting the most debate, he isn’t a stranger to the underground; in fact, his friendship with Zico sprang from that common connection. While this opens the debate for potential nepotism, the inclusion of Taewoon should then also be examined, yet it’s not. So what exactly is the problem with Mino?

Many have slammed the idea that Mino would steal a chance from an unknown rapper, saying everyone has an equal shot at winning, but let’s not forget — this is not just a competition; it is TV. In fact, this entire thing would probably be a non-issue if it wasn’t televised. Had Mino entered an underground competition, more would likely applaud him for returning to his roots. However, this is a show with a large viewing audience, so the stakes and exposure are increased.

No one spoke about Yuk Ji-dam last year, but she gained more recognition after appearing on Unpretty Rapstar. Yuk Ji-dam was on SMTM3 before that and failed miserably, as did B.I., but who got more screen time? People may fawn over her now, let’s not act as if she was the main focus from SMTM3. No, all eyes were on Bobby and B.I. and why? Quite frankly, because they came from YG Entertainment, and people wanted to know more about them than a random teenager.

20150501_seoulbeats_yukjidamThis is a fair argument to make when you look at it from that perspective. How many Yuk Ji-dams will be reduced to a blip when recognizable idols are on camera? The questionable editing of SMTM doesn’t help matters because it only means that hidden talent could be clouded under the smoke of this overblown controversy drummed up for ratings. If there are standouts among the lesser known names, those rappers will need to work twice as hard for attention; whereas, Mino has received it before taping even began. Understandably, this would make other participants perturbed because they want exposure, something celebrities don’t lack.

While I get why Mino’s fans are ecstatic over him competing, I can also see why others question his motives when he possesses the things some of these rappers are seeking. Still, it’s premature to say the odds are in his favor, especially considering the backlash. Conversely, there is reasonable worry over talented MCs being ignored for the sake of ratings because the producers can’t be trusted to keep it as one-hundred as the rappers.

If anything, this call for idols to back off of competition shows signals a growing interest in undiscovered talent, which may prove promising for non-mainstream rappers. Perhaps this means Mino will have to work harder than Bobby before any money is shown to him, but so will everyone else. If you consider those factors, then maybe this debate over idols and competitions is moot since it’s truly anyone’s game.

(YouTubeNewsen, Naver, Images via YG Entertainment, Mnet)