20160210_seoulbeats_produce101poster_mentIn a time where Mnet‘s recent talent-based competitive programmes — Show Me The Money and Unpretty Rapstar — have been receiving ire from viewers for biased editing and a focus on drama over talent, the last thing anyone expected was another such show. So, people were taken aback when Produce 101 was announced.

In the show 101 female trainees from Korean entertainment agencies vie for a place in a 11-member girl group that will be managed by Mnet for one year. The final line-up, as well as eliminations, will be decided purely through public vote, which is also accessible to international fans.

Considering Mnet’s reputation and the sheer scale of Produce 101, there is potential for so much to go wrong. And yet, there are many of us who can’t look away. So we have, against our better judgement, decided to watch Produce 101. This support group is here to not only to make sense of what is happening on screen, but also what we are doing watching this show in the first place.

Gaya: I’ve never watched any kind of pre-debut/survival show before, and I had no intention to start anytime soon, But then, I saw the M!Countdown performance of “Pick Me.”

I wasn’t blown away by the choreography, or the mass singing (it’s the female equivalent of Melbourne High School Speech Night), or the school uniforms (so overdone). But gosh darn if they didn’t pick an earworm of a song. More than that, though, was the production: that performance embodied the show’s entire concept (and triangle motif). It was big, it was flashy, and I wanted more.

Pat: I pretty much give any kind of pre-debut/survival show a try. I’m a sucker for punishment, and I have way too much free time. And when it was revealed that there was going to be Jellyfish trainees involved? The long-fabled female trainees? How could I not watch the show, mess or no mess. Although, it’s Mnet, so we know it’s going to be messy in one way or another.

The song is eh, but it gets stuck in your head and rings on and on and on, until you want to scream. Like, yes, we picked you up, can you please stop chanting now?

Lo: My problem is why the hell is that song pitched so freaking high? Altos exist, assholes.

I can honestly say that I’m watching this show for the trainwreck. Ain’t no way this is not going to be a catastrophic mess, and I felt like flipping on the drama and grabbing the popcorn. Think of the chaos! The tumblr warfare! The inevitable battle between personality and talent! The resentment between Somi/fans and Literally Everyone Else/fans!

Elaine: Produce 101 isn’t my first Mnet survival variety –I followed Sixteen from beginning to end — but I was rolling my eyes when the idea of this show was announced. I couldn’t see how Mnet could make it work with 101 trainees (and as of now, I’m not entirely sure they have). “Pick Me” only reinforced my intuition, as I spent the entire time I was watching marvelling at all the people.

I decided to watch the first episode to see what a trainwreck it would be, and was (unfortunately?) drawn in. I can’t seem to stay away from these types of programs in general, because I’m easily fascinated by a good show of talent, and sometimes it’s the competition that brings out the best in people.

Camiele: Quite honestly, I’m not that big a fan of these shows. They’re inevitably all the same, and I’m not really an advocate of public punishment (that’s not in jest, like Running Man) or embarrassment. More than that, I’m kinda not a fan of Mnet’s, shall we say, “creative” editing. I hadn’t actually planned on watching this at all, but quite frankly when the idea of a support group came up, I thought it’d be great to actually watch it with a group and discuss.

But what sold me was the intro. What. The. FUDGE?!

Lo: Why was it set to the Moulin Rouge version of “Roxanne”?

Camiele: Why was there a zoom-out of a poster of a child in his underwear?!?! These are things that I’m sure will never be explained. The questions will far outweigh the answers for this show, I’m sure!

Pat: There are so many questions that pop up every single episode so far. My number one being: has Jang Geun-suk always been this creepy? Do the girls not get creeped out by him? Hell, are these girls at least getting some sort of payment????

Also — who the hell thought of that intro and what was he or she on?

Gaya: I don’t think the girls are getting paid. And that intro gave me major whiplash. Just as I was beginning to buy the sentimental set-up of these young ladies with dreams of idoldom and in training for years — BAM — slapstick!

Luckily, the show manages to pick things up with the trainees’ first task: picking where to sit. Chanmi (of Co-ed School and Five Dolls fame) chose the #1 chair; and while I enjoyed her show of lamenting about a lack of seats while walking past two empty chairs, I feel like she’s the only person who could have sat there without fear of looking like an upstart. You saw how Mnet edited the Jellyfish trainees when they went to the top 11 seats.

Lo: Yeah, but no lie: those ladies deserve to be there.

Pat: I feel like a broken record, but Kim Se-jeong, the loudest Jelpi (Jellyfish) trainee who initiated them sitting there, reminds me of Ken so damn much. And her bravado is being rewarded — as of episode 2, she’s second only to Somi. I’m just happy that, so far, those three didn’t say anything that might set them up for Mnet’s editing magic.

I never paid attention to Co-ed School or Five Dolls, but I think . . . I may like Chanmi? I see they have her singing “Into the New World” in episode 3 and I can already hear the Mnet editing squad stretching for the inevitable almost SNSD member backstory.

Elaine: I agree with Pat that the Jellyfish trainees appear to be some of the most promising thus far – they strike a nice balance between vocal ability and stage presence, and seem to have bright and outgoing personalities to match. I also have my eye on Park So-yeon from Loen and the Cube trio for the same reasons.

I think Chanmi is definitely one of the most competent trainees, but walks a fine line between confident and arrogant – while I didn’t see a problem with her taking the #1 spot, she does look bemused a good majority of the time she is onscreen. Some viewers are already calling Mnet out for evil editing, and although I’m unsure whether this is the case with Chanmi, I am noticing trends in the way they choose to portray certain trainees. Fantagio‘s Choi Yoo-jung, for example, receives a lot of sympathy. What do you guys think?

Lo: Oh, the evil editing is in full swing: the blatant Somi bias, the way they try to make the A-trainees seem arrogant and cold (not just Chanmi), the underdog mentality given to B-D classes, and portraying the F-trainees as near-hopeless. I definitely picked up on Yoo-jung, and I have to concede that I feel for her: getting iced out by the other girls, who then decided that being a loner/introvert/not a cool kid meant she would go down, despite not actually being that bad.

Gaya: I really feel for Somi. The mentors seemed to have legitimate criticisms, but Mnet is so clearly reveling in dragging her down. Five girls leave group A after the second evaluation, but all of the focus is on her. Mnet’s attempt to play up the suspense when we all knew she was leaving group A soured the ending of episode 2 for me. Is this what I have to look forward to for the rest of the show?

Pat: I think it definitely showed in episode two that while the lower groups were trying to help each other, group A was basically every man (woman) for themselves. Unless if Mnet edited any footage of them helping each other out – and considering its Mnet, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Camiele: I’m not at all surprised at the movement of people from Group A. And I feel no one should be. Just because you impressed with an audition doesn’t mean you can ride on that alone, especially since you have legitimate trainers there to evaluate where you really are. You can’t hide in training, especially with Bae’s eagle eye.

Classic mistake by those who get into a higher-ranking position: the standard and expectation is much higher for you at that point; thus, the burden you carry is heavier. You got that position; now you have to keep it. Besides, that ranking doesn’t tell you that you’ve already made it. The mentors said that it’s so training is tailored to trainees’ specific needs. The lower you are, the more help you need and the more work the trainers have to do with you. That’s it. I wonder how many people listened and missed that…

And, of course, Mnet with its “creative” editing makes the A group seem catty. Like, the way they be cuttin’ eyes at everyone in the room? But, really, they’re just paying attention to everything.

Meanwhile, Queen Cheetah is queen. Queen Kahi is queen! But then Bae Yoon-jeong… She is too fierce! I love that she’s so hardcore. She gives zero and a half fucks who you are, how good you think you may be. She’s going to tell you straight up to your face what the deal is. I love that! She reminds of me Laurieann Gibson in that way: totally fierce, totally serious about her craft to the point she can be frightening. As if she will literally come across the stage and slap you in your face, because mama don’t take no MESS! I love that intensity, especially in dancers!

Gaya: I feel a bit bad that Kim Sung-eun gets lost in the mix; but overall, I am loving the female mentors and their interactions with the female trainees. If only Jang Geun-suk wasn’t there — or, if the producers at least stopped overdoing it whenever a pretty trainee turns up. There are some genuinely cute moments, but the editing leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Camiele: I was absolutely thrilled when Madame Bae told them to dance to songs they may not be used to. That’s how you find those who actually know how to move naturally and those who can just memorize choreography if they sit in front of their computer screens long enough.

And let’s not even get started on Jang Geun-suk. It’s like San E all over again. Why do they even bring these dudes on here? And he’s totally playing up this title of “Prince of Asia.” Dude’s not only campy in that way that really makes you want to high five his face with a brick, he’s not that cute! Anyway, I digress.

The girls who did 1TYM were SO dope! I mean, I get that it’s about being an “idol.” But, damn, just because they’re not into that “aegyo” girly-girly nonsense they got C’s and a D?

Oh no…! Help. I’m getting way too invested now!!!!

Cjontai: I thought they were being marked down for not taking the judges’ request seriously because they gave that girl from the acting agency an F for having the same reaction. I feel like the Kconic girls were misled by their company and/or Mnet, since they looked completely dumbfounded when asked to be girly. It was clear from the jump that they were out of place, so somebody lied to those ladies about what the competition was.

Gaya: I was thrown when Bae Yoon-jeong kept requesting ‘weird’ songs for the trainees to dance to; but when you saw Chan-mi successfully mimic traditional dance moves and that one trainee work “Yoncé,” you realise that Bae knows what she’s doing by forcing the trainees to rise to the challenges she sets them. It makes it even clearer why the Kconic trainees were graded low despite their amazing 1TYM cover — because they didn’t really try.

Camiele: Oh absolutely. It’s a shame, because if they’d find a company or show for them, they’d be a FORCE!

Anyway, I do have a favorite (Ju-na‘s voice is what life is about, honestly); but I don’t think I have someone I’m rooting for more than anyone else. I kind of want all of them to do well, not gonna lie.

Gaya: Choi Yoo-jung and Cube’s Jeon So-yeon are my other favourites so far. I didn’t pay that much attention to Yoo-jung in the “Pick Me” performance, aside from noting that she was the centre. But now that I know she started off in D, I am curious to see how it all unfolded. I feel for her too, because I am also one of those people who hesitates to approach others.

I’m also looking forward to finding out more about Pinky, the Chinese trainee from Pledis. She’s been in the top 11 since the show started airing, but has yet to feature in an episode — hence her slipping further down in the rankings. We’ve seen a couple of the other foreign trainees (and I love Ng Sze Kai), so I would like to learn more about Pinky, too.

Pat: I may have already picked a favorite, and its Jelpi girl Se-jeong.

I’ve seen plenty of Pledis stans preach about Pinky, but she’s barely been shown so we non-fans have no idea what she can do. I’ll also be upset if we don’t get more of Ng Sze Kai. She was someone who delivered. Meanwhile, Mnet seems to be intent on focusing on the girls from the larger, more known agencies, as well as the girls who did dismally.

They’ll be covering girl group debut songs in episode 3. Hopefully, with songs that were actually made for actual singing, and not whatever chipmunk style “Pick Me” was, we’ll get to see what they can actually do.

Lo: As of episode 2, I am honestly amazed at the ratio of serious talent to serious looks in the top 11. I was expecting 3-4 girls there primarily on skill, with 6-7 there primarily on personality, plus Somi. But it’s at least six on skill, maybe more.


Thanks for nothing, Mnet editing team.

(Dailymotion[1][2], Mnet, YouTube[1][2][3])