In this second season of Produce 101, the male version, trainees sent by their companies are vying to be the top 11 that will debut as a group and promote for one year. These are trainees who have little to no background of being on stages, music shows, or part of the promotion cycles idols go through.With a show like Produce 101, you’d expect a show for rookie idols and pre-debuting idols to be able to showcase their talents and gather attention early on in their careers.

The surprise announcement that four members of Nu’est participating in the reality show has gotten mixed reviews from fans. Some were pleased with the chance for Nu’est to have a breakthrough in the show, while others were distraught of the thought of Nu’est being considered as a rookie group. It raised the question as to why a seasoned group like Nu’est was sent to a show meant for newbies, which garnered more criticisms on Pledis Entertainment’s management of the group throughout their career.

The participating Nu’est members are not the only older trainees part of the show, but going in the show five years into their career certainly raised some eyebrows. Five years is a good amount of time for a group to establish a strong presence in South Korea, but what Nu’est fell short of is exactly just that. Their lack of popularity is an outcome of Pledis’ inadequate marketing and management, and the risky decisions made for Nu’est, which further resulted in needing to place them on a Produce 101.

While certain factors are uncontrollable, we can look into some as Pledis’s mistakes in handling Nu’est throughout their career. The debut with “Face” was a great start for them in 2012. Tackling a societal issue in the song, “Face” gave Nu’est a powerful concept and image that made it one of the most memorable among rookie debuts. However, Pledis failed to make the most of this period by not exposing them more to the media, such as in reality and variety shows, and radio. What Nu’est needed was a show that introduced them and expressed their individual personalities. Looking back — if a network slot was unavailable — perhaps a YouTube series on their channel would have increased interest because what fans needed are the interaction and connection with them, and the constant updates to decide whether or not to hold on to a new group. It was a mistake on Pledis for not utilizing the gained momentum from debut well enough to keep it going. 

Having a huge international audience especially in China and Japan is what many companies strive for their artists, and it was what Pledis tried to achieve early on in Nu’est’s career. Late into 2013, less than two years into their career, Nu’est had already begun entering in the Chinese market. A new member Jason was added to the group, solely for Chinese promotions, creating NU’EST-M. They had their first tour in Japan in 2014. They also participated in other tours, events, and festivals in Latin America, Europe, Australia, and Thailand. 

Promoting this much in other countries during the first two years turned out to be a poor move on Pledis’ part.  While tackling different markets is effective to make the group known globally, Nu’est still had not established a strong presence in South Korea, which is essential to holding a stable spot among K-pop groups. They needed to increase support from their Korean fans first because that domestic support is what would have helped them in the long run within their native market. Eventually that domestic popularity would benefit them in the international market.  Sending Nu’est away from their homebase, even if they were promoting, felt like a long period of inactivity for the Korean fans.  This is an even bigger blunder on Pledis’ marketing and promotional team, which affected Nu’est’s presence in South Korea.

Others have criticized Pledis for their incapability to manage their artists, creating newer and younger groups while putting their older groups on the back burner. Girl group After School and their subgroup Orange Caramel has been inactive for a couple of years, and yet there seems to be no news for any comeback any time soon.  Originally a joint venture group with Fantagio, Pledis has completely dropped Hello Venus. While Nu’est has made a semi-recent comeback, Pledis’ focus has obviously shifted to the 13-member boy group Seventeen, who first debuted in 2015.

With Seventeen as the group that has accumulated more success in the market than any other group in the company, it’s not a surprise that Pledis would choose to promote them more. Pledis allowed Seventeen to grow and establish a strong presence and amass a large fandom in Korea before taking on other markets. Even during Nu’est’s rookie days from 2012 to 2013, and before Seventeen’s debut, Seventeen was given the chance to introduce themselves and start to gather fans and the hype for their debut, which is something Pledis did not do for Nu’est. With Pristin also in the industry now, it’s fair to assume that Pledis would focus more on their younger groups. Certain promotional strategies may only work for certain groups, but it still questions why Pledis had to resort to sending Nu’est to Produce 101, instead of giving the same opportunities they gave Seventeen to Nu’est.

Many would agree that it was the Nu’est members’ decision to be involved in the show, as the members said it themselves in the first episode, saying that it’s a way for them to improve and become better artists.  Certainly, there are other ways to show improvement as an artist, such as being involved in producing, composing, and writing songs and albums, and acting.

However, the members still voiced out their concerns:  “We’re thinking of this as our last chance. We’re here because we’re that desperate.”  Perhaps Pledis had given this as their last attempt, giving no more chances at other promotions or activities, which really leaves no other choice for the members. In which case, Nu’est is working to save themselves from a possible disbandment.  It’s possible that their moment to increase and make their fandom more stable is long gone, so as Pledis’ final measly effort, Nu’est became part of the show, a place where there’s always a surge of fans looking for new, talented idols they can support.  Then again, as cruel as it sounds, a disbandment may occur if Nu’est doesn’t pull through and if Pledis is really not willing to make other attempts after Produce 101.

Being optimistic, Nu’est’s participation on Produce 101 could also mark a change in Pledis’ strategy to promote Nu’est. With the bigger companies, such as SMJYP, and YG opting out of sending trainees this season, perhaps Pledis thought they might be able to showcase Nu’est better in the show. Nu’est also has an established fanbase to support them, unlike most other trainees. The attention they received from the show is probably the most they’ve gotten since their debut period. Despite it being controversial, being the seasoned artists in a trainee show is attention-grabbing. Other trainees even expressed their concerns about having to compete against the Nu’est members who already have the experiences as idols, making Nu’est a contender to look out for among the trainees. After this season, one can only hope for Nu’est to gain more fans and recognition in the future.

Whether or not this is the best strategy for Nu’est to increase in popularity, if all or any of the members advance to the final 11 and become part of the new boy group for a year, both Pledis and Nu’est are going to highly benefit from this. Nu’est, as all or any member, will debut under a different name, but will be promoted, and will be promoted effectively with comebacks and appearances on shows and radio, and other deals and activities, like what we saw with last year’s winners, I.O.I.

Despite promoting for less than a year, the final 11 girls that made up I.O.I. gained significant success and recognition in 2016. They made their way to the top of the charts and won multiple times on music programs. By the end of the year, the group racked up rookie awards from MAMA, Golden Disk Awards, and Seoul Music Awards. Each of the members also had a hefty individual fanbase that grew even more, which gave the whole group a huge public recognition. The group has made enormous endorsements throughout their promotions and even confirmed seven CF deals before debut. The success of the group in a short amount of time is something that many senior groups struggle to even reach. If Nu’est were to somehow make it, and the new boy group scores success as much as I.O.I did, then this would be a moment for them to take advantage of.

While being in the show doesn’t guarantee immediate success, as seen from the activities of the I.O.I girls after their days as a group, it could provide a stepping stone for Nu’est to get back up in the industry. As the show is highly publicized, Nu’est is bound to gain newer fans even if they don’t make it to the final 11. Their newly gained attention can be used to any future plans Pledis has for the group. Though, right now, this is a chance for the members to reveal more of their individual talents, for they are also competing against each other, and possibly prove the difference between experienced artists and rookies. Their results and efforts in the show is something Pledis can look as their potential and desire to stay in this fast-paced and demanding industry. Perhaps it will provide time to have a better outlook on Nu’est’s future in the company and industry, and discuss future plans.

These are only speculations as to why Pledis sent Nu’est to Produce 101, but there is no doubt that Nu’est’s decrease in popularity was a result of Pledis’ unsuccessful and sometimes lack of promotion throughout their career.  In comparison to Pledis’ past attempts, Nu’est’s involvement in Produce 101 is eventually advantageous for the group because no matter how they fare, the exposure of Produce 101 will provide the media exposure and the opportunities Pledis has been unable to give them.

All the best wishes to Nu’est in Produce 101 and the future of their careers!

(BNT News, Twitter: [1][2]. Images via Mnet, Asia Today, Pledis Entertainment.)