In the wake of two successful idol group debuts on Hangout with Yoo, Yoo Jae-suk has done it again. This time, he has spearheaded the launch of the ballad powerhouse, MSG Wannabe, a play on the popular trio vocal group SG Wannabe. Under his new moniker, Yoo Ya-ho, his goal is simple: to recreate the old school and nostalgic ambience that SG Wannabe songs are known for. 

MSG Wannabe is far from the likes of the show’s last few musical endeavours. Unlike Yoo Jae-suk’s time as Yoo San-seul, U-Doragon in SSAK3, and manager Jimmy Yoo of Refund Sisters, Yoo Ya-ho handpicks his members through blind auditions. Though sporting a similar bowl cut to Jimmy Yoo, Yoo Ya-ho is said to be his twin brother. Contrary to his extravagant counterpart, Yoo Ya-ho dons a neat hanbok and handheld fan, and is a “hipster who loves tradition”. In other words, he is in touch with his Korean roots. Comically, Yoo Ya-ho’s name is also a play on the accidental viral phrase, “moo ya ho” (무야호), from Infinite Challenge

Dubbed “top ten ears”, Yoo Ya-ho claims that his ears can pick up on songs that will chart within the top ten. He surely does not disappoint when filtering out the voices he favours during the blind auditions. Living up to his claim, Yoo Ya-ho is even spot on to point out that Wonstein, under the moniker of Park Hae-il, is a rapper who sings with his trendy voice. Selecting potential members solely based on their voices and granting them nicknames like Jim Carrey and Lee Seung-gi to remain anonymous, he is impartial when judging. Though skilled singers like Jannabi‘s Choi Jung-hoon audition, Yoo Ya-ho is clear about who he wants.

The element of suspense during the blind auditions is a neat addition to the previous music projects. While some (Ji Suk-jin and KCM) have distinct voices that are easily recognisable, others like Wonstein and Lee Dong-hwi are a pleasant surprise. 

The show effortlessly delivers when it comes to music. With a project that prioritises vocals, viewers are frequently treated to soulful harmonies, especially when the auditionees are randomly grouped to perform a song. Upon MSG Wannabe’s formation, Yoo Ya-ho makes a wise decision to pick Laboum’s “Journey to Atlantis” as the group’s first song. Not only is it catchy, but it was also reentering the charts at the time. Moreover, it shows off the newly formed group’s ability to play to their strengths despite being quickly put together. 

Summer is not often associated with ballads. Many would expect ballads to be released during the colder months instead. Yet Hangout with Yoo attempts to change that and break through the charts with a summer ballad for the group’s sub-units, M.O.M and JSDK. While it can feel like having warm soup on a hot summer day, the two teams make it work.

M.O.M’s “Foolish Love” is the closest to Yoo Ya-ho’s initial wish, emulating a similar nostalgia to SG Wannabe’s songs. Likewise, the team comments that it is reminiscent of the 2000s while recalling vivid memories of walking down a busy street on a summer day. In other words, it is a refreshing ballad. Meanwhile, JSDK, consisting of Jung Ki-seok (better known as Simon Dominic), Park Jung-min, Lee Dong-hwi and Lee Sang-yi, are given a jazzy ballad, “Only You”, which perfectly captures the sentimentality of a summer night. 

The show’s structure is similar to the previous music projects. Viewers get a peek at previews and behind-the-scenes snippets of the songs. Part of the tracks play over and over again throughout the episodes, gradually etching themselves in viewer’s minds. While the songs themselves are impressive, arguably, this ploy leaves viewers wanting more and ultimately helps the songs rise on the charts. And as expected, Yoo Ya-ho proves that he is a producer with the touch of Midas. To little surprise, both M.O.M’s and JSDK’s songs were strong performers on the music charts alongside digital monsters BTS and Aespa

Likewise, Hangout With Yoo affirms its influence and popularity by casting vocal groups that are otherwise unlikely to appear on TV. In its final episode, the show invites big names like V.O.S (Voice of Soul), Big Mama, and of course, SG Wannabe. Moreover, when SG Wannabe first meets Yoo Ya-ho on the show, they perform a few of their hits, like “Timeless”, “La La La”, and “Partners for Life”. After their appearance, a handful of SG Wannabe’s releases re-entered the music charts. Similarly, the members of MSG Wannabe were also highly sought after. Although not explicitly shown on Hangout with Yoo, the members appeared on radio and music shows, had magazine shoots, and some were even selected to model alongside Samsung products.

Unfortunately, with vocals in the front seat, cast chemistry is put on the back burner. While variety seniors Ji Suk-jin and Yoo Jae-suk constantly look to cultivate new variety stars, viewers are not given privy to most of the cast’s charms, other than through the short individual interviews Yoo Ya-ho holds in the earlier episodes. Alongside already established figures like Ji Suk-jin and the outspoken Lee Dong-hwi, variety rookies like Wonstein and Parc Jae-jung are barely in the spotlight. At other times, Kim Jung-min and KCM’s presence is also hardly felt. With the show spanning over 15 episodes and having eight members, it is understandable that not everyone can be spotlighted. Still, you wish that their interactions were shown more, as seen in their various interviews, because at the heart of it, Hangout With Yoo is still a variety show. 

Regardless, MSG Wannabe dominated the charts just like SSAK3 did last summer. Perhaps, Hangout With Yoo has finally found its niche after three successful musical projects. Which makes me wonder, what genre will the next project be? 

(Korea JoongAng Daily, Korea Times, SBS, 민중의소리. YouTube[1][2][3][4][5][6][7]. Images via MBC)