King Maker 4 began its first episode on November 1, 2021, forming the first local girl group that debuted under survival show. King Maker has been renowned for its variety in competition models, including repechage, election for eye-catching contestants, and mix-gender performances. The show features one-on-one battle and immediate eliminations as the new competition models this time.
The concepts of idol trainees, survival, and elimination have long appeared in the Asian showbiz industry. Yet, it was not until 2016 that survival shows went viral globally, with the newly launched program hailed from South Korea.
Development of survival shows over the world
In 2016, South Korea launched its first girl group survival show Produce 101 under Mnet, one of the most popular Korean TV stations. The triangular feature was one of its highlights, as appeared in the logo, with one contestant as the “center” for each performance. Citizens’ participation as “national producers” was another highlight, which allows citizens to participate in the decision-making process of a representative idol group by casting votes to their favourite contestants. The top-ranking contestants of each season would form a temporary group that promoted for one and a half years before disbanding.
Produce 101 gained quick success with its signature “battle royale” concept that records the growth and struggles of each contestant. Catching the trend, Mnet further launched three group survival shows, Produce 101 Season 2, Produce 48 and Produce X 101. Its success continued in the following years. A similar version of Produce 101 was even launched in Japan.
In 2018, China launched its first boy group survival show, Idol Producer, aired on iQIYI, featuring similar competition models of the Produce 101 series. Yet, it was criticized by Mnet for the violation of copyrights. One year later, iQIYI made its second attempt to launch its survival show Youth With You after obtaining a license from Mnet for a remake version. 2018 was the year when Chinese idols began to gain fame and fortune. C-pop flourished under the debut of China’s national boy group Nine Percent.
Hong Kong also launched its first boy group survival show, King Maker, in 2018, bringing along Mirror as the hidden gem of the showbiz industry. The show received negative comments from netizens at the beginning as it was accused of blindly following the trend and copying the model of survival shows. Netizens also compared the contestants to those in K-pop, criticizing that their abilities to sing and dance were not up to standard.
The breakthrough of survival shows
Survival shows have gained remarkable success in terms of the popularity of idol groups debuted as winners and values promoted during the shows over the world.
ViuTV has been praised for its creative programming that favours audiences of all age groups. King Maker, as one of its signature TV programs, helps scout loads of talented young idols. The growing popularity of Mirror further boosts the audience of ViuTV. In King Maker 2, members of Mirror even joined the teams of contestants and led their performances.
In South Korea, despite debuting under large-scale companies that guarantee fame and success, survival shows allow trainees from small-scale companies who lack a stage to shine. Individual trainees who are not under contract with any company are also welcomed, without the need to spend a long period as K-pop trainees. Daniel Kang, the first-place winner of Produce 101 Season 2, came from a small-scale company that suffered from a lack of budget until he could shine his way during the show. Wanna One, featuring him as the center, was by far the most successful Korean boy group, debuted under the Produce 101 series, which found fame with chart-topping albums within a short contract of one and a half years.
China breaks away from traditional beauty standards of female idols under Youth With You 2, which promotes greater visual variety and acceptance towards different forms of beauty. Liu Yuxin, the first-place winner of the show, is known for her boyish style with short hair and gender-neutral makeup. Apart from being cute or sexy, she brings a new concept of the girl group as “undefined” with her ultimately cool image.
The dark side of survival shows: It is all about wealth
Were the members of “national groups” fully determined by audiences? The Produce 101 scandal unveiled the show as a game of money. The scandal initially began with allegations of vote manipulation on Produce X 101. After months of investigations, the police discovered that Produce X 101 was not the only case. Vote manipulation encompassed all four seasons of the Produce 101 series instead. Ahn Jun-yoong, the director of the Produce 101 series, received bribes from companies wishing to let their trainees debut by having top rankings.
In November 2020, the Seoul High Court revealed the 12 contestants were unfairly eliminated under vote manipulation. Ahn Jun-yoong was soon arrested for allegations of vote manipulation as well. Although affected contestants received compensation, bribes tarnished their dreams badly.
In China, Youth With You 3 was ordered to halt its recording right before its final episode in May due to the escalation of improper idol-worshipping culture. On May 9, 2021, iQIYI officially announced the cancellation of the recording and its promise to uphold media social responsibility through the Weibo account for Youth With You 3.
We will strictly implement the relevant management regulations, suspend the program recording immediately, earnestly fulfill the main responsibility of the platform,” iQIYI announced.
Youth With You 3 developed its voting system under the sponsorship of Mengniu, a Chinese dairy products company. A QR code linked to the voting system was printed on the lid of bottled milk. Fans were required to scan the QR code to cast a vote for their favourite contestants. Chinese fans were purchasing large quantities of milk for the sake of obtaining more votes. Problems arose when Chinese fans were seen to be completely discarding the milk. A video capturing people pouring off the milk down the sewage went viral online, which was completely wasteful for Chinese fans to obtain voting codes only.
There were mounting criticisms online, blaming how the survival show had resulted in the unreasonable purchase of milk while the dumped milk should be donated to the poor. The unfair voting system favored those who were able to afford to purchase a huge amount of milk only was also heavily criticized. The incident was also one of the reasons why China established the crackdown on pop culture recently. President Xi ordered the clean-up of the entertainment industry in early September to cater to irrational fan culture and idol worshipping that distort values. Online voting that involves money transactions is banned in response to the incident.