Everyone will probably agree that ‘PRODUCE 101’ series is one of the most sensational survival programs that Mnet ever invented.
The idea of forming a group that satisfied the public’s every need and want was intriguing to everyone. They became “national producers” to pick and choose the members they wanted, designing a girl/boy group with the nation’s favorites. As a result, ‘Produce 101′ successfully gave birth to ‘I.O.I’ and ‘Wanna One.’
Indeed, the program had a good intention of providing an equal and fair opportunity for every trainee to debut. However, I believe that it also called attention to the bitter reality of Korean society.
Whether intentionally or accidentally, every step and segment from the program is a representation of the harsh life of the youth community in South Korea.
1. The “Pick Me” Generation
The youth community in South Korea, specifically the Millennials to Generation Z, started calling themselves as the “Pick Me” generation. This phrase conveys that they are willing to do anything to “get picked” by a higher authority.
To further explain, here is a list of trainees who were on the more popular side of the spectrum: Kang Daniel, Park Ji-Hoon, Choi Yoo-Jung, and Jung Chae-Yeon.
They all had one unique thing that immediately caught everyone’s attention and guaranteed a spot in I.O.I and Wanna One. Kang Daniel’s ‘sexy thigh dance‘ and Park Ji-Hoon’s signature ‘save in my heart’ swept many nuna’s off their feet. Choi Yoo-Jung’s breathtaking dance skills and Jung Chae-Yeon’s legendary ending pose in ‘Into the New World’ are no-doubt what helped them to become the I.O.I members.
Just like these trainees, the members in the youth community of South Korea are willing to do ANYTHING to get noticed. However, only in reality, they do so to continue earning the basic rights as a human, such as receiving higher education. This refers to middle schoolers moving onto high school, and high schoolers moving onto college. LITERALLY, basics of life that should be granted to everyone, equally.
Since elementary school, it is normal that they work on materials at least 3 grades up their age. From the moment they wake up, they go to school, art class, English class, Math class, and other extracurricular activities. This is so that they can start building their qualifications to get into the school they want, but most importantly, the society approves. The amount of things they have to do just to receive better education? It is bizarre.
2. Conform to the Society
South Korea still counts as one of the relatively conservative countries. Most people, afraid of becoming a target for criticism, tend to hold back their opinions and desires.
While picking out positions in group missions in ‘Produce 101,’ trainees who wanted the center or main vocalist position were frequently portrayed as “greedy.” While they were only doing what was necessary to survive, their determination was twisted as greed. For example, Ahn Hyeong-Seop from season 2 of ‘Produce 101’ suddenly became a “whiner” when he expressed his disappointment of moving down a rank.
Much like the program, the current Korean society doesn’t provide the platform for people to speak out or express their desires. It wants people to conform and do the “bare minimum,” while doing “bare minimum” doesn’t get them anywhere.
An example can be found in the common Korean company’s recruitment process. On top of submitting a resume, cover letter, and going through the interviews, Koreans also have to take a personality and aptitude test. In order to receive a job offer, people reshape and mutate themselves into the ideal person the company is looking for. They absolutely cannot reveal their true selves and dare risk a chance to question the society.
Just like trainee Yoon Hee-Seok said from season 2 of ‘Produce 101’ : “If you don’t have the greed, what is the point of coming on this program?”
3. Inevitable Break Up and Never-ending Competition
Lastly, the participants in the program go through all these hardships, only to be contracted for a limited amount of time.
All the project groups from ‘Produce 101’ – I.O.I, Wanna One, JBJ, and Rainz are all contracted to promote only for a certain amount of time. After the contract expires, they either go back to being trainees or start from the bottom to establish a whole new fandom.
Just like this, the youth in South Korea pass through the competitiveness from elementary school to college, just to become a contract worker. Since South Korea is a small country with big expectations, there only a few companies they consider worthy enough to work. And even if you are lucky enough to work for them, most cases are that they don’t want you working as a regular-status employee. It is truly a never-ending competition for South Koreans.
‘Competition’ has always been present in the entertainment industry, as well as the society across the globe. At this point, it is a bitter truth that it even became a normality and necessity for a society to function properly.
By. Dasol Kim
Disclaimer: The opinions or views contained in this article may not represent the opinions or views of Kpoplove, The Korea Daily, its employees, agents or affiliates.