Ever thought the pop idol model needed livening up?
Cai Trefor

11:11 11th January 2016

South Korea has come up with a new way to do reality pop TV. Whilst The Voice and The X Factor recycle the regular model of having one contestant at a time, Produce 101, which is set to be premiered on 22 January, sees 98 members performing all at once.

Trailer footage for the programme, features the 98 member girl group performing the song 'Pick Me' on stage together and it can be watched below. 

The girls, all of whom have had to live together since 5 December for the show, will battle it out over a series of ten episodes, to be the final 11 who receive an exclusive one year contract with CJ E&M. The winning group's name, concept, and song, will also be chosen on air, giving viewers the opportunity to see the full creative story behind the group.

Produce 101 have been put together by 46 different talent agencies from South Korea and beyond, and include many members under 18 as K-pop continues its focus on youth. SM and YG Entertainment, who are South Korea's most successful K-pop agencies, will not be taking part in the programme. However it is the second largest budgeted show on music channel Mnet, costing 4 billion won (£2.27 million).

There were originally supposed to be 101 members, hence the name, but there were some drop outs. The 98 member group is still the largest orchestrated K-pop performance of all time, though. 

K-pop is known for having large groups with the boy band EXO having 22 members. 11 of whom sing in Mandarin and another 11 sing in Korean. They operate in different geographical locations and release music simultaneously. But Produce 101 push the boat out much further in terms of numbers.

The programme will air at 11pm KST on 22 January on Mnet



  • 4Minute: It's been five years now since 4Minute's single 'HuH' was used by the South Korean government as psychological warfare against North Korea, in response to the country allegedly sinking a South Korean warship. Before airing a message across the border from South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, the government blasted out the song, which includes the lyrics, "Baby, you're kidding me? I do what I want and I do it my way." Half a decade on, and they're still going strong. 2015 single 'Crazy' is a thumping, trap-influenced banger.

  • Oh My Girl: The band gained the most attention from Western press when they were mistaken for sex workers and detained for 15 hours at Los Angeles International Airport before being forced to fly home. With any luck, these attention-grabbing headlines led some people to check out the band's music, because it's pretty great stuff.

  • CL: As a member of K-pop band 2NE1, CL quickly emerged as the group's most intriguing member. Donning clothes made by emerging menswear designers, and nurturing a penchant for rapping and a talent for songwriting, she's collaborated with the likes of Skrillex, Diplo and - for her sins - Psy. Rapping and singing in both English and Korean, she's been dubbed "the Rihanna of K-pop."

  • Amber Liu: Liu was the strongest subverter of pop idol convention in f(x) and has now started a solo career. The self-confessed tomboy, who is originally from Los Angeles, has an androgynous aesthetic and has become a poster girl for individuality and strength in the notoriously rigid concept-driven K-pop world. Her boundary breaking debut EP, Beautiful, was released in February last year.

  • DEAN: If you've been won over by Justin Bieber's surprisingly accomplished Purpose album, then you might find your entry to K-pop by way of 22-year-old R&B singer DEAN. 'Pour Up' showcases his crossover appeal like nothing else.

  • Twice: Despite having more members than you've had hot dinners (providing you've only ever had eight hot dinners that is), the multi-national group - five of whom are from South Korea - still each manage to portray distinctive styles and personalities. The video for 'Like Ooh Ah', for example, begins with the members dressed in school uniforms and cheerleader outfits. So far, so cliche. But it then explodes into a visual feast of zombies, UV-lit club bathrooms, and street dance, underpinned by an equally genre-melding song.

  • After School: There's a "admission-graduation system" operating within After School. Its members come in "generations", and are then "graduated" in a "natural" manner when it's time for them to go. Given the concern over hyper-sexualisation of young girls within the genre though, we should point out that all its members are well into their 20s and 30s, and the graduation process isn't just about age. 29-year-old Yoo So-Young has graduated from the band, while 32-year-old Kim Junguh is still going. Listen to 2013's 'First Love', a minimalist, R&B-influence track, the video for which sees Union Jack shorts a-plenty.

  • Girls' Generation: Credited with levelling the popularity gap between male and female K-pop bands, Girls' Generation are an eight-member group who've been going for nearly a decade. They've become so popular in that time that they've repeatedly been dubbed "The Nation's Singers." If you're a fan of Meghan Trainor, check out 'Lion Heart', and if you're more of a Katy Perry person, try 'Party'.

  • G-Dragon: G-Dragon, real name Kwon Ji-yong, started his career in 2006 with Big Bang after being a trainee with Y.G. entertainment between the ages of 8 and 13 and he's still a member of the band. His solo career launched in 2009 and his album, Heartbreaker, went to No.1 - as did 2013’s Coup d'Etat. G-Dragon’s sound is heavily influenced by american pop and hip hop and his image is a strong component of his success. His dabbling in high fashion have made him something of an icon in South Korea, and the fashion elite are catching up. Chanel invested $60 million in YG Entertainment in 2014. Here he is with Johnny Depp's daughter, and fellow Chanel model, Lily Rose Depp.

  • EXO: EXO are a Chinese/Korean boy band consisting of twelve members separated into two subgroups, EXO-K (pictured) and EXO-M. One group sing in Korean while the other sing in Mandarin. They release the same music simultaneously in Korea and China. This bizarre, unashamedly manufactured band became the fastest selling Korean band in 12 years when their debut album XOXO was released.

  • f(x): Formed in 2009, f(x) are the dark horse of Korean girl groups, having avoided K-pop’s conventional aesthetic of ‘sexy’ or ‘cute’. The band, whose stylish dance routines sample everything from Bollywood to hip hop, began to gain international success when they became the first K-pop band to play SXSW in 2013. It appears experimental fashion and an eclectic electro pop sound goes a long way to gaining international credibility.

  • SHINee: Since they formed in 2008 when their youngest member, Taemin, was only 14, SHINee have gone on to become huge, and played at Tokyo Done to 110,000 people last year. Their energy as live performers has helped sustain their following as their choreographed dance moves with their upbeat deep house and pop sound are considered among the best in K-pop.

  • WINNER: On paper, WINNER's origins sound about as manufactured as they come. They were introduced as Team A in the reality survival program Who Is Next: WIN, and competed against Team B to become YG Entertainment's first boy group in eight years. They beat out Team B, and were aptly named WINNER. Their music defies these origins though - it's mid-tempo, hip-hop inspired pop, and all members have writing credits.

  • Big Bang: This boy band hit No.1 in South Korean with 'Lies' in 2007, and stayed there for seven weeks. Since then they’ve gone from strength to strength. Their album Tonight became the very first K-pop album to reach the Top 10 on the US iTunes chart and had the largest K-pop arena tour in United States history. They will release their third album next month on their label Y.G. Entertainment, who are the biggest players in the K-pop industry, and put out Psy’s 'Gangnam Style’. Big Bang are the labels most successful act though.

Photo: WENN