The Korea Herald


[Grace Kao] The manifold groups of 'Boys Planet'

By Korea Herald

Published : Feb. 27, 2024 - 16:53

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Even in the world of K-pop, there are second chances.

The Mnet idol audition show “Boys Planet” aired from Feb. 2 to April 20, 2023. It featured 98 male trainees (49 from Korea or the “K Group” and 49 non-Koreans/global trainees or the “G Group”) who would compete for praise from celebrity judges and votes from the viewers in Korea and abroad. The top-ranked nine contestants would debut in a new boy group. Audience members could vote for a limited number of contestants during each round.

While I have watched a few other K-pop audition shows, I had never watched one as it aired in South Korea. For the first time, I could vote for my favorite trainees. I became invested in them and the results of each vote -- would my favorites make it to the next round? What would happen if they didn’t make it to the Final 9? Would I ever see them again? As it turns out, I didn’t have to worry.

These shows are edited and staged to maximize suspense and drama, but that doesn’t make them less entertaining. Some contestants were shown to be nurturing and kind while others were shown to be selfish and cruel. A few of the producers’ favorite trainees enjoyed more screen time than others. The non-Korean trainees were doubly disadvantaged as they also had to learn to speak and sing in Korean. Still, all had sacrificed many years of their youth for the chance of becoming an idol, and part of me wanted everyone to “make it.”

There was a vast range of experiences among the contestants. Hui (or Lee Hoe-taek on the show) had already debuted many years ago as the leader and main vocalist of Pentagon and later Triple H, and he had just returned from his military service. Members of Ciipher, Nine.i, and Up10tion were also contestants on the show. I recognized familiar faces from “Loud,” another audition show. Of course, there were also inexperienced trainees who were thrown into the mix.

As promised, the top nine contestants became members of the new group Zerobaseone (ZB1), under a joint venture between Wakeone and CJ ENM. They debuted on July 10, 2023. As a fan, I’ve enjoyed their songs and am delighted by their success. Many of my favorite contestants made it to the final lineup, (I voted for Seok Matthew in every round) and like everyone else, I loved Sung Han Bin. I rooted for Ricky and Zhang Hao. However, there were so many other talented artists whom I also supported.

What surprised me was what happened next.

On Sept. 19, 2023, Jellyfish Entertainment debuted the group Evnne, a seven-member group whose members were all on “Boys Planet.” The group included one of my favorites Park Hanbin (ranked No. 11) and the outstanding singer Yoo Seungeon (16). Keita (12) from Ciipher and a memorable favorite on Boys Planet was their leader. Who can resist their choreography and Park Hanbin’s facial expressions in “Trouble?” (Although I really like “Even More.”)

About a week later, TOZ, a Japanese pop group under YY Entertainment debuted on Sept. 27, 2023. All four of their members were also from “Boys Planet,” including the memorable Takuto (27). Haruto (now Hart, ranked 22) was familiar to me from the show “Loud.”

On Nov. 15, 2023, FNC Entertainment debuted its new seven-member boy group, Amper&One (a cute “wink-wink-nudge-nudge” to Zerobaseone), which included three trainees from “Boys Planet.” I recognized Na Kamden (17) and remembered from the show that he had a twin brother. “On and On” is their catchy debut song.

Jay Chang (ranked No. 10) stood out for his great voice. He released a solo album, and later I learned that he would be part of One Pact, a five-member group whose members were all contestants on “Boys Planet.”

TIOT, which had a quiet pre-debut on Aug. 23, 2023, is a four-member group whose members were also all on “Boys Planet.” They are scheduled to debut sometime in 2024.

The multi-talented Hui (ranked No. 13) is back with a solo song and his interviews and performances suggest that he’s enjoying this phase of his career. I like Pentagon, but after “Boys Planet,” I have definitely become a fan of Hui. Wang Zihao (19) debuted under the stage name LE’V. Hiroto (21) is in the pre-debut group NXD, which mostly includes former contestants of the rival audition show “Fantasy Boys.” Ollie (26) is now a contestant on the Hong Kong-based idol audition show “Asia Super Young.” Many others have releases planned for the future.

Honestly, I love that so many of the Boys Planet contestants stayed in the spotlight after the show ended. It makes smart business sense for these companies to take trainees who are talented and fresh on the minds of audience members and immediately debut them in a new group. For their fans, these men are the ones that got away (from Zerobaseone, that is), but now they can have them back. Perhaps Boys Planet did not intend to proliferate manifold boy groups, but I’m happy that it did.

By Grace Kao

Grace Kao is an IBM professor of sociology and professor of ethnicity, race and migration at Yale University. -- Ed.