Awhile ago, I vowed to never watch another survival show that results in a temporary idol group. I’ve had my heartbroken by them more than once in the past year, and I’m not going to let it happen again. So why am I watching Produce X 101, as if I think things will go differently this time? If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, I am definitely not insane. I fully expect to have my heart ripped to shreds by Produce X 101 and the group’s inevitably short life span. So if I’m not crazy, I must just be a sucker for pain. I know I’m in for heartbreak, but along the way I’ll be treated to some incredibly engaging stories and a kick-ass winning idol group. K-pop survival shows don’t play around, they’ve seriously perfected the art of emotional manipulation, and ipdeok is in abundance. It’s near impossible to NOT become a fan once you’ve been exposed. I’ve learned this the hard way, because a year ago I knew nothing of temp groups and K-pop survival shows, or the havoc they could wreak on my delicate heart.
Since becoming a K-pop fan, one of my favorite things to do is listen to Youtube MVs on autoplay while I do my work. I prefer it to other streaming apps because the algorithm for random play is more intuitive; I get more of what I want to hear. I generally just play it as background music, but occasionally something catches the corner of my eye and I pay attention. Such was the case on January 17, 2018, when an MV popped up that was so colorful and mesmerizing that I couldn’t help but stop what I was doing and sit riveted to the screen. It was JBJ’s “My Flower.” If you’ve never seen it, just stop reading and watch it now. Even if you’ve seen it, watch it again, and tell me it isn’t candy-colored perfection! I declared it on the spot as my favorite MV of 2018, and I stand by that statement over a year later.
When I saw JBJ “My Flower,” it was love at first sight. I watched the MV at least five times through right from the get-go. And when I picked my girls up from school later that day, I informed them that I’d discovered a group with whom we were all going to fall in love. The three of us watched it about five more times together that afternoon. We made a pact that we would watch it at least once a day from there on out. We jumped headfirst into a JBJ rabbit hole, learning their names, picking our biases, and seeking out content beyond “My Flower.” There wasn’t an overwhelming amount of material to watch, so we absorbed almost everything in just a few days. They were a relatively new group, so we got even more excited that we’d gotten in on the ground floor of a K-pop fandom we could grow with in the years ahead. There was something worrisome though. We kept seeing the words “temporary group” pop up in JBJ’s profiles. Apparently they’d formed on a reality show called Produce 101, with which we were unfamiliar. We understood about groups formed on reality shows, like One Direction and Fifth Harmony, so that wasn’t odd to us. What was strange was the “temporary” word. What the heck was a temporary group?
You wouldn’t think you could have your heart broken after only being in love a few days, but you’d be wrong. We soon learned that temporary meant just that: a group that would only exist temporarily for a predetermined amount of time. WTF?!?!? They lure us in, make us fall in love, and then ghost us just like that?!? And I’m not talking about a five year or even a two year relationship, where you might be getting complacent or a little sick of each other toward the end. No, this was going to end after SEVEN MONTHS, which isn’t even past the googly-eyed newlywed phase!! And for us, it was not even seven months, since we’d missed out on the first four!!!! Our love affair with JBJ was slated to end in April, just three months after our whirlwind first date. We were absolutely crestfallen, but determined to absorb as much JBJ content as we could from then until the bitter end. We followed news of their possible contract extension the way others follow election results. We marked the calendar with the date their last MV was scheduled to drop like it was a national holiday, and shed tears as we watched their final promotions. Aaaaaaaagggghhhhhhhhh!!!!!! How could JBJ end this way?!?!???!?!
Like a jilted lover will harden their heart to new prospects, we determined to never ever fall for a temporary group again. In the weeks after stanning JBJ, we learned of other temporary groups, most notably Wanna One, a hugely popular group that was the actual winning team from Produce 101 Season 2. Rainz was another group formed from that same season. We really liked Wanna One’s “Boomerang” and Rainz’ “Turn It Up,” but we purposely stopped ourselves from learning members’ names, picking biases or stanning either group in any way, shape, or form. We could like Wanna One and Rainz, but they had to remain at arm’s length; we refused to form an attachment to them. The clock was ticking for our beloved JBJ, and we could already taste the bitterness of saying goodbye.
Then in April my daughter heard “Feeling,” a song she fell in love with by a group called UNB. She played it for me on the way home from school, and I loved it too. We checked out UNB’s other single “Only One” and loved that as well. We wanted to stan!! We did what we always do and read Kprofiles.com to learn about the group. Shut. The Front. Door. UNB were a… we couldn’t even bear to say the words. We just looked at each other and moaned in unison, “NOOOOOOOOooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!” UNB were a temporary group. They’d formed on a recent survival show called The Unit, and they were slated to end in October. Ugh, could we do this?? Could we go through this with another group when the ink on the death certificate for JBJ wasn’t even dry yet? We learned that one of the members of UNB was from another group we loved, A.C.E, but that didn’t sway us, we were dead set against stanning UNB.
That’s when a disruptor in the form of an idol group called Imfact kicked my steely resolve right in the shins. We insta-stanned Imfact in one day, and part of our deep-dive was discovering that four of the five members had been on The Unit. Oh boy… Now there was no question I was going to watch The Unit, but I couldn’t admit it out loud. I started watching it on the sly, but found it so addictive that I couldn’t keep it a secret. I admitted my weakness to the girls and they joined me in watching The Unit together. We told ourselves we could do it without falling for UNB, because after all, we were only interested in Imfact and A.C.E… Unfortunately we were wrong. We binged The Unit in a week, and by the finale were lamenting that this amazing winning group was going to dissolve in less than a year. Why? WHY!!?!?!? Why did we do this to ourselves?
I experienced major survival show withdrawal after binging The Unit. I’d become a masochist for the heartbreak of “cut days” and the melodrama of team challenges. I wanted to watch Produce 101 Season 2 but had difficulty finding subbed full episodes. I found myself viewing whatever poorly-cobbled PD101 content I could find on the internet like a wino chugging half-empty bottles from a dumpster. I further satisfied my cravings by watching the W.I.N. and Stray Kids survival shows. It felt safer to watch a series if I knew the winning team was not temporary. When I learned that a competing survival show, Mixnine, had taped at the same time as The Unit, I was intrigued, but wary. The winning team from Mixnine never even got to debut, and that sounded far too painful for me to endure. Subbed full episodes of Mixnine continually tempted me from my suggested viewing list. Youtube was the pusher that just wouldn’t let the junkie go free. As I began to stan more and more groups that had connections to Mixnine (A.C.E, KNK, ONF, Seven O’Clock, Oneus, Ateez!!) it was becoming harder and harder to stand my ground. The tipping point was my obsession with Mixnine’s “Love In the Ice” cover.
This version of “Love in the Ice” can’t even be described with words, it can only be experienced. I downloaded it nearly a year ago, but I still re-watch the video at least once a week. If you don’t clutch your heart when it hits the “sesang kkeute hollo” part then you really aren’t human. But I flew too close to the sun when I watched the Mixnine episode focused on the making of “Love in the Ice.” I only intended to watch that one episode, and solely for the purpose of seeing how perfection was created. But it pushed me into the abyss, and I pulled my girls in with me. We once again subjected ourselves to the torture of watching talented kids get heartlessly criticized for our entertainment. Mixnine had all the survival show tropes: judges sighing, idols crying, grandmas dying. These shows really are the cruelest mistresses. And I can’t say no to them.
So now here we are, only four episodes into Produce X 101, and I’m hooked beyond all hope. I’m rooting for my Victon, Up10tion, and Myteen boys to do well, but not so well that they actually win. The reason is because the PDX101 temporary group will be for five years. That’s years, not months, and I don’t want these already-debuted idols to be away from their awesome existing groups for that long. Instead, the ones I’m really hoping will win are the un-debuted trainees, of which I have several favorites and one top pick in particular. And I’m saying this right here and now, a solemn vow that I will not break: if Choi Suhwan gets cut from this season, I will stop watching PDX101, boycott the winning team, and I will never ever ever watch another K-pop survival show ever again.*
*There’s just a little bit of bullshit in all that, right? 😁