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Aspiring singers compete for girl band slots

In Mnet's TV show "Produce 48," 96 idol trainees from Korea and Japan, including former members of popular Japanese girl group AKB48, will compete to make the cut for a Korea-Japan girl band. Once its 12 members are chosen, the multinational girl group will debut and perform in both countries. Yonhap

Mnet's new show features Korean, Japanese trainees

By Park Jin-hai

Mnet, which launched the idol survival show "Produce 101" series into consecutive successes and created smash-hit fandom-based project groups I.O.I and Wanna One in 2016 and 2017, unveiled the third season, now named "Produce 48."

The new show is a joint project between Korea's Mnet and Japan's AKS, the entertainment company for the popular Japanese girl group AKB48.

"With Asia's presence in global music markets including North America and the U.K. expanding, we believed it is high time for the countries to join hands and build up more steam," the show's chief producer Kim Yong-beom said, explaining the purpose of the show during a press conference at Imperial Palace in Seoul, Monday.

Mentioning BTS topping the U.S. Billboard music chart and Japan being the world's second-largest music market, Kim said the two sides "agreed we should work together to lead the Asian music scenes."

AKB48 was based on the concept of "idols you can meet" and unlike other idol groups that perform occasional concerts and appear primarily on television, AKB48 members enjoyed huge popularity by performing regularly and meeting fans at their own theater in Tokyo.

Ninety-six trainees from Korea and Japan including former members of AKB48 will compete to make the cut for the final 12 members who will debut as a "global" girl group performing in both countries.

"Produce 48" will maintain the "national producer" system of previous "Produce 101" series where viewers cast live text votes for their favorite trainees. Although the show will air concurrently in both nations, only Koreans will participate in the text voting, because AKB48's former members already have huge fandoms in Japan.

"Because the AKB48 members are incredibly popular in Japan, we determined the gap is just too large with the Korean trainees. Of course, there are some Korean participants that have already debuted, but generally, the Korean trainees are starting with no fan base, so voting will be done exclusively in Korea," Kim explained.

The top 12 finalists will debut as an all-girl project group and perform for two and a half years under contract, the longest compared with I.O.I's one year and Wanna One's one and a half years.

"In the Asian idol music industry, Korea has become a mecca similar to Hollywood for movies and the Major League for baseball. In the past, Korean musicians traveled to other Asian countries to sell their music but now it seems like Asian musicians are rushing to Korea to raise their value and paint bigger pictures as artists," said Lee Moon-won, a culture critic. "Produce 48 is the program that sprung up naturally in that big cultural flow."

Prior to the show's premiere on June 15, online communities already show signs of overheating. Although producer Ahn Jun-young said, "I hope this show isn't seen as a competition between Korea and Japan," the online community has been heated with mainly negative comments saying "It seems like now that K-pop's place has been elevated, J-pop is getting a free ride on the K-pop bandwagon."

Along with repeated concerns of promoting a "Lolita" concept and packaging trainees as sex objects as in the show's first season, other controversies have been raised that some Japanese trainees have a right-wing political bias.

That said, the official video where all 96 trainees sang the show's title song "Pick Me" hit 4.4 million YouTube clicks in eight days after it was released on May 10. "Produce 48" will premiere on Mnet on June 15 at 11 p.m.