It’s not easy keeping TV hip-hop battles amped: The travails of Season 8 of ‘Show Me the Money’ show how hard it can be

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It’s not easy keeping TV hip-hop battles amped: The travails of Season 8 of ‘Show Me the Money’ show how hard it can be


Top left: “Show Me the Money 8” contestants YunB and YOUNG B face off in a rap battle. Top right: Swings, producer and judge of “Show Me the Money 8,” faces accusations of favoring contestants. Above: Contestants on MBN’s new hip hop competition “Sign Here” compete for a chance to sign with AOMG, the label founded by rapper Jay Park. [MNET, MBN]

It’s no exaggeration to say that “Show Me the Money” changed Korean hip-hop history.

Ever since TV channel Mnet launched the successful rap competition series in 2012, the genre has gone totally mainstream in Korea and won over the hearts of listeners across all demographics.

But Season 8 of “Show Me the Money” is struggling to find its footing with viewers. A boost in the ratings is definitely needed - the show has seen viewer ratings consistently fall after peaking in Season 4.

The days when viewers eagerly counted down the days to stream original music from the show are long gone. “Bada,” one of the more promising tracks released last month by Season 8 contestants Woodie Gochild, CHOILB, BIG Naughty, YOUNG B and Chillin Homie, barely lasted a week on the top 50 on the Korea Music Content Association’s comprehensive Gaon Music Chart. Back in Season 5, songs like “Day Day” by contestant BewhY stayed in the top 10 for nearly two months.

The poor performance of this season is likely to be no real surprise to the show producers, as Mnet knows how hard it is to keep a music competition program going for more than eight seasons. Mnet’s “Superstar K” singing competition series was discontinued after eight seasons and seven years as viewer ratings continued to decline.

To prevent “Show Me the Money” from also ending with a whimper, Mnet pulled out the stops to promote Season 7 last year, branding it grandly as “Show Me the Money 777.” The season managed to uncover fresh talent like Nafla - who won the competition - and Loopy, rappers both active in the United States.

So far, the only thing Season 8 seems to offer is controversy. Many of the contestants are former “Show Me the Money” participants, to the point that it’s almost startling to actually see a new face like TAKUWA or BIG Naughty. Given that a record 16,000 people applied to take part in Season 8, the lack of fresh blood has led to fulsome criticism of the show for favoring rappers with connections, especially connections to Swings, one of the judges.

Swings, who’s served as a judge and music producer for three seasons of the series, heads record labels Indigo Music, Just Music and Wedaplugg Records. Several of this season’s contestants came from these labels, as the show allows rappers already under labels to compete.

In fact, some of the most controversial participants this season have been artists recording for Swings’ labels. Indigo Music’s YOUNG B, for example, who won Mnet’s teenage hip-hop competition “High School Rapper” in 2017, is currently facing accusations of having been a bully in school. Viewers also took issue with how Yunhway and Lil tachi, both Wedaplugg artists, were able to stay in the competition for so long when they either lost battles or made big mistakes during performances.

Some are criticizing Mnet for structuring this season poorly. Season 8 is the first time since Season 2 that the judges have been divided into two teams instead of four. The goal of grouping judges into teams is so they can help contestants battle each other.

Viewers were aware that artists from Swings’ labels were serving as judges on both teams, which could undermine the fairness of the show. Kid Milli of Indigo Music is on the same team as Swings, while Giriboy of Just Music is on the opposing team.

As the criticisms swelled, Swings went on Instagram to explain how he wasn’t practicing favoritism, although not everyone was convinced.

“‘Show Me the Money’ will find it difficult to attract viewers if it fails to produce a new star like BewhY from Season 5,” assessed music critic Kim Yoon-ha. “Unlike other music competition shows, the series had the advantage of spotlighting Korea’s hip-hop scene, but with the same cast appearing again and again, [the series] is becoming like stagnant water.”

Given the struggles of “Show Me the Money,” MBN’s new hip-hop competition show “Sign Here” provides a refreshing alternative.

Although all five judges of “Sign Here” - Jay Park, Simon Dominic, Gray, Code Kunst and Woo Won Jae - hail from the AOMG label and have all appeared on “Show Me the Money,” the show has managed to avoid bad press so far.

“Sign Here” is also a radical initiative in that winners of the show are given the opportunity to sign on to AOMG, one of the biggest labels for hip-hop. By contrast, the prize for “Show Me the Money 8” is 200 million won ($167,850), an opportunity to release an album, a car and an 18K gold ring.

The judges on “Sign Here” are unique in that they aren’t just looking for a good rapper, but a multi-talented artist who can also sing and produce music. The show invites guest judges from a variety of music genres like R&B singer Gummy to assess contestants from different perspectives.


인맥 힙합 논란 ‘쇼미8’…이제 그만해야 할 때?

한국 힙합은 ‘쇼미더머니’(쇼미) 이전과 이후로 나뉜다고 해도 과언이 아니다. 2012년 Mnet에서 정통 힙합 서바이벌을 표방한 ‘쇼미’가 시작된 이후 힙합은 전 연령대가 함께 소비하는 대중음악이 됐다. 허세 돋는 ‘스웨그(swag)’는 비단 힙합뿐 아니라 대중문화 전반을 아우르는 키워드가 된 것이다.

하지만 지난 7월 시작한 ‘쇼미더머니8’은 영 맥을 못 추고 있다. 2015년 시즌 4에서 최고 시청률 3.5%(닐슨코리아 기준)를 기록한 이후 줄곧 하향곡선을 그리고 있는 시청률(13일 1.4%)은 차치하더라도 영향력도 예전만 못하다. 새로운 음원이 출시됐다 하면 차트 줄 세우기를 하던 것도 모두 옛날얘기가 됐다. 우디고차일드·최엘비·서동현·영비·칠린호미가 함께 부른 ‘바다’가 40위권에 올라 체면치레를 했을 뿐이다.

이번 시즌의 흥행 실패는 예견된 결과이기도 하다. 2009년 시작한 ‘슈퍼스타K’ 역시 ‘슈퍼스타K 2016’으로 마무리했던 것처럼 여덟 번째 시즌은 오디션 프로그램이 넘어서기 힘든 ‘마의 구간’이기 때문이다. 이를 누구보다 잘 아는 Mnet은 지난해 ‘쇼미더머니777(트리플세븐)’으로 명명하고 대대적으로 홍보했다. 마치 마지막 시즌이 될 것 같은 뉘앙스를 풍기며 나플라·루피 등 새로운 래퍼들을 끌어내는 데 성공했다.

하지만 올해는 재출연자들이 대거 올라오면서 타쿠와·서동현 등 처음 보는 얼굴이 더 드물 정도. 1만6000명이 지원해 역대 최다 참가 인원을 경신했음에도 인맥 힙합에 대한 비난이 끊이지 않는 이유다. 특히 시즌 2 참가자로 시작해 세 시즌(3, 7, 8)째 프로듀서로 출연하고 있는 스윙스는 그 중심에 있는 인물이다.

그가 수장으로 있는 레이블 인디고뮤직·저스트뮤직·위더플럭 소속 가수들이 대거 출연한 것. 인디고뮤직 소속 키드밀리는 스윙스와 같은 팀 프로듀서로, 저스트뮤직 소속 기리보이는 상대 팀 프로듀서로 나와 팀별 정체성이 모호하다. 시즌3부터 5년간 고수해온 4팀 체제에서 2팀 체제로 돌아간 것을 두고 “프로듀서 섭외에 실패한 것 아니냐”는 비판의 목소리도 나온다. 김윤하 음악평론가는 “출연자가 계속 반복되면서 완벽하게 고인 물이 되어버렸다”고 지적했다.

게다가 이번 시즌에서 논쟁을 불러일으킨 참가자들은 모두 스윙스와 직간접적인 관계를 맺고 있다. 인디고뮤직 소속 영비는 ‘고등래퍼1’에서 우승을 차지한 실력파지만 학교 폭력 논란에서 자유롭지 못한 상황. 잇단 가사 실수에도 합격한 윤훼이, 일대일 경연에서 패했지만 패자부활전으로 돌아온 릴타치도 위더플럭 소속이다.

이런 상황에서 지난달 시작한 MBN ‘사인히어’가 되려 주목받고 있다. 박재범·사이먼 도미닉·그레이·코드 쿤스트 등 프로듀서로 출연하거나 시즌6에서 3위를 한 우원재 등 ‘쇼미’와 떼려야 뗄 수 없는 인연을 가진 이들이지만 우승 특전으로 AOMG 입사를 내걸면서 차별화를 꾀했다.

심사위원 5명이 전부 한 회사 소속으로 인맥을 전면에 내세웠지만 오히려 잡음은 없는 편이다. 랩·보컬은 물론 프로듀싱까지 가능한 사람을 뽑다 보니 소금·니화 등 다른 힙합 프로그램이면 절대 찾아보기 힘들 출연자들이 대거 등장한다. 거미·양동근 등 다양한 장르에서 활동하는 특별 심사위원 9인을 섭외해 개별 점수를 매기고 최종 합산한 점수에 따라 승패를 결정한 것도 공정성을 높이는 데 한몫했다.

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