Boy bands thrive thanks to content from audition programs
So-called fourth-generation acts, or acts that debuted after BTS in 2013 or have at least three years experience in the industry, such as Ateez, The Boyz and Stray Kids, are making concerted efforts to find success overseas.
Ateez, The Boyz and Stray Kids have been showing off powerful performances on Mnet's audition program “Kingdom: Legendary War,” in a bid to have compelling videos to post online. Such content can help draw in new fans from across the world and create more album sales.
But this is not the first time such acts have eyed a global audience. Since day one, these bands have been targeting fans of K-pop by performing concerts both at home and abroad.
But since the pandemic, fourth-generation acts have had to pursue other routes to garner global attention.
While participating in more projects in Korea, they produce more online content to entertain fans overseas. Considering the three-to-four-year mark is significant for K-pop acts which usually sign a standard seven-year management contract, it marks the time when they are evaluated by fans or industry experts on whether they have the potential to go further.
The Boyz of Cre.ker Entertainment which debuted in 2017, as well as Stray Kids of JYP and KQ’s Ateez that debuted the following year, are often mentioned as the representative bands of the fourth generation of K-pop acts. The three also earned the collective nickname of “zzz,” thanks to the z-sound in each of their group names. The synergy of the bands is increasing even more while all three are participating on the same TV show, Mnet’s “Kingdom: Legendary War.”
The ongoing weekly show started in April after wrapping the prequel “Road to Kingdom,” the winners of which earned a place in the “Kingdom: Legendary War” competition. The Boyz, who won “Road to Kingdom,” is competing with many other idol groups who are all trying to pave their own way on the global scene.
While Cube Entertainment’s BTOB, which debuted 10 years ago, puts more emphasis on their vocals, iKon of YG Entertainment, with seven years in the industry, takes a more freestyle approach and FNC’s SF9, who have six years experience, like to highlight their looks.
What makes these three groups even more popular is their ability to self-produce content for fans. One member is designated with the task of coordinating how the others will show off their personalities and appeal to as many fans as possible with their different characteristics.
Three of Stray Kids' eight members work as producers to lead the band in certain directions and increase their following.
Ateez does the same with its leader Hongjoong, who originally dreamed of becoming a producer. The band grabbed the attention of industry experts with its theme-based performances, including the one inspired by the “Pirates of the Caribbean” film series.
The Boyz took inspiration from American TV series “Game of Thrones,” and centered some of their performances on the show. Sales of the band's first regular album “Reveal,” which was released in February last year hit some 80,000 copies, but the number jumped by four-fold to 360,000 copies when it released its fifth EP “Chase” in September after it had completed its run on “Road to Kingdom.”
Ateez sold 390,000 copies of its sixth EP "Zero: Fever" released in March. It also saw the largest growth in the number of new members joining its online community in April this year, according to K-Pop Radar, a service that collects data to record how K-pop fans move.
According to pop culture critic Kim Young-dae, all three bands center their performances on showing the powerful moves of their members, telling strong stories and making sure each performance has a different concept.
“Such trend is seen in the K-pop industry as acts make moves to markets in North and South America,” said Kim. It is often said that the first- and second-generation acts worked in Asia and interacted with fans from neighboring countries while the third generation worked to appeal to fans in more diverse countries worldwide and adapted their style to entice fans in those countries.
“It might still be too early to make links about the idol groups under the title of the fourth generation and the momentum they are seeing because the distinction between one generation and another is not obvious until some time has passed,” said Kim Yoon-ha, another pop culture critic.
“However, it is obvious that [these three groups] are the ones that show what’s trending and popular in the scene.”
Kim also pointed out that what gets global fans excited are videos because such contents offer a chance for fans to learn more about the up-and-coming groups in Korea.
“Since one video of them on stage or [just a video featuring the members] has the greatest power to spread the word on the act, those that have debuted more recently put a lot of effort into making their performances as good as possible," said Kim. The critic also pointed out that it is the reason why both TV stations and K-pop agencies continue competing in audition programs no matter how low the actual viewership rate is. The “Kingdom” has a viewership rating of less than one percent.
The so-called in-between generation acts that were not seeing much success because of how well the acts that came before them were doing, as well as the continuous debut of new groups, are now being reevaluated on their potential.
"When a group booked more gigs in countries overseas, they tended to be lesser known to the general public in Korea," said one of the officials affiliated with an entertainment agency. "But with votes for groups [on some programs] coming from all over the world, many seem to startled when they learn just how big the fan base is throughout the world."
"When you take a look at how many replies in Korean are posted on certain posts online, you can see that the number of such comments has grown drastically," said another official with another agency. "It is possible to really feel how much the fan base has grown not just from what's going viral on social media but also from the mention of any community the group is affiliated with."
BY MIN KYUNG-WON [firstname.lastname@example.org]