When I first started getting into kpop back in 2012, K-Pop Star was one of my first tastes of Korean variety. Having been a longtime fan of western competition shows like X-Factor and American Idol, I was totally won over by the series’ format and the judges’ well-researched, astute criticisms. Having watched all five K-Pop Star series now, I can unequivocally say that the 2012 season was the very best. Not only did it have the most interesting winner in sibling duo Akdong Musician, but the musical variety and showmanship on display hasn’t been matched since.
Every year that has followed has seemed more and more like a case of diminishing returns. I still watch (and enjoy) the show, but part of me has given up on its ability to churn out anything besides bland balladeers. But every year, I’m hopeful that it’ll turn around once more and become the series I know it can be. Here’s five ways to get K-Pop Star back on track.
Diverse Contestants / Categories
This year’s show was a new low when it came to diversity. We had a top ten that featured one (female) group, one guy, and eight women, most of which sang in exactly the same style. Compare this to 2012, which saw four groups, two guys and four women. That year looked more like what you’d expect to see on a weekly Korean music broadcast. The variety gave each episode an unpredictable energy. With this most recent season (and the two before it), viewers were treated to ballad after ballad sung almost exclusively by female vocalists. This makes me think that the series needs to adopt the approach of X-Factor, where contestants are divided into categories (boys, girls, groups and over-25’s) and there are three spots in the live shows allotted to each one. Yes, you could argue that this would potentially exclude some talent. But, K-Pop Star is an entertainment show. It should entertain, not bore.
Another way to tackle the lack of musical diversity would be to sprinkle in some theme weeks during the live shows. Ballads from the 80’s and 90’s have been heavily favored by contestants over the last few years, but wouldn’t it be something to see them take on BigBang week, or Girls’ Generation week, or Shinee week? This would help attract a younger audience and give the contestants some modern songs to tweak within their chosen style. It wouldn’t even have to be artist-specific. The contestants could be challenged by genre (club, r&b, disco, etc) or song release year. Anything to halt the endless parade of old ballads.
Guest Mentors / Judges
Now don’t get me wrong, I love the show’s judges. Sadly, they’re probably the main reason I still watch the series. But, they do have a limited perspective and there really isn’t a lot of musical diversity among them. They’re all male, all around the same age, and nearly always agree in their critiques. I’d love to see a younger idol producer, someone like G-Dragon or Zico or B1A4’s Jinyoung, offer their thoughts for a week or two. A female perspective is also sorely needed. After BoA left the panel, I feel like she took with her many of the more dance-oriented acts. Even if it means a fourth judge, we need someone like her on the panel permanently. And if busy idols can’t clear their schedule to guest judge, how about giving them a guest mentor role for a week, working with the contestants to prepare a more “current” stage?
Extend the Live Rounds
I feel like every year, the K-Pop Star live rounds get shorter and shorter. Back in 2012, they were seven episodes long. This year, we got five. I don’t know if this is simply a cost-saving effort, but it feels very anticlimactic, especially when they’re kicking off multiple artists in one week. It also extends the endless prerecorded auditions, which sometimes feel like the same episode over and over again.
End the Pointless Battle Rounds
Nothing irks me more than when contestants are randomly pitted against each other (often in the most drawn-out process imaginable) and great contestants are eliminated over weaker ones simply based on who they ended up having to battle against. It’s manufactured drama in the worst sense, and feels like it undermines the process’s core mission. Even worse is when the producers stage the battles so that they don’t even matter, putting contestants “in danger” when everyone knows they’re going to easily survive. In general, I think the audition process needs a cleaner, more streamlined approach that focuses on the music and the contestants in an interesting, creative way.