After skipping last season (I fell too far behind on episodes to write anything coherent), my Produce 101 Concept Evaluation ranking is back for season three! Or, is it season “X”? Who knows anymore.
Whatever the case, MNET is intent on ringing every last bit of money from the Produce series, and this year’s steady ratings show that there is definitely life left in this durable franchise.
The concept songs are usually a high point in any Produce series, as they can work as templates for the sound pursued by the season’s winning group. Plus, it’s always better to see trainees perform original material rather than the same old K-pop classics we’ve heard dozens of times before.
Being a “concept evaluation,” these songs are more ‘genre’ than… well… song, but that’s always been a problem with the Produce series. Like so much of reality TV, it too often opts for style over substance. And this being 2019-era K-pop, many of the genres (or “concepts”) pursued via these five songs are ones I’m personally tired of.
Still, every once and awhile something good can be pulled from corporate-fueled conformity. Season Two gave us the genuinely great Never, which is actually stronger than most of Wanna One’s post-show discography despite being a generic representation of the overdone (but still going!) tropical trend.
This year, nothing is as strong as Never. In fact, none of the songs really knocked my socks off. Thus, the following ranking ranges from “passable,” to “decent,” to “good.” And yes, there are subtle distinctions between the three!
This ranking only takes the songs themselves into consideration, rather than focusing on the trainees performing them. I haven’t really had a horse in the race during this season of Produce, though my love for all things Woollim Entertainment does give those contestants a built-in edge (and I’m finding Cha Junho’s awkward quietness very charming… janky high notes aside).
**Warning: Some Episode 10 spoilers ahead
5. Monday To Sunday
You knew there was going to be some sort of nod to deep house this season, right? The trend is too ubiquitous for Produce not to exploit.
Monday To Sunday is a fairly mind-numbing enactment of the sound, anchored by a repetitive hook that tends to grate the longer it sticks around. The production is by-the-numbers 2019 K-pop. Established idol groups and rookies alike have pulled it off with more flair this year. The verses take forever to get going, and the production lacks a sense of fullness.
4. U Got It
When a producer slaps the word “future” in front of a song’s genre description, it’s almost a guarantee that I’m not going to like it. I’m not sure what the fascination with this moniker is, because none of the resulting music ever sounds forward-thinking to me.
Anyways, U Got It is described as “future EDM,” which basically means “whatever the cool kids are doing.” It’s got that lurching rhythm that bores me to tears. I’m not surprised that this song has been the one to click most strongly with the public, since Korea seems to have an insatiable appetite for this particular mood. I guess it’s a solid example of the genre. It does nothing for me.
3. Pretty Girl
I love that this is essentially a stereotypical, cutesy girl group song performed by guys. As many a K-pop cover performance has taught us, switching up gender stereotypes is always a plus (and can be especially revelatory with female idols).
As songs of this nature go, Pretty Girl is quite innocuous. On the plus side, it’s got a nice build to it and boasts the best bridge of any of these tracks (that guitar!). The chorus is bouncy enough to elicit a few sparks, but overall lacks impact.
Up until its non-chorus of a chorus, Move is quite thrilling. The bass-heavy beat reminds me of something NCT would covet, and the structure feels pretty tight. Co-produced by Zico, this is the song that arrived with the most pre-performance hype. It’s definitely built with his trademark hip-hop bravado in mind, and probably would have worked better as a solo track.
The filtered chant that opens Move hints at exciting left-field turns that never materialize. Instead, the song opts for an unimpressive instrumental drop and a low-energy series of catchphrases as its centerpiece. The verses are far more enjoyable, building momentum that is frustratingly undone by what follows.
1. Super Special Girl
Of all the concept songs, the future funk (ugh… there’s that “future” term again) of Super Special Girl is geared most strongly to my personal tastes. It’s a sturdy dance-pop track reminiscent of SHINee (without SHINee’s effortless vocals). No wonder it came in dead last during the show’s ranking.
The song has great energy, propelled by nimble percussion and blasts of bright brass. The melody is pretty darn insistent. It lacks a strong climax, but there are some nice moments sprinkled throughout. More importantly, it all holds together as one complete song. No lame EDM drops or trendy angst to be found here. In an underwhelming series of concept evaluation tracks, that’s enough for it to snatch my number one spot.