On top of everything else, I’m a voracious consumer of idol variety shows. I love nothing more than a great idol variety concept. As K-pop has grown more popular internationally, most idol variety has moved online. Usually the “episodes” are bite-sized – designed with this meme-happy generation in mind.
The longer, TV-based series that still exist are mostly competition or survival-themed, like Produce 101 and Road to Kingdom. Gone is the day of robust idol variety on Korea’s bigger networks. Even most of the online content boils down to tried-and-true ideas like behind-the-scenes material, interviews and eating broadcasts (which I’ve never seen the appeal of).
So, I’ve decided to publish an “if I ruled the K-pop industry” decree.
TV producers, you can thank me now for the hours of brainstorming I’ve saved you. It’s time for an idol variety renaissance! Here are five new treatments (plus, one old favorite) that could reinvigorate the genre. Unsurprisingly, most highlight collaboration and bonding over competition and elimination.
“Maknaes on Top”
The pitch: What would happen if the maknaes of several idol acts had to become leaders of their own ragtag groups?
The details: There are a few old variety series that focus on K-pop maknaes (youngest members), but this would be different. A small group of maknaes from different idol groups would meet and have some sort of brief competition. Then, it would be revealed that each maknae would be in charge of training their own idol group, consisting entirely of K-pop fans and amateur performers.
Based on the results of the initial game/competition, the maknaes would take turns assembling their own group from a pre-selected roster of participants. Then, each week they’d need to train them in a cover dance, competing as part of the group in the role of leader. I suppose there could be eliminations until the winning group is announced, or it could simple be points-based, and the highest points at the end of the series wins. Either way, putting these idols into a leadership role would be really fun and rewarding to watch. Plus, the fan interaction would be great.
“So Much Better” (K-Pop Edition)
The pitch: A handful of artists from different genres and generations hang out in a remote summer house and reinterpret each other’s songs.
The details: Okay, I totally stole this format from a hit Swedish show I used to watch called Så mycket bättre (So Much Better). But, I think it’s one of the most enjoyable music TV concepts I’ve ever seen. The premise is simple. Seven or eight artists (or idol groups) gather together in a remote summer house, where they live for a week or so. Each day is its own episode, and is devoted to one of the artists. During that day, the spotlight artist picks an activity for the group to do (game, outing, craft… whatever represents their interests) and also selects the meals for the day.
At night, they all gather around a big dining table that’s placed in front of an intimate stage. One by one, the other artists take turns performing a favorite track from the spotlighted artist’s discography, usually rearranging it to fit their own style. In between, the spotlighted artist shares stories behind the songs and memories of their career. These reinterpreted songs are then released digitally. It may sound simple, but more often than not the show packed an emotional wallop, and was an excellent showcase for skill and bonding without the need for a competitive aspect. In Sweden, it reignited many musical careers. I think it could do the same in Korea.
“Backwards, and in High Heels”
The pitch: A girl group coaches a boy group to perform one of their songs, and vice versa.
The details: Each episode could be split into two parts, or even two episodes. One girl group and one boy group would join forces to cover each other’s songs. One week, the girl group would coach the boy group, and the next week they could flip the roles. Each episode would culminate in the performance, maybe at a fan meet or some other public showcase.
The trick is, this couldn’t just be an exercise in cross-dressing, which would obviously come off as insensitive and backwards. In fact, it shouldn’t be played for laughs at all. Instead, it would be fun to see the groups really try to understand what it takes to perform each other’s songs, down to the smallest details. When it came time to unveil the final product, the groups wouldn’t be trying to copy the look or sound of each other, but instead find a way to showcase the track’s energy and concept in their own way.
“K-Pop Meets J-Pop”
The pitch: K-Pop and J-Pop idol stars meet for friendly competition and the chance to reinterpret each other’s songs.
The details: Okay, I’ve longed for this particular concept for years, and I doubt it’ll ever happen. But, in my wildest dreams, a series exists that brings together Korean and Japanese idol groups for a field day of sorts. Obviously, there would be a language barrier. But, it would be fascinating to see the contrast, and maybe even have an opportunity for the artists to discuss the differences and similarities in their respective industries.
I imagine that this show would be lighthearted and fun, with a few of the classic, silly variety show games. There could be a competitive element, but it wouldn’t need to be taken very seriously. The two teams could share a meal together, and maybe even close out the show by performing each other’s songs.
The pitch: Idols learn the day-to-day drudgery of “normal” jobs by going undercover as new employees in various fields.
The details: This is another concept I pretty much stole… this time from Undercover Boss. Basically, each week an idol would get some sort of disguise or make-up so that they could pose as a new employee in whatever occupation was being spotlighted. We’d watch them get trained and learn the ropes, and eventually they’d reveal their true identity. Or, the show could forgo the theatrics entirely and just have them show up as they are with the aim to gain experience in a new field. If done correctly, it could be an enjoyable slice-of-life series that’s both funny and heartwarming.
“Let’s Go! Dream Team”
I don’t have anything to say about this show except that I used to love watching it, and I wish they’d bring it back. It was such a great spotlight for underrated idol groups, and managed to be competitive while still being fun and lighthearted.
Relive the glory by watching KBS’s youtube playlist:
What do you think, readers? Would you watch any of these series? Do you have some ideas of your own?