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I-LAND: Episode Eight Recap

Episode One Recap // Episode Two Recap // Episode Three Recap // Episode Four Recap // Episode Five Recap // Episode Six Recap // Episode Seven Recap


Part One: Vote! Vote! Vote!

We open with a summary of the countries who’ve cast the most votes so far. Currently, Indonesia is in the lead. I find it interesting that this is almost framed as a competition between the countries themselves. Does the network profit from the voting in a monetary way? I doubt it, but paid voting used to be the norm in many shows like this.


Part Two: More Behind-the-Scenes than you could ever ask for

We’re treated to a lengthy montage of all the groups selecting their parts, struggling to decide who’s going to play what role, spying on each other’s practice, and general behind the scenes shenanigans. You all know how I feel about these segments. They’re basically assembly lines of survival series cliché, and usually have me impatiently waiting for the actual performance. Yet, I understand the need to have footage that helps the viewer invest in individual trainees.

At this point, my mind flashes back to the very first episode of I-LAND, and I wish that the show had somehow evolved into something beyond the traditional K-pop survival series. That’s a pretty big ask, and not really what the series was intended to be. But, beyond I-LAND’s cool set and visual gimmickry, this is basically just Produce 101 with less trainees and more focus on Big Hit. I think the reason I’m having a hard time getting super invested is that I’ve seen this exact format so many times that it holds no real element of surprise.

Either way, this behind the scenes footage gave us a few notable moments. The most dramatic of which was K and Niki‘s confrontation about Niki wanting to change up his choreography a bit to stand out from the group. This felt particularly interesting to me given that both of these trainees hail from Japan. I won’t stereotype it as a uniquely-Japanese idol approach, but that industry does put a lot more emphasis on individual appeal and energy, whereas K-pop idol groups are much more concerned with perfectly in-sync teamwork. In fact, idols in Japan’s popular Johnny’s Entertainment agency are often encouraged to interpret the choreography their own way. Part of me wonders if Niki’s instinct to do this comes from the pop culture he grew up with.


Part Three: The Midpoint Review

Next, the guys head into that most classic of survival series set ups: the midpoint review by the trainers/judges. They’re almost always evaluated harshly, here. Of course, this builds tension for the actual performance, where the viewer is set-up to expect disaster, only to be more impressed by how good they are in the end. It’s a pretty transparent bit of editing, but I’ve come to expect it in these kinds of shows. I guess I’m a little cynical, huh? Either way, we got to see a lot of deep sighs from the trainers in this segment.

I also feel like setting up Taki as a leader was a little cruel. He’s clearly not comfortable with that position, and would be unlikely to take it if he were to debut in the final group. I guess it’s a good learning opportunity, but it puts unnecessary pressure on him, especially when the trainers blatantly tell him that he did the worst in the midpoint evaluation. On the plus side, he got a lot of good camera time this episode. It was hard not to feel sympathetic for him. And teammate Heeseung also came across really well, showing a more empathic side that we haven’t seen nearly enough of within the confines of the series.


Part Four: The BTS Mission

This episode now moves into the first competition of I-LAND’s second part. Here, the judges are in charge of scoring the guys, and the lowest scored will be eliminated. I’m surprised that such a big decision is being made solely based on the judges’ votes, without the voting from the public being taken into account. But, the voting procedures have been so confusing so far that I could be wrong on that.

Looking at the panel, I’m disappointed that Rain is absent. Did his involvement in the show end with part one? I know that Zico enlisted, so obviously he’s not part of the series anymore. I guess Rain discovered that his profile is better raised by hanging with Yoo Jaesuk and Lee Hyori. He wouldn’t be wrong! Still, it’s a loss for the show.

On a related note, I always find it to be shortsighted when these judging panels are comprised exclusively of men. I would much rather see a diverse group of opinions scoring these trainees, especially since their eventual audience will be diverse as well.


DNA (Niki, K, Jay and Hanbin)

I feel like I’ve seen DNA covered more than any other BTS songs. Truthfully, it’s not one of my favorites, but I do think that its choreography is really strong. And, that suits this unit, which is full of good dancers.

This felt like a perfectly competent performance. I don’t know that it brought out many charms I hadn’t already noticed about these individual trainees, but they definitely pulled off the song. I feel like the camera work has gotten better as well. The dance break was the highlight for me, given that it was one of the few moments that felt different from the original performance.

However, I think these stages really suffer from the lack of a live audience. There’s just a certain energy that’s missing. Still, you could put this on any weekly music show and I would’ve assumed these four were an already-debuted group. So, I guess that’s pretty high praise.

Judges’ Score: 287


I Need U (Jake, Daniel, Jungwon and Geonu)

I always claim this as my favorite BTS single. Honestly, I’m not sure if that’s totally true all the time because it’s a song that doesn’t necessarily fit every mood. But, it’s an important track for the group, and one that is so tied to their identity that it’s difficult to convincingly cover. I imagine that’s why you see tracks like DNA and Fire performed on these types of shows more often then I Need U.

This group did a fine job, though I don’t think this is a song that works well in competitions like this, unless you’re willing to change it up enough to make it your own. I didn’t think the vocals were particularly great. They sounded more canned then expressive, and all four guys have a pretty similar tone. There wasn’t a lot of interesting interplay between them. And, unlike the cool dance break in DNA, they didn’t really bring anything new to the track.

Judges’ Score: 275


Fake Love (Sunoo, Sunghoon, Heeseung and Taki)

I’m surprised this episode has gotten this far without deeming this unit “The Avengers.” Maybe they finally retired that well-worn trope from Korean survival series!

Opening with a more interpretive lyrical dance was a smart move that contrasted with the previous performances. Like I Need U, I didn’t feel like we were given much of a spotlight on the guys’ individual voices. Heeseung stood out the most in this regard, and I thought this was a particularly strong performance from him.

But, when the chorus hit, all individuality was drained from the vocal performance. This has been a persistent problem with the musical arrangements of I-LAND performances, and plays into the idea that Big Hit prefers a heavy-handed way of mixing vocals that doesn’t embrace individual character as well as it could.

Anyway, that was a bit of a digression. I thought this was a perfectly fine performance. Nothing mind-blowing here, but they delivered the song competently.

Judges’ Score: 306


Personally, I would have put DNA at the top with Fake Love in the middle and I Need U at the bottom. DNA is more of a performance-based song, while the other two were largely dependent on vocals. This I-LAND format is proving itself to be a difficult showcase for vocals, which rendered I Need U and Fake Love less impactful than the songs deserved.


Part Five: Judges’ Ranking & Elimination

Final Ranking

1. Heeseung
2. Jungwon
3. Sunghoon
4. K
5. Sunoo
6. Jay
7. Jake
8. Niki
9. Hanbin
10. Daniel
11. Geonu
12. Taki (but he’s exempt from elimination given his unit’s victory)

So, the eliminated trainee this week is Geonu, who really didn’t get a fair shake this episode. Of course, Taki is upset that a higher-ranked competitor is leaving rather than him, but that’s how I-LAND is forcing itself to work.

17 thoughts on “I-LAND: Episode Eight Recap

  1. So much disappointment in this episode for me.

    First of all, the vocals were so obviously not live here. They’ve been live up until this point, right? Am I crazy? I remember Jake dropped his mic pack that one time and it caused him to not be able to sing his part… But in this episode the vocals were clearly not live, and super-processed in true BigHit fashion. Couldn’t they have even tried to make them sound realistic and live? Apparently no. Wasn’t the whole reason that Fake Love was so intimidating in the first place because of its vocals?? If it’s all prerecorded who even cares?

    I’ve been so disappointed in the way that vocals seem so unimportant in this series. It’s all about the visual aspects: dancing and the ever-important “facial expressions”. Like, yeah, I get that facial expressions help convey the song’s emotions and whatnot. You know what helps convey the song even more? Vocals.

    While Heeseung and Sunoo have no problems singing Fake Love, we’re shown all episode that Taki is shrieking and scratching his way through all the vocals. I swear, the kid couldn’t sing a single line right in the entire edit. That builds all of that tension and suspense to see how he manages it in the actual performance, and it’s a canned, processed version. ??!?! No wonder the producers didn’t mention a single thing about vocals in the mid-week assessment. That was a way bigger problem than being a half-step off-beat or “not seeming confident”, but it wasn’t going to matter anyways so they glossed over it.

    Most k-pop groups have at least one or two members that I would classify as the “power vocals” of the group. Here, I feel like not a single member (from the very beginning of the series) could fill that role. The closest to me was Geonu, who could hit some high notes with some power in his voice. Not much vibrato, but whatever. Sunoo and Heeseung and some of the others have nice vocals, but not enough gusto for me to consider them powerful singers. Of course, now Geonu is out, so I guess there just won’t be a power vocal in this group, unless some of these boys have some power to them that they’ve been hiding so far.

    Speaking of Geonu’s exit… sigh. When they first mentioned that the top ranked team would all be safe from eliminations, I didn’t foresee how stupid of a rule that was lol. In my opinion, the worst person should be kicked out regardless. Honestly, I feel like at this point Taki is probably thinking the same thing. Not only has he been berated and felt like crap for a full week already, he’s just going to feel even worse the next week, knowing that he should have been eliminated but that’s he’s barely scraped by being carried by his top-tier teammates. Everyone judged him at the beginning for choosing members rather than the song, but it ended up saving him in the end.

    One final note: Yikes, K getting onto Niki made for some awkward tension in that group. If I recall correctly, K is the oldest and Niki is one of the youngest members, and I think there’s like a 6 or 7 year age gap between them. K getting onto Niki is consistent with the age hierarchy in Korean culture that I assume is also present to some degree in Japan, but I wonder if those segments will cause international viewers to like K a little less. I’m curious to see how the popularity vote (which is what I call the global vote) changes in the next week.

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    • Is it weird that, even though he’s often given a negative edit, I consistently find myself rooting for Niki? I may be totally projecting this onto him, but I feel like he’s got a certain scrappiness that I find appealing.

      About vocals: I’d argue that this has (unfortunately) been a trend with idol groups for years now. That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of current idol performers who can belt it out, but visual and dance has become more important than it used to be in the 1st and 2nd gen. My all-time favorite groups tend to be ones with more than a single standout vocalist, so I’m hoping the idol landscape will change in this regard.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My brother also likes Niki. I feel like he has some promise but for some reason I can never fully get behind him.

        And yes, that’s true about the trends. The group that got me into K-pop 10 years ago was SHINee, and I miss groups like that. Jonghyun and Onew both had power vocals, and Taemin also grew into his voice quite well. But they also were known for their standout choreography as well. Lucifer and Ring Ding Dong, anyone? Compared to today’s standards of synchronization, they may not be quite as strong, but it still showed that groups can have strong vocals and also have standout choreography.

        Even BTS, who I feel like is a big part of this swing towards focusing on visual/dance, has some interesting vocal differences between members. V’s deep tones contrast with Jimin’s high tones and Jungkook and Jin land somewhere in the middle. I feel like with the I-LANDers, none of their voices really stand out as unique compared to the others.

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      • Yes, it was clear to me from the first performance (DNA) that they were lip syncing. I mostly mentioned Fake Love in my comment because they kept talking about Fake Love’s vocals throughout the episode, just for it to be a moot point. I just don’t get why we’re suddenly lip-syncing in a competition show like this in the first place. I couldn’t care less if idols lip sync in performances, but in an elimination-format idol competition? Why??

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  2. I can’t tell any of these kids apart, so for the kids themselves you may say I have a truly unbiased opinion. I only watched the performance videos, and the DKDK summary video for all the backstage drama.

    I share your thoughts about needing someone other than middle aged guys on the judging panel. And now they have lost the outside the BigHit tent judging members too.

    For the songs. I never got into Fake Love. I just could never get my head around making two single syllable words into two two syllable words lik-ah thah-at and repeat nine or twelve times in every chorus. Fayk-uh Luh-uhv. So that gets automatic demerit from me, always. “I Need You” has subject matter just doesn’t resonate with a girl my age anymore, so I never liked that song. Finally, “DNA” which may be the last BTS song I actually liked. That whistle sample, actual melody, video is all candy colored goodness too.

    On vocals, may I add a few thoughts: It’s like holding a bowling tournament with the gutter bumpers up. Well, if they are not singing with gusto now when they are singing (or running) “for their lives”, then I don’t think we can ever expect them to in the future.

    That said
    DNA guys first, because they had the most dynamic song to do, and arguably easiest, and they did a good job with it.

    Fak uh Lu-uhv next. Interpretive Dance. The Big Hit guy loves that sort of thing.

    I Need U. This song just didn’t work for them. The song choice itself and its accompanying dance don’t give them a lot to work with except for yearning facial expressions. My humble opinion, freely shared: it needed some more authenticity, some actual lustiness not pretend make believe lustiness. Like from 20 year olds who have lost their virginity and have to sneak around about it, not 15 or 16 year olds who haven’t and don’t.

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  3. Honest question: Why do you like Niki? Apart from his dance skills, I can’t think of a single positive aspect about him. He can’t sing, he’s had the same face since ep1, his performances are boring, and his personality isn’t attractive or fun. Not even his visuals are good. Honestly I think he should just give up on trying to become an idol and work as a dancer, which he’s great at.

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  4. So…

    -Taki as leader was an amazing bit of PR for Heeseung. We saw Heeseung struggle with the leader role and flub it at the beginning, this mentorship of Taki here gave him a great character arc. It really cemented my affection for him and we even got Sunoo calling him an “angel” haha. Since Sunoo + Heeseung are the frontrunners, it is great to see a friendship between them and bodes well for the future of the group, as well as for their individual rankings.

    – I was extremely confused and a little turned off by their decision to over-process the vocals in these performances. (I think Someday Korean is right that these are the only ones so far that were pre-recorded/autotuned.) It is so, SO silly to act like vocals are going to be a big deal and then autotune them so they’re unrecognizable as they did here. (They do this exact thing on RuPaul’s Drag Race but it’s slightly more forgivable because um… they’re not singers. But it’s a waste of time there, too.) They showed us in no uncertain terms that Taki could NOT sing a single note of Fake Love if his life depended on it, and then they just autotuned it to pieces and…. I don’t know how we’re supposed to feel about that. It’s a really confusing decision. Are we supposed to believe the autotune magic and think that Taki suddenly developed the ability to sing? lol.

    – But I guess none of that matters because Taki ranked last anyway, autotune or no autotune; which in turn doesn’t matter because of team immunity, LOL oh the head-fuckery of reality tv.

    – In perhaps a controversial opinion, I really didn’t see the appeal of Geonu and was fine with seeing him out. Yes, he’s a competent vocalist, but that’s about the only thing in his favor. He’s not exciting to look at, he kind of has dead eyes onstage, and to me there wasn’t anything so special about his vocals as to make him a necessity for the group.

    – I also like Niki and K is continuing to sour on me. I predict that if Taki is eliminated next, K won’t be able to hold out much longer, because his relationship with Taki is the only thing that gives his character on this show a bit of warmth.

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    • Honestly, the more I think about it, the more I wonder if they autotuned everybody’s performances literally *because* of Taki’s inability to sing the song, since his squawking would have made the performance pretty much unwatchable, and that’s not exactly good PR.

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      • That is, like, the only explanation that makes sense to me. It’d explain why his score was so outstandingly low, too. He created a lot of extra editing work for the producers lol.

        Hopefully after he’s eliminated in the next episode, we’ll get to hear their live performances again lol. I’m sorry Taki, it’s not your fault that your voice is changing, but that doesn’t mean I should have to suffer through it…!

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