Insiders Discuss The Fallout Of The “Produce 101” Rigging Controversy On The Industry And Trainees

On January 17, Shin DongA published a report by music critic Kim Do Heon about the “Produce 101” vote manipulation controversy, the power of CJ ENM and its network Mnet in the industry, and more.

The report begins by quoting sources from various industries related to this recent scandal and the influence of the network. A source from the music industry is quoted as saying, “When it comes to music shows, they have more influence than the public broadcasting channels.”

“They’ve had many programs that are so-called ‘successes’ and they’re a leader in the broadcasting industry when it comes to audition programs,” said a source from the broadcasting industry. “It would be impossible for anyone to disagree that Mnet has a competitive edge.”

An entertainment industry source stated, “There are hardly any idol agencies that don’t try to pull strings with Mnet. Mnet’s the one that leads the trends in the idol market and Mnet’s also the one that sees the biggest benefits from that.”

The report describes how the moment that it was revealed that the votes in the “Produce 101” series had been manipulated, Mnet experienced a fall from grace. Kim Do Heon writes, “Mnet was so successful that it could be called ‘The Empire of Audition Programs’ but in a single moment it became ‘The Empire that Swindled the Nation.'”

The report states that the reveal of the manipulation has sent people in the industry as well as idol trainees into a state of shock. The greatest positive aspect of the “Produce” series was initially seen as its platform for a “fair competition,” with social status or wealth not coming into play. The public became fascinated by this program in which dreams were said to come true through sheer hard work and passion, and they took part by voting for their favorites in the show. When it turned out the final lineup was determined not by viewers but by those behind the curtain, people realized it was actually an incredibly unfair program and that the nation had been scammed.

A source from the entertainment industry is quoted as saying, “This incident has crushed the hope that someone can debut as an idol through skill and talent alone. It’s completely a case of corruption in the hiring process.”

Another source from the broadcast industry stated, “I think it was an impossible fantasy to think that there would be something like a ‘fair contract’ in a slanted playing field that’s been created by a massive business.”

The report discusses how the “Produce” series seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for trainees struggling within the intensely competitive industry, however many of them are now feeling a sense of loss and defeat after the rigging was revealed. A source from the entertainment industry stated, “The entertainment agencies are feeling regret and anger as they think, ‘We shouldn’t have sent our trainee to the program.’ More than anything, it’s a situation in which no one knows how to comfort the children who have been crushed by this.”

The report includes a description of the findings of the prosecution’s investigation into the controversy, in which the producers admitted to determining the lineups for the “Produce 48” group IZ*ONE and the “Produce X 101” group X1 before the finales had even begun. In addition, there was rigging involved in previous seasons including in rounds before the finales as well as one member of Wanna One debuting through vote manipulation.

One of the issues now is the futures of the groups that were created through the “Produce” series. Kim Do Heon writes, “Idol group X1 was not able to overcome the ‘Produce’ rigging controversy, and with the stigma of being ‘rigged,’ it was decided that they would disband.”

Kim Do Heon writes that some people are concerned about how the label of “rigged group” might negatively affect the futures of the members. In addition to the viewers who paid money to vote, the artists and trainees who appeared on the program have also been harmed greatly by the controversy.

An industry source is described as saying that the members who had been chosen the final lineup now want to recover their reputation that’s been tarnished by the vote manipulation controversy. Those who were eliminated are also described as wanting to know the truth after having been deprived of their chance to debut. The source added, “If someone benefited from manipulation and someone else was harmed by it, shouldn’t there be a clear investigation into that?”

The report states that fans and entertainment agency representatives have stated that this matter cannot be made up for through financial or material compensation. Instead, they are calling for a sincere apology and an announcement of plans for future improvement.

It’s also described how industry insiders say that starting from the year that the “Produce” series began, a “strange order of rank” emerged among idols. A music critic said, “There used to be a ranking in the idol world that separated those from the big three companies (SM, YG, JYP) and those from small and medium-sized companies. After 2016, the world began to be divided into those ‘From Produce’ and those ‘Not from Produce.'”

They went on to say, “So many idol trainees applied for the program that it was to the point that people said, ‘There’s no idol trainee with talent, skill, and good looks who doesn’t go on the ‘Produce’ series.’ Most of them were from small and medium-sized companies. It was very attractive to these people, who had been working so hard just for the goal of debuting, that they could debut right away if they were chosen as one of the final 11. There were also many trainees who wanted to go on the show because even if they didn’t make it into the top 11, they could get popular after gaining buzz through the show and use the popularity to plan their future careers as singers.”

The report states that some agencies had hesitated over the idea of sending trainees to the series. An industry source stated, “What we’re hoping for when we send idol trainees to a television show is that they’ll become popular and debut. However some trainees become overly nervous so they’re not able to show much or they become a sacrificial lamb through the producers’ ‘evil editing.’ If they appear on the show without thinking it through and are eliminated in the middle after not being able to grab the attention of the public, then their image has already been used up. In the case of an unforeseen controversy, then gossip can cause a severe blow to both the idol trainee and the company too.”

Kim Do Heon states that while some agencies did not want to send their trainees to the show, they ended up “biting the bullet” due to Mnet’s powerful influence. An industry source said, “For entertainment agencies and trainees, the ‘Produce’ series seems to have been a drug hidden within candy.”

Despite the controversy over “Produce 101” and previous survival shows produced by Mnet that have had scandals over unfairness such as “Show Me the Money,” CJ ENM’s head of communications stated at the December 30 press conference that the network will not stop making survival shows. Instead, they stated that their planned audition programs will be carried out fairly and transparently.

The report says that this announcement was met with criticism amid those within the industry. An industry source said, “I didn’t understand how they could be producing a new audition program while the police investigation was underway for the ‘Produce’ series manipulation controversy, but I’m convinced in part after seeing the CJ ENM official remarks. For Mnet, the road they have to take to recover their reputation isn’t changing their producers, it’s only sincere apology and reflection, and extreme reform. I hope that they’ll at least now accept reality.”

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