Idol survival programs have taken the K-pop industry by storm. With millions of viewers and voters all over the world, why do some groups formed from these shows still fail to succeed?
8 May 2019 - 12:29 PM  UPDATED 8 May 2019 - 12:29 PM

With the fourth instalment of the Produce series in full swing, and over 1.3 million followers on the official Instagram, trainees from Produce X 101 have already begun to build an incredible multinational fan base. Survival programs like Produce have the power to skyrocket groups and individuals into K-pop stardom - but why doesn’t it always work out?

Temporary groups like I.O.I, Wanna One and I*ZONE have become some of the biggest names today, but their lesser-known counterparts from similar survival shows haven’t had the same luck - groups like Uni.T and UNB from The Unit, or IN2IT and Fromis_9 from Boys 24 and Idol School respectively.

Like all groups in this cut-throat industry, their popularity depends on many different factors, but what sets these groups apart is that the public can pick and choose who survives after seeing their journey on the show. This is a privilege that in an industry built on trainee discretion, puts the power in the public’s hands and cultivates an audience early in a group’s life. While this win-or-lose formula can guarantee success, the same standards that run the industry can still affect these groups.

Saturation, timing and concept

K-pop groups are debuting left, right and centre - so much so that it can be hard to keep up and support multiple groups at the same time. Uni.T’s sultry “No More”, released in May 2018, generated little buzz for the Avenger-type girl group. That month saw songs like (G)I-DLE’s “Latata”, GFRIEND’s “Time For The Moon Night”, MAMAMOO’s “Starry Night”, and BTS“Fake Love” take the spotlight. Was it just poor planning on Uni.T’s end?

Brand power

YG, JYP and SM have consistently set the standard for the groups we all know and love. Fans stan both the group and the companies that produce them, which almost guarantees a group’s success. Would groups like TWICE and Winner be just as successful if they had debuted without the backing of a major label survival show?

For fans just starting their K-pop journey, it’s hard to believe that groups like Stray Kids, TWICE, Winner, and iKON have all come from broadcast survival shows. These Big 3 groups have topped charts and won hearts so much so that their rocky survival beginnings have come second to their star power.

International market vs domestic market

Groups that can do well both in South Korea and beyond are almost untouchable. Produce’s second season saw the banning of international votes, and many believe this impacted the final lineup of Wanna One. While Wanna One went on to do incredible things, their impact on markets outside of South Korea (following the likes of NCT and BTS) may have been different if the group was more reflective of international interest.

Talent and appeal

These two factors are completely subjective and will mean different things to different people. Take Fromis_9 for example: full of talented vocalists, dancers, rappers and visuals, this group is the whole package, but they’re yet to make it big. The girls have proved with each catchy release that they’re an underdog force to be reckoned with, and after member Jang Gyuri’s adorable stint on Produce 48, this group is one to definitely keep an eye on.


Boys24 had the same vibe as Produce, but once the show aired, the various stages, confusing debut rules and messy rankings became lost on its viewers. If things were cleaner, would IN2IT have had a better chance?

K-pop holds no promises for any budding group - with or without the votes. As devoted spectators, fans, and avid survival show junkies, all we can do is support these groups with streams, album purchases and love on social media. Let’s do our best to keep these talented groups on the island and away from elimination!


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