Despite the increase in audition programs, the number of male Kpop trainees is decreasing, leading to more foreigners.
“Even if public auditions are held, there are too few male applicants.” This is the grievance of a rookie development manager at a large Kpop agency, which resumed face-to-face auditions after the pandemic was eased.
According to various sources, the current gender ratio for Kpop trainee applications is 9 to 1, which means for every 9 female applicants, there is only one male applicant. While there are many teenage female applicants aspiring after the popularity of girl groups such as NewJeans and IVE, the number of male applicants has decreased significantly. “There are more windows to show off their talents, as YouTubers and influencers, but it is not easy to persuade them to endure long and difficult training”, it was said.
Recently, in the MBC audition survival show “Fantasy Boys”, Thai trainee Santa took first place in the “mid-term” voting. Despite having poor Korean skills, Santa, who is known as a BL actor in Thailand, outperformed 53 other trainees and gained attention. Other participants in the program come from various countries such as Japan, Taiwan, China, and the United States. Similarly, the Mnet survival show “Boys Planet“, which recently concluded, features 98 male trainees, with half of them being Koreans and the other half foreigners.
While there are many boy group auditions in the broadcasting and music industry, it is not an easy task to discover talented individuals in Korea. The scarcity of male trainees in South Korea can be described as a phenomenon of “abundance within poverty.” Despite the presence of numerous aspiring trainees with dreams, the industry claims to lack exceptional talents. In this discrepancy, foreign trainees and the growing popularity of K-pop among international fans are becoming more prominent.
In fact, recent boy group audition programs have been relying not only on participants, but also on overseas fandom to some extent. Both “Fantasy Boys” and “Boys Planet” struggle with ratings in the 0% range, partly due to the Korean public turning a blind eye to survival programs after the “Produce series”, and partly to them losing trust in the genre after Mnet PD’s vote manipulation incident in 2019.
Broadcasting companies and talent agencies heavily rely on both participants and viewership from overseas in their boy group auditions. Programs such as “Boys Fantasy” and “Boys Planet,” which air simultaneously, are struggling with single-digit viewership ratings in Korea. The reasons for the declining domestic interest in survival audition programs are diverse, including the repetitive and uninspiring formats following the success of the “Produce” series in 2016 and 2017, as well as the loss of viewer trust after the vote manipulation scandal in 2019.
The new market lies overseas, as evident in the enthusiasm shown by some members of the MZ generation and international Kpop fandoms. “Fantasy Boys” is not only broadcast on MBC but also available on Japan’s online video service platform (OTT) Ameba TV, as well as being relayed to 12 other countries, including Thailand and Vietnam. “Boys Planet” also gained global attention with 47.58 million votes from 178 regions worldwide in just two weeks.
Regarding this situation, Kim Jak Ga, a pop culture critic, explained, “Just like how Korean’s major and subsidiaries industries are being replaced with foreign laborers, Kpop boy groups are undergoing a trend where there are more and more foreign members.”
“Korean youths are showing less and less interest in having an idol career, while people from other Asian countries are still pursuing the Kpop dream”, he said, adding, “Of course, this trend in Kpop may have gone hand in hand with globalization. Not only in Asia but in North America and Europe, more and more people are getting interested in Kpop, leading to a natural rise in the number of foreign trainees.”
Finally, he concluded, “Overall, this shows that Kpop has become something not only loved by Koreans, but also by audiences from all over the world.”
On the other hand, broadcasting companies and agencies produce an abundance of boy group audition programs because they are directly linked to intellectual property rights (IP) and profitability. Despite a potential decrease in popularity, as long as a dedicated fandom exists, purchasing power follows.
Despite girl groups dominating music streaming platforms, boy groups excel in album sales. According to the Hanteo Chart, the top 10 highest first-week sales records are all established by boy groups, such as BTS, SEVENTEEN, Stray Kids, and NCT. While girl groups like BLACKPINK, aespa, IVE, and NewJeans also make it into the top 100 regarding album sales, there is a significant difference, with 78 albums by male artists and 22 albums by female artists.
An entertainment agency representative stated, “As boy groups generate higher and more stable profits compared to girl groups, companies need to continue debuting them.”
Recently, both Big Hit Music (BTS’s agency) and NewJeans’s agency, ADOR, announced global auditions for boy groups. Furthermore, various large and small agencies, including KOZ, Fantagio, and Pledis, plan to debut boy groups in the first half of this year.