There is something about being an early fan that connects you to an idol group with a sense of loyalty that is enduring. I have seen this with my friends who are Big Bang fangirls. I wasn’t into K-pop ten years ago, so I didn’t see the evolution of Big Bang’s music and I don’t have memories of that early excitement when they were first discovering their sound. I have that with BTS, so I understand the phenomenon. I wasn’t an early fan, but as soon as I was introduced to them, I went back and watched every Bangtan Bomb and even the super awkward “Hustle Life.”
Because I watched them grow up and evolve, I will buy every album and attend any concerts I can. I have this sense of almost familial connection to BTS. I can’t imagine how much more of a sense of “ownership” I would have if I felt I had actually helped create them as a group. That is the case with fans of the new group Wanna One.
Who are they?
Wanna One is a new K-pop group formed as a result of Produce 101 (Season 2). This Kpop reality show takes 101 young trainees from many different companies and has them compete against one another in a Hunger Games-like sing-off/dance-off. The winners debut as a new group and tour together for a set period of time, and then return to their original companies. In this current iteration, Wanna One will be together through December, 2018. I have to admit. It is kind of a brilliant move on the part of various studios and production companies. They have artificially created a sense of time-constrained urgency, so fans feel the need to attend every concert and performance while they have the chance. Brilliant!
I had a difficult time watching Produce 101 because they rank and sort the hopeful young men into either an A,B,C,D,E, or F group based on their talent. The rankings affect their level of accommodations and their performance opportunities. I know the K-pop production machine is brutal, but seeing this kind of grading system and the way it visibly shattered some of these hopeful youth was really difficult. It reminded me of Boys Over Flowers or other drama depictions of the haves and have nots. It kind of made me ill. However, watching as contestants faced difficult tasks and were either promoted or eliminated definitely helped fans develop attachments. Given this vetting process where the audience had the opportunity to weigh in on their favorites, Wanna One emerged with all of the ingredients of a dedicated fandom.
So, what about their music?
Wanna One has a youthful sound and vibe. There are eleven members and it has the combination of singers, dancers, and rappers K-pop fans have come to expect.
In my recent visits with college-age Koreans, I was overwhelmed by how many could name the members of Wanna One or had a picture of one of the members on their phone’s wallpaper. In my completely unscientific poll, I found that there was a deeper connection and familiarity with Wanna One than with BTS. Shocking! I was talking Jimin and Jin and they were buzzing about Kang Daniel and Min Hyun. They were so enthusiastic and they spoke about the group members in an almost maternal way. For example, when an anti-fan posted something rude on social media, the young ladies I spoke with immediately rushed to the defense of “their boys.” The bond forged through the trials, tests, and triumphs of Produce 101 is certainly very strong. It is not surprising that Wanna One won the New Korean Wave Rookie Award and is nominated for a number of others. I recently saw on Viki and Kocowa that there is a Wannaone show called Wanna City designed to prepare them for future appearances of variety shows. They are all so wide-eyed and full of wonder. It will be interesting to see them grow!
So, what do you think? Did you watch Produce 101? Are you a “Wannable” or is this group news to you? Please comment below!
Until next time… Wait! When you next hear from me I will likely be on location in KOREA!!! Anyway, until then…
Dramas with a Side of Kimchi