The iconic Produce franchise is back with its third and final season, “Produce 48”. The show is an ambitious collaboration between Korean trainees and Japanese idols in an attempt to create a global girl group that will take the world by storm. Despite Knetz boycotting the show, Produce 48 is likely to be just as impactful as its predecessors, and absolutely even more of a train wreck. Nobody can resist a good old snakey Mnet survival show, so let’s dive headfirst into this mess like the trash we all are, shall we?
The show opens with a montage of Produce 48 “buzz” such as search engine trends and news articles. (I guess Mnet is pretending that a tonne of the people who were searching up the show weren’t doing so specifically to crap all over it, but that’s neither here nor there). This quickly segues into a mildly cheesy sequence of the contestants writing what training means to them on a whiteboard. We bear witness to a thousand metaphors (“we are like ninety-six seeds that are working hard to grow into sprouts”) whilst a voice over from our host Lee Seunggi asserts very seriously that we are responsible for helping the girls achieve their dreams and all that stuff.
The Yuehua trainees are the first to enter the studio, and the iconic, ever-intimidating Produce pyramid awaits them. Except, this time it only has ninety-six seats. They take their seats excitedly, and what follows is the longest montage of all time. I had hoped that after two seasons of this show, Mnet would’ve learned that you don’t need to dedicate forty minutes to people sitting down. With that said, watching the contestants quietly sizing each other up is entertaining enough to sit through.
A few noteworthy arrivals include After School’s Kaeun, ex-JYP trainee Lee Chaeyeon, HKT48’s Miyawaki Sakura and Matsui Jurina of SKE48. Fromis_9’s Jang Gyuri is also participating in the show, which is particularly frustrating considering that she just debuted two months ago after participating in Idol School, another Mnet survival show. The interactions between the Japanese and Korean trainees are adorably awkward, and watching them attempt to work around the language barrier is what makes the start of the episode worth the watch.
With the formalities finally out of the way, the contestants are ready to strut their stuff and the level evaluation process begins. The Yuehua trainees kick it off with a reasonably polished performance of Little Mix’s “Move.”
Trainees Kim Sihyun and Wang Yiren are ranked level B and Choi Yena level A. I was pretty shocked that the post-production team chose to start off with an A level performance- in the previous seasons mediocre quality performances were shown first and the A trainees emerged later for dramatic effect.
However, it quickly becomes clear that this is a part of Mnet’s larger narrative- it’s about painting the Korean trainees as talented and casually brilliant, an A is no biggie. Meanwhile, footage of F-ranked Japanese idols praising the Korean trainees whilst underperforming themselves reinforces this. Mnet are desperately trying to stroke the egos of the Korean public who emphatically refuse to watch their show. It’s painful to watch Produce 48 manufacture this ethnic hierarchy whilst trying to juggle a facade of international brotherhood for the sake of the show at the same time.
Next up is the obligatory fake “company rivalry.” This year, Mnet has chosen to pit WM Entertainment and Woollim Entertainment against each other. The Woollim trainees showcase their duality with a performance of both the Lovelyz track “Ah-Choo” and Infinite’s “Bad.” The de facto group leader Kwon Eunbi stands out (I mean you’d hope so, she’s been a trainee for five and a half years now) and the group overall did an excellent job of showcasing their capabilities.
The WM trainees perform “Shower” by Becky G, and whilst their vocals aren’t as strong as the Woollim trainees, their dancing is equally as good. Lee Chaeyeon (formerly a JYP trainee who appeared on K-POP STAR and SIXTEEN) performs a freestyle dance and it’s quite captivating. One Woollim trainee is given an A, one is sorted into B, and two into C. WM narrowly emerges the victor of the fake company rivalry with two trainees being given B level and the other A.
The “terrible-but-nobody-cares-because-they’re-pretty” trainees are next. Kang Hyewon (who apparently ranks herself as the number one contestant in terms of ‘innocence’ just in case you were wondering), performs a stiff rendition of “You & I” and receives an F. Kim Minjoo fares even worse and also receives an F. Oda Erina reckons she should’ve gotten an A. Let’s agree to disagree, Erina. But we all know that at the end of the day, both trainees will survive the next elimination.
Fave Entertainment and Cube Entertainment’s trainees round out the cringe montage. Shin Suhyun performs “Playing With Fire” by BlackPink, flopping and flapping her arms about whilst singing shakily. Fifteen-year-old Cube trainee Han Chowon squats down and awkwardly wiggles her butt while Cheetah remarks “what’s she doing?” It’s uncomfortable, to say the least. They both get F.
Two idols from AKB48 set the standard for the Japanese contestants with a performance of their own song “Get You!” The trainers aren’t very impressed, and visibly wince as the girls shout “SUKI DAAAA!” At the top of their lungs. The trainers then ask Nakano Ikumi to demonstrate a freestyle dance, since she’s allegedly considered one of the top dancers amongst the 48 group girls. The Japanese contestants think that her improvised choreography to “Look What You Made Me Do” is pretty nifty, but Bae Yoon Jung disagrees. There’s a montage to show us how mean and scary she is, just so we’re all aware that she’s that judge.
The HKT48 members perform their song “Never Ending Ferris Wheel.” The Japanese contestants say that if anyone’s going to get an A, it’s them. Spoiler- it’s not. They’re all ranked D and F. Bae Yoon Jung heavily criticizes them (surprise, surprise) for their unsynchronised choreography, saying, “K-Pop singers are famous for synchronised choreography, is that not really a thing in Japan?”
After an awkwardly long pause, Imada Mina explains that in Japan, it’s more important for idols to have approachability, charisma, and cute looks rather than singing and dancing skills. Whilst they’re all pretending to be shocked and are going on about some huge “culture gap,” I’m just rolling my eyes. So we aren’t going to talk about the fact that K-Pop is literally one of the most superficial industries in entire world and systematically scouts singers based almost solely on appearance, then coerces them into starvation and plastic surgery? No? OK.
The next group of contestants are a breath of fresh air, providing relief from the gloominess of the previous performances. Yamada Noe and Hasegawa Rena prance around the studio excitedly, get lost on their way up to the stage when it’s their turn to perform and mix up their Korean when they’re introducing themselves.
Their energy seamlessly translates into their performance. Their rendition of “Gee” by Girls’ Generation is by no means flawless, but you can tell that they’re genuinely enjoying themselves. And when asked to freestyle, Yamada Noe throws herself into it and proceeds to cut shapes without hesitation. It’s fantastic. The trainers compare her to Momoland’s JooE, and the meme-ish resemblance is definitely there. Between her unique husky voice, bubbly personality and innate variety sense, it looks as though Yamada Noe will be one to look out for this season.
Finally, we get a glimpse at potential main vocalists as the FNC Entertainment trainees and RBW trainees demonstrate their prowess by performing “Power” by Little Mix and Seventeen’s “Pretty U” respectively. The FNC girls boast impressive rap and vocal skills, but we don’t get to see their dancing. The RBW performance is pretty average, but when Na Goeun is asked to sing acapella, she showcases unexpectedly great vocal skills.
A couple more trainees showcase their freestyle dancing, including a Sohye lookalike and a Sunmi doppelgänger before the Starship trainees take to the stage. Among them is highly anticipated trainee Ahn Yoojin, who became known for her visuals after appearing in a contact lenses commercial and a few music videos. They perform “Wings” by Little Mix (tHiS iS tHE tHiRd LiTtLe MiX sONg tHiS ePiSoDe), and it’s pretty clean. All three girls have pretty stable vocals when dancing, and their voices mesh well together. All three definitely have a lot of potential, and it’s nice to see that for once these super hyped trainees have more to offer than just their visuals.
The best performances from the episode definitely all have a healthy amount of personality and energy. The HOW Entertainment trainees are no exception to this. Sporting brightly coloured polka dot dresses, the three girls anxiously potter on stage as they lament how their short training periods may hinder them. But do not be fooled! As soon as the song “Celeb Five” begins to play, they whirl around, posing flamboyantly, any trace of anxiety gone. Through their exaggerated facial expressions and wacky dance moves, Kim Minseo, Wang Ke and Yoo Minyoung give you a sight you won’t soon forget. They also scream loudly in unison halfway through the performance. Take notes folks, this is how you get air time. It was funny, it was sharp, it was tight, it was great.
Goto Moe, Takeuchi Miyu and Iwatate Saho also performed “Celeb Five,” but with a drastically different arrangement. Miyu proves herself to be a talented vocalist and Saho is similarly stable. However, Moe never has the chance to demonstrate her vocals, as she lost her voice at the last minute. It’s devastating to watch her blink back tears and her friends explain that she’s been practicing hard for the performance every day. Despite the fact that she couldn’t sing, the trainers did acknowledge her (particularly Bae Yoon Jung) for her stage presence and dance skills. Despite this, Moe is automatically sorted into F since she can’t sing, whereas her teammates are given an A and a B. Miyu is the only Japanese contestant shown to receive an A this episode, so it’ll be interesting to see who joins her next episode.
Finally, the Pledis trainees are up. After School’s Lee Kaeun has been the talk of the town ever since it was announced that she would appear on the show, and she explains her motivations during the episode. During an interview she talks about having to watch friends that she trained with appear on Produce 101, debut and find success while she did nothing. When Bae Yoon Jung asks her what she’s been doing for the last few years, Kaeun tearfully replies with a shaky voice, “I’ve been waiting for a comeback.” It’s heartbreaking, but so many idols get neglected like this and can’t do anything about it as long as they’re contractually bound. Luckily, Kaeun makes a strong first impression in Produce 48 with her Japanese language skills and her performance of “Havana”. She receives an A and her fellow Pledis trainee receives a B.
The episode wraps up with some classic Mnet trolling. The most anticipated Japanese trainees Miyawaki Sakura and Matsui Jurina are about to perform! They’re here to represent the J-idols! They’re going to be incredible! They’re superly-duperly famous! Everything is riding on this! But just as they step on stage, the episode ends, leaving us to tear out our hair in agony. Before the episode concludes for good, the rankings are revealed. The current top twelve trainees are:
1. Miyawaki Sakura
2. Ahn Yu Jin
3. Jang Won Young
4. Matsui Jurina
5. Lee Ga Eun
6. Jang Gyu Ri
7. Choi Ye Na
8. Lee Si An
9. Shiroma Miru
10. Jo Yu Ri
11. Wang Yi Ren
12. Kojima Mako
Are you liking Produce 48 so far? Who’s your pick? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to come back for next episode’s recap!