Who’s Better, Who’s Best: Competition and Manipulation in K-pop

Image: Pixabay

Crystal S. Anderson, PhD

Director, KPK: Kpop Kollective

Recent developments involving award and competition shows reveal the impact of mainstreaming on K-pop. As stakes increase for industry and media, accolades and competition are perceived as metrics for quality. However, they largely measure popularity, which is subject to manipulation.

While many K-pop acts are managed by an agency and undergo rigorous training that may span years, others result from competition shows developed by broadcast companies. These shows produce a temporary K-pop group that promotes during a fixed promotion period, and then often disbands.  Such shows have proven popular, drawing on the increased global popularity of K-pop. For example, Produce 101, created by CJE&M, has produced K-pop groups I.O.I, Wanna One, IZ ONE, and X1 in four seasons.

Such shows have not been without controversy. While fans may express their displeasure when their favorites do not win, police in South Korea have found that results of the shows were manipulated. Writing for soompi, D.S. Kim reports: “According to the police, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency’s cyber investigation team found differences between the number of votes revealed on the final episodes and the raw data showing the actual votes that were sent in by viewers.”

Questions about vote manipulation are also leveled at accolades such as awards. Not very long ago, mainstream recognition was not an issue in K-pop because of its marginalized status. However, the mainstreaming of K-pop involves participation in award shows. When the K-pop girl group BLACKPINK recently won several People’s Choice Awards in November 2019, major American media outlets like Newsweek reported on the frustration of fans of BTS, who during the past couple of years had been the most recognizable K-pop group in the United States. Other media outlets revealed suspicions by BTS fans similar to those that sparked the Produce 101 investigation: “Others were confused at the group’s loss given how popular BTS is, with a few fans keeping tabs on fan voting for the People’s Choice Awards. ‘There is no possible way that blackpink beat BTS for this award,@peopleschoice you have some explaining to do,’ wrote @tae25 while tweeting out screenshots of Awards stats that show BTS leading in votes” (Ali).

While fans often lead the charge with accusations around manipulation, it is the personnel in the corporations that manage the competitions and awards. They encourage the use of popularity as a metric of quality. The Produce 101 competitions ultimately relied on fan votes that were based on the performances shown by the show itself, performances that generated profit for the companies when the shows aired. Similarly, awards like the People’s Choice Awards are popularity awards, popularity which results from exposure that the media helps to generate in the first place.

When accusations of manipulation are made, it is in part because of an environment that uses popularity as a metric for quality and benefits the very entities that create the competition.  This is only possible when K-pop goes mainstream, generating a certain level of popularity.


Ali, Rasha. “BTS fans upset after K-pop group lost to Blackpink at 2019 People’s Choice Awards.” USAToday. 11 Nov 2019. https://www.usatoday.com/story/entertainment/celebrities/2019/11/11/peoples-choice-awards-bts-fans-frustrated-k-pop-group-lost/2560369001/ (16 Nov 2019).

Kim, D.S. “Update: Police Find Suspicions That “Produce 101” Seasons 1 And 2 Were Also Manipulated + Mnet Responds.” soompi. 14 Nov 2019. https://www.soompi.com/article/1365570wpp/police-find-suspicions-that-produce-101-seasons-1-and-2-were-also-manipulated (16 Nov 2019).

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Who’s Better, Who’s Best: Competition and Manipulation in K-pop by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

This Week In K-pop: K-pop Game Changers, New Releases, Choreo Versions (6/16-6/22)

Finding The Most Important K-pop Stuff So You Don’t Have To


K-pop Game Changers

Bang Shi Hyuk, CEO of Big Hit Entertainment, and Lee Soo Man, founder of SM Entertainment make Variety’s “International Music Leaders of 2018” list. The article credits Bang with BTS’s recent global success and charting in the United States in 2018 yet describes Lee’s long-term impact on the industry. (See Variety: International Music Leaders of 2018)

New Videos

Taeyeon, “Something New,” Something New

BTOB, “Only One For Me (너 없인 안 된다),” This Is Us 

Yang Yoseob, “On the Road,” Re: playlist, Vol.1

Like a Movie, “Twilight”

Kim Dong Han, “Sunset,” D-Day

Minseo, _Is Who

Park Kyung (Block B), “Instant (ft Sumin)


BlackPink, “DDU-DU DDU-DU,” Square Up

BlackPink, “Forever Young,” Square Up

AOA, “빙글뱅글 Bingle Bangle,” Dance Practice

Kahn, “I’m Your Girl?” Dance Practice


SMTOWN. “TAEYEON 태연 ‘Something New’ MV” YouTube. 18 Jun 2018. https://youtu.be/im1UUY8dQIk (19 Jun 2018).

1theK. “[MV] BTOB(비투비) _ Only one for me(너 없인 안 된다).” YouTube. 18 Jun 2018. https://youtu.be/fHQkdIGue3k (18 Jun 2018).

BLACKPINK. “BLACKPINK – ‘뚜두뚜두 (DDU-DU DDU-DU)’ DANCE PRACTICE VIDEO (MOVING VER.).” YouTube. 17 Jun 2018. https://youtu.be/jOJbXvjZ-cQ (18 Jun 2018).

1theK. “[MV] YANG YOSEOP(양요섭) _ On the road(길에서) (RE:PLAYLIST(리플리) Vol.1).” YouTube. 17 Jun 2018. https://youtu.be/haRMtIy8fns (18 Jun 2018).

Stone Music Entertainment. “영화처럼 (Like a Movie) – Twillight MV.” YouTube. 16 Jun 2018. https://youtu.be/MuiOTIaCCKs (18 Jun 2018).

FNCEnt. “AOA – 빙글뱅글 (Bingle Bangle) 안무영상 (Dance Practice) Full Ver.” YouTube. 19 Jun 2018. https://youtu.be/b3mMeYS2wzE (19 Jun 2018).

1theK. “[MV] Kim Dong Han(김동한) _ SUNSET.” YouTube. 19 Jun 2018. https://youtu.be/CQNvMyQTIHw (26 Jun 2018).

BLACKPINK. “BLACKPINK – ‘Forever Young’ DANCE PRACTICE VIDEO (MOVING VER.).” YouTube. 20 Jun 2018. https://youtu.be/89kTb73csYg (26 Jun 2018).

1theK. “[MV] MINSEO(민서) _ Is Who.” YouTube. 20 Jun 2018. https://youtu.be/IT7e8OtHzKM (26 Jun 2018).

KHAN. “KHAN I’m Your Girl ? dance practice.” YouTube. 20 Jun 2018. https://youtu.be/Em3Ko7g22ao (26 Jun 2018).

seven seasons. “박경 (PARK KYUNG) – INSTANT (Feat. SUMIN) Official Music Video.” YouTube. https://youtu.be/ZIgwMb4cf_w (26 Jun 2018).

This Week in K-pop: TVXQ in Japan, New Releases, Choreo Versions (6/10 – 6/15)

Finding The Most Important K-pop Stuff So You Don’t Have To


The Return of the Kings

TVXQ broke attendance records by attracting one million to their “Begin Again” Tour in Japan that began in November 2017. This also sets a new record for most concertgoers in a single tour for a foreign artist in Japan. This is significant, as the tour is the first following their mandatory military service. As a veteran K-pop group that has been together over 15 years, the concert attendance shows that TVXQ remains popular in the competitive Japanese market. (See Soompi: “TVXQ Sets New Record in Japan for Foreign Artists With Most Concertgoers At A Single Tour“)

New Video

New videos this week from Longguo (aka Kim Yong Guk, formerly of JBJ) and Nano (formerly of History), OSTs for Are You Human? and About Time, newcomers DPR Live and BlackPink and veteran K-pop group SHINee.

Longguo, “Clover” Ft. Yoon Mirae

Lyn, Hanhae, “Love,” Are You Human? OST Part 2

DPR Live, “Playlist”

Hui, “Maybe,” About Time OST Part 3

Nano, “Walkin’ (ft. Pry)”

SHINee, “I Want You,” The Story of Light EP. 2

BlackPink, “뚜두뚜두 (DDU-DU DDU-DU),” Square Up


Choreography videos from fromis_9, A.C.E and Viction.

fromis_9, “두근두근(DKDK)” Choreography Ver.

A.C.E, “Take Me Higher” Relay Dance

Viction, “Time of Sorrow (오월애)”


Choon Entertainment. “[MV] 용국(LONGGUO) – CLOVER(Feat.윤미래).” YouTube. 13 Jun 2018. https://youtu.be/-Ot30Tlslfs (13 Jun 2018).

SUPER SOUND Bugs! “[M/V] LYn, HANHAE(린, 한해) – LOVE.” YouTube. 12 Jun 2018. https://youtu.be/py4nem_e-nA (18 Jun 2018).

Dream Perfect Regime. “DPR LIVE – Playlist (OFFICIAL M/V).” YouTube. 12 Jun 2018. https://youtu.be/n0LYGzYt6DU . (18 Jun 2018).

Stone Music Entertainment. “[멈추고 싶은 순간 : 어바웃타임 OST Part 3] 후이 (Hui) – Maybe MV.” YouTube. 12 Jun 2018. https://youtu.be/-VsOrKThs3Y (18 Jun 2018).

SUPER SOUND Bugs! “[M/V] NANO(나노) – Walkin’ (feat. Pry) (Prod. HSND).” YouTube. 11 Jun 2018. https://youtu.be/rIERlXEQVKI  (11 Jun 2018).

SMTOWN. “SHINee 샤이니 ‘I Want You’ MV.” YouTube. 11 Jun 2018. https://youtu.be/IDpWeURKkbI (13 Jun 2018).

BLACKPINK. “BLACKPINK – ‘뚜두뚜두 (DDU-DU DDU-DU)’ M/V.” YouTube. 15 Jun 2018. https://youtu.be/IHNzOHi8sJs (15 Jun 2018).

Official fromis_9. “프로미스나인 (fromis_9) – 두근두근(DKDK) Choreography ver.” YouTube. 12 Jun 2018. https://youtu.be/NFJMwZQ5_zc  (18 Jun 2018).

M2. “[릴레이댄스] 에이스(A.C.E) – Take Me Higher.” YouTube. 11 Jun 2018. https://youtu.be/AsY8WqAC3OI (13 Jun 2018).

VICTON 빅톤. “VICTON 오월애 안무영상 (Choreography) 가쿠란 Ver.” YouTube. 10 Jun 2018. https://youtu.be/-oauPoQ8pRQ (13 Jun 2018).