Watch here with various subtitle options
In the second episode, Mnet introduces the remaining trainees and establishes the rules for elimination. And by “introduces” I mean “leaves them on the editing room floor”. Editorial decisions have quickly become increasingly head-scratching; while popular contestants like Su Ruiqi, Huening Bahiyyih and Choi Yunji are featured, other popular contestants like Roada Xu and Cherry Bullet’s May are snubbed, with viewers told in a montage to watch the clips online. If we’re cutting trainee screen time, we must be using those minutes for other, really important matters, right? … Right?
I watched the clips and, taken as a whole, trainee talent remains above average, and the skill gap between Korean/Japanese/Chinese trainees continues to shrinki. Former Prizmmy☆ member Kubo Reina leads her very capable crew through Mamamoo’s “gogobebe”. Kim Doah’s squad includes ex-LIPBUBBLE You Dayeon and ex-LIMESODA Kim Hyerim, and their performance of “Wow Thing” is appropriately polished. Su Ruiqi and BVNDIT’s Sim Seungeun shine in their solo stages. Even Huening Bahiyyih’s group, probably the weakest shown in episode 2, reveals only a lack of stage experience, not necessarily talent.
I still posit there are very few “bad” trainees on this show; I’d say the twins from GZH48 are the closest to the Produce 48 “no skills, only charisma” archetype. Everyone else is either extremely raw or visibly nervous. The main difference between a good performance and bad performance seems to be conditioning; lots of trainees don’t seem to have the stamina to sing and dance for 4 minutes straight. To be frank, there are many working idols with the same problem, it typically just gets fixed in post.
Mnet takes a moment here to re-up on the tried-and-true “one last chance” narrative trope. GP999 features a handful of veteran idols from nugu/already disbanded groups. Doah talks about how COVID has impacted the chances of FANTATICS, driving three members to compete. Cherry Bullet’s Kim Bora doesn’t mince words about how her unit is floundering. Yujin reveals a bombshell in her interview, saying CUBE won’t promote CLC anymore. Even Su Ruiqi talks about her trauma from competing on previous shows (Produce 101 China and CHUANG 2020), having always come close to winning but falling just short. One would think to blame the companies that promised the world to some desperate trainees, debuted them with no plan or budget, then folded on their responsibilities at the first sign of complexity. But no! I guess the girls just weren’t talented enough.
Anyways, after the intro stages, the dust settles and we’re left with approximately 1/3rd of the trainees being eligible for Top 9.
Captain Planet Planet Guardian Yeo Jin Goo explains the benefit of being Top 9: these lucky trainees will have first pick when making new Cells. They can even choose other trainees from the Top 9 if they wish. Furthermore, those who are chosen can’t refuse. Behind the scenes, the Masters make their final decisions on a somewhat vague basis (“leadership qualities”, “vibe”) and the results are announced.
Let’s address the role of the Masters this season. Unlike previous seasons, the trainers are more than just reaction/advice Gacha machines. The opportunity to construct your cell is game-changing; a talented but unpopular trainee can basically secure their safety by bundling up with the obvious front-runners. In addition, the mentors will decide the victors of the first round CONNECT battle. On top of that, Jin Goo explains the Masters can use a “Planet Pass” to save one girl per “group” (Planet (K/J/C) I’m guessing) from elimination. That’s three times the second chances given compared to Produce X 101.
This has shades of Sixteen written all over it. I’ve always said if Mnet employed a JYP clause (“We get final say no matter what”) they would avoid the need to rig votes in order to ensure a viable product in the end. Of course, the whole appeal of the Produce series was the façade of netizen democracy, so easier said than done. But with the rebrand opportunity, the Masters being in charge of these pivotal decisions feels like Mnet brandishing a “Get-Out-Of-Jail Free” card, just in case
if when things go to shit.
The Top 9 draft their new cell members, most of them picking from the most popular trainees. Jin Goo then asks if there are cells that don’t want to change members. The rest of the trainees are then invited to just uhhhh find a new cell. It’s some sort of free-for-all feeding frenzy, and it’s glossed over quickly on the show. Given how important cells are to the show rules and the show identity you’d think Mnet make this a more deliberate process. But no, all we get is 30 seconds of a fire drill in 240p. The new cells correspond directly to the Box Game groups, for those who have been paying attention.
It’s new dorm time! The new cell mates (their words not mine) are led to the facility, deloused and given their jumpsuits (lol). The girls unpack and then party.
Produce has been around a long time, and many of the girls are scholars on the subject. They’ve played knifey-spooney before. Quite a few wake up extra early on the first day, getting a jump on the camera crews skulking the halls. They know that Mnet’s gonna have a Morning Mission, and they know it’ll start with the crew blasting “O.O.O” over the PA system to embarrass sleepy-head trainees. And they’re right. But this time, instead of a heavy workout, the trainees are greeted with a challenge: find each other’s baby pictures.
After the mission is complete (no reward just yet), the girls are led to an auditorium. Yeo Jin Goo arrives as well, and presents them the Connect Mission (it’s the group battle, friends). There will be a total of 7 songs:
- BLACKPINK – “How You Like That”
- IZ*ONE – “Fiesta”
- Oh My Girl – “The Fifth Season”
- Twice – “Yes or Yes”
- EXO – “The Eve”
- BTS – “MIC Drop”
- Seventeen – “Pretty U”
Each Girl Group song will be a battle between two performance groups on the same song, a la previous seasons. The Boy Group songs will be a 3-way competition, one performance group per song. Each performance group will be comprised of 3 cells (9 members). Winners of each girl group battle will get a 2x multiplier for the last 24 hours of voting. Winners of the boy group battle will get a 3x multiplier. This is confusing as hell.
Prior to GP999’s premier, I had been anticipating on Mnet borrowing some flavor from Chinese idol survival, considering how successful it’s been over there (ban notwithstanding). Inclusion of the Boy Group songs, specifically EXO’s “The Eve”, is pretty much a direct shout out to Youth With You 2’s viral stage for the same song. I’m excited to see how they pan out.
You Dayeon agrees with me, as her cell selects first, their reward for winning the Morning Mission. Their plan is simple: go for the powerful, fierce trainees and then pick a boy song. Fu Yaning, Su Ruiqi, and Ezaki Hikaru all get drafted for “The Eve.” Everyone wants to steer clear of their group. Choi Yujin’s team features four Top 9’ers and is immediately labeled as the Avengers (sigh). The rest of the groups settle in. Huening Bahiyyih sheds tears as her cell isn’t picked, setting up for an underdog story, possibly Snack 2?? Maybe if she wasn’t the most popular contestant on the show by far. I fear for her opponents.
And then we cut to previews for Episode 3.
Most of the screentime of Episode 2 was consumed by the girls applying makeup or goofing off. Which is nice, but when you’re cutting stages to include awkward freeze frames, those decisions become questionable. In this way, Girls Planet 999 feels like a clip show for a longer, more intentional program. I’m not quite sure who is supposed to be pleased by these editorial decisions. Fans of idol shows are angry because hyped idols aren’t getting any screen time. Casual watchers are baffled by the breakneck pacing, convoluted voting scheme and lack of context. The lack of trust/casual interest bear out in the ratings, which are the lowest ever in the series, having yet to break 1% nationally. This will no doubt improve, but hitting an average of say, 2% for the season seems highly unlikely, even with Mnet trying to makjang the shit out of it. For reference, the first season of Produce 101 started at around 1% nationwide and ended up averaging 3%.
The fairest coverage you can get is just by watching the material uploaded outside the show. Full performances, full promo videos, behind the scenes, fan cams, there’s plenty of content to enjoy for each participant. The Universe app does make accessing all that much easier than before. As it stands, the television program almost feels like an afterthought, like a vehicle for television ads and not much else. I don’t think it’s meant to be watched. But it’s morbidly fascinating watching a show meant for no one.
- Really enjoyed Lee Chaeyun audibly talking shit about the other teams. The FNC way keeps on shining through.
- Kang Yeseo, Cai Bing, and Kuwahara Ayana seem like major curveball picks for Top 9. Though Kang Yeseo’s voting numbers are now incredibly high.
- 16 cells (48 trainees) will be eliminated in the first vote. Also, the final group has no composition restriction, which means the cells will go away at some point.
- I enjoy Mnet’s focus on how the C Trainees are quirky and weird. I do not appreciate the overuse of guzheng anytime a C Trainee says anything at all.
- I get that oversize has been a thing for a while now but Jin Goo’s 2nd suit looked like my first suit out of college.
- The song choices are all pretty top-tier, Oh My Girl is the outlier but also I’m a big fan of OMG so I’ll allow it. Definitely better choices than say, “Short Hair”.
- Elimination voting is free (so far), app currency Klaps (is it “claps” like the clap or “k-laps” like prolapse?) are used for “99.9% Support” voting, which currently will get you favorite trainee a sack of vitamins. The voting here might be a somewhat accurate portend for the elimination votes, especially since the ratings show a huge lack of casual interest.
- On Youtube/Universe/Naver you can watch the 999 Cell PR for each cell, or the “Promise Release” for individual members if you crave more content.