Our 40-years journey through the desert of idol survival continues on, now 45 trainees lighter. No time for sentimental feelings though, it’s time to start the next mission.
The girls assemble again in the Big Carpet Room in front of the the Wall of Mystery. The numbers on their nametags are updated to reflect their current individual ranks. Yeo Jin Goo enters, and informs the trainees that the cells are dissolved. The next round of eliminations will cut every trainee ranked 9th place or lower in each group. There will also be a Planet Pass available as well.
The Combination Mission, is the Produce Position Battle but with a twist. Like before, trainees can choose Rap, Vocal, and/or Dance. Dance teams don’t need to sing live and Vocal/Rap teams don’t need to do much choreography. But there are now groups of 3, 6 or 9 to choose from. The 3-person teams directly compete with other 3-person teams, same with the 6-person teams and the 9-person teams. Thus, it’s not strictly a rap-vs-rap or dance-vs-dance competition.
- 2PM – “My House” (Vocal)
- Show Me The Money 9 – “VVS” (Rap)
- Woo Won Jae – “We Are” (Rap)
- Taeyeon – “All About You” (Vocal)
- ITZY – “Mafia in the Morning” (Vocal)
- Meghan Trainor – “No Excuses” (Dance)
- BTOB – “Missing You” (Rap/Vocal)
- IU – “My Sea” (Vocal)
- Lee Sun Hee – “Fate” (Dance)
- Little Mix – “Salute” (Dance)
- BLACKPINK – “Ice Cream” (Dance)
The winner from each category of team size will win the benefit. The prize is 270,000 points, divided equally among members of the team. So while there’s more competition picking a 3-person group, the benefit will be 3 times better than if you choose the 9-person team. The final stipulation is that each team will have an equal number of K/J/C trainees.
The teams pick in order of cell rankings. “Fate” gets bumrushed by many of the top trainees. The rest of the teams fill up quickly, other than the two rap teams which are left to the end. Like previous seasons, there aren’t many willing rappers in the lower ranks (or on the show at all). Vocalists like Kim Bora and Wen Zhe are visibly disappointed they’ll be forced to do some rapping. Nevertheless, they suck it up because they’re adults and not mental infants.
For the most part, each team picking leaders/killing parts goes mostly without incident.
Performance day comes, and the mentors are joined by a special guest judge: rapper Woo Won Jae.
The trainees performing his song are the first up.
Woo Won Jae – “We Are”
The aforementioned Kim Bora and Wen Zhe end up on the “We Are” team, but its their third member who gets some protagonist juice this episode. Nagai Manami, who ranked 7th individually for the 1st elminitation, hasn’t had much screen time all series. Her fanbase is strong, and seems to come from her involvement with Nowa Daiko, an incredibly theatrical taiko drumming troupe founded by her father. Mnet has sensed a possible dark horse, and they’re latching on to it.
For trainees scared shitless about rapping, Bora and Wen Zhe both do a fine job getting through the stage. Manami isn’t a “great” rapper by any stretch but she’s better than, say, Hyewon was at the beginning. MVP goes to Bora for writing Manami’s raps for her.
Blackpink – “Ice Cream”
Kim Dayeon is obviously the MVP, leading the team and constructing the choreography in a somewhat egalitarian way. The performance is fine, but seems a little bare, especially when compared to the other stages. Could’ve used some set dressing or something, feels like a Connect Mission performance.
It also seems that if you’re a low ranking trainee, getting lost inside a 9-person group is just not a good strategy. The behind-the-scenes was basically all Dayeon and J-Group Planet Pass recipient Ikema Ruan. Condolences to the Tammy Wu fans out there. Oh yeah Huening Bahiyyih is here too.
By the way, the judges seems a lot more chipper this round. Not a lot of criticism, just praise. Wonder if they got wind of the backlash for some of the comments in the last round.
Meghan Trainor – “No Excuses”
Another 3-top. I don’t buy the drama about Yang Zige being a dance weirdo, she’s a Yuehua trainee and has more than a couple dance cover videos under her belt. Performance goes without a hitch, but isn’t anything earth-shattering. MVP goes to Kim Suyeon for providing the essential iPad during practice.
BTOB – “Missing You”
The practice does not go very well, despite the presence of #1 overall ranked trainee Kawaguchi Yurina. Zhou Xinyu, rapping for the first time, seems to still be traumatized from her gaff last round. But with hard work and compliment fairy Lee Hyewon sprinkling compliments on everyone, they pull it off in the end.
MVP goes to Kubo Reina, who finally found a big belty ballad to really shine on. Condolences go to An Jeongmin, who does excellent work here but has completely fallen out of favor with Mnet, and gets zero screen time.
Taeyeon – “All About You”
Yeo Jin Goo gets his moment, as “All About You” is an OST track from his hit drama Hotel De Luna.
MVP is Choi Yeyoung, who is basically like “fuck these kids” from the first day. Yeyoung is anxious about her 13th place ranking, especially when her higher-ranked but less-serious teammates fool around during practice. Even after a shaky check up session things don’t seem to get better. And mistakes during pre-show rehearsals also give Huang Xingqiao the giggles, which the mentors call out with the utmost seriousness.
Of course, the performance is fine. Huang Xingqiao has a great voice when she concentrates. Yeyoung gets some big compliments from Lim Hanbyul.
ITZY – “Mafia in the Morning”
Fredophobia is over y’all I wrote that then I saw the Mario Movie casting. Condolences to the Italian community.
“Mafia” has three high-profile trainees in Huh Jiwon, Sakamoto Mashiro, and Fu Yaning. Their problems are trite and easily overcome. “We need to try harder.” “Ok.” And scene.
The performance is fine, better than the practice for sure. MVP is Mashiro, her tone was great and in an alternate universe you could easily see her fitting in with the rest of ITZY. I kind of like this Led Zeppelin “Cashmere” / Diddy “Come With Me” arrangement of the song better than the original.
Show Me The Money 9 – “VVS”
The flashback focuses mostly on the falling-upward Liang Jiao, but to me the real star of this squad is Kamimoto Kotone, who impressed me last mission as well. I genuinely think she’s the best rapper left, and her lyrics about getting no screen time is the meta-content I most desire.
Where did my parts on TV end up going
Hardly anyone knows about my existence
Do it again!
Mom, I’m a hidden gem
There’s a shining energy inside of me
Let me stay here
It’s a pity to just go home like this
Anyways, one of the few performances to not get a compliment. Kotone’s probably doomed. Oh well.
IU – “My Sea”
Lots of vocal talent on this team. Li Yiman’s tone is great, she’s been a workhorse on the show even though she gets absolutely no screen time. MVP Kim Chaehyun gets the juiciest parts of the arrangement and knocks them out of the park. Even Miss Six Pack Sakamoto Shihona does an amicable job.
Disappointed by the ever-fading Xu Ziyin, who I feel might be a little too selfless as a leader. Jeong Jiyoon’s poor condition causes her to crack during the high note, which is unfortunate. I can feel Mnet pulling away from her as her popularity falters.
2PM – “My House”
Wang Yale takes the lead but directs the team to some shaky sounding harmonies. During the check-up, the mentors praise Seo Youngeun‘s vocals but are less than impressed with Yale, putting her at the bottom of the class for all the 3-person teams. Yale comes to terms with the faults of her leadership and vows to do better.
Come main performance, all the harmonization issues seem to be fixed. MVP Seo Youngeun steals the show as center, but all three do well.
Little Mix – “Salute”
And now… it’s mess time. Cai Bing is the leader of this 9 person team, but the choreography is being split between her and other talented members Yoon Jia, Kim Doah and Arai Risako. During the check up, mentor Back Kooyoung asks who did the choreography. Cai Bing says she did, then Doah adds it was a group effort. Cai Bing’s timing is noticeably off during the session, and Sunmi calls her out on it. Kooyoung tells the team they might have to consider switching Cai Bing off the killing part.
During the team discussion, Cai Bing’s excuse for not being polished during the exam is that, as the leader of the team, she didn’t have enough time to work on her personal practice. Doah isn’t having it. Risako also feels like Cai Bing is being stubborn, but feels she can’t voice her opinion about the situation, especially as Cai Bing bursts into tears in frustration.
Practice continues, until the arrival of a Zhang Luofei solo section. Cai Bing joins her for the part, to the surprise of the rest of the team. They flashback to a little earlier with the team deciding explicitly how Luofei will dance alone at that section. Now, confronted with the abrupt change in plans, the team stops dancing and ask what’s up with that.
Cai Bing replies with “[저 리더예요] 我覺得我說了可以算的”, or “[KR: I’m the leader] I think what I say, matters”, which can be taken as brusque but is a far cry from “I can do whatever I want” which is how Mnet officially translates it. She follows it up with “趕緊繼續吧 “, or “Let’s get on with it” and “不要再提出任何意見了” or “Don’t keep commenting on it”.
I’ve seen a couple of “native Chinese speakers” say Mnet translated this perfectly into English, and as another person who speaks/writes/reads/hears Chinese on a daily basis, this take is completely baffling to me. This type of talk comes up fairly often when working in a collaborative setting. adding all these authoritarian nuances is a huge stretch.
Considering the cultural differences, it’s no surprise that the blunt workplace manner of some of the C-trainees finally became a point of contention. As we saw with the Wang Yale, Wang Zige, and even chronic pooper* Liang Jiao, Mnet is hellbent on making this culture clash the prevailing narrative. Even the drama surrounding Fu Yaning’s “challenge” to Choi Yujin was just a hint of what was to come.
If you notice, the C-trainees who have spent ample amounts of time in the Korean system (Xu Ziyin, Cui Wen Mei Xu, etc) are much more lowkey then their novice counterparts. Maybe it’s a personality thing, maybe they know how to not make a big stink on Korean Reality TV. Or maybe it’s just the edit.
I don’t think Cai Bing is a good leader, I think her excuses for not being ready for the check up aren’t satisfactory. And Cai Bing not being sensitive to these cultural differences is in fact a mark against her social aptitude. But Mnet’s blunt-object editing is doing most of the heavy lifting here. With a defter touch you could process these events as “Chinese trainees learn, grow from taking risks with their fellow international teammates.” That’s not as drama-bait-y though.
Tl;dr, Cai Bing’s portion of the episode is hacked to bits, plus the translations to English are tonally disingenuous, even compared with the provided Chinese transcripts (which aren’t correct either). But also, that’s how Chinese people be sometimes, lol.
Anyways, “Salute” is my favorite stage of the mission. Everyone involved is peaking, and they all look great. Doah, Kim Hyerim, Risako (#BiscuitGang), Luofei, Chiayi, Moka Shima, they all stood out.
Lee Sunhee – “Fate”
A huge curveball, “Fate” is such an awesome concept to include. I know it’s a Korean song, but this is definitively the most C-Pop performance so far on the show, and its addition is certainly because of the immense popularity of idol competitions in China (RIP). Definitely hints of Queendom here too. At the very least, it’s a much better inclusion than say another milquetoast Demi Lovato track.
Like the other stacked teams, there isn’t much of an issue here. At first, their performance is boring because there’s no story. So they make a story. Voila.
Sun Ruiqi and Shen Xiaoting are all over this performance, and noticeably more comfortable here than they’ve been all season. May also does her best work of the series here. I’ll give MVP to Kang Yeseo for shedding tears at the beginning pose, what a genius touch.
The winners are announced. “Mafia” take the 3-person prize, “Fate” takes the 6-person prize, and “Salute” takes the 9-person prize.
2nd eliminations are next.
- Liang Jiao said that she had gastroenteritis during the “VVS” practices and that’s why she was going to the bathroom all day. Evil editing someone’s physical condition without context feels like a new low.
- It is really wild how quickly Mnet moves from trainee to trainee. Kim Hyerim couldn’t buy screen time this episode, even after getting the Planet Pass.
- Mnet vs Bahiyyih is so extreme at this point I almost feel bad for her I-fans. Almost.
- The fake doors and the tape on the ground leading the trainees to their song choice platforms was so low budget I had to laugh. Mnet went from building an Epcot Center to marking lines on the ground with painter’s tape.
- I think overall I enjoyed GP999’s Combination stages more than the Produce 48 Position Battle, mostly due to the song choices involved.
- Oh God I-Land 2 auditions announced