5 controversial K-pop survival shows: PRODUCE X 101, Idol School, and more 

5 controversial K-pop survival shows (Image via Twitter/@bp_jkw, @syeonniee_124)
5 controversial K-pop survival shows (Image via Twitter/@bp_jkw, @syeonniee_124)

One of the most popular ways of recruiting K-pop idols, other than casting, is through K-pop survival shows. As the contestants selected through the auditions climb through each level of the tasks assigned to them, an ideal group is left in the final round, ready to debut. Despite its labeling as a reality show, much of its legitimacy and functioning has been a controversial topic in the industry.

From excessively overworking their participants to manipulating votes, many K-pop survival shows have faced criticism from K-pop fans. As the years go by, only new kinds of problems arise from these shows.

Fans fear that the cycle of controversy is never-ending, but that doesn't stop them from calling out the problematic dimensions of these survival shows.

From latest to classics: 5 K-pop survival shows that sat unsettlingly with fans

1) Idol School


Idol School, which aired in 2017, has to be one of the most eye-catching K-pop survival shows. Starting out with 41 female trainees, the show aimed to create a nine-member K-pop group, which later came to be fromis_9. During the airing of the show, many people called out Mnet, the show's host, for its vote manipulation.

Vote manipulation is a system where the percentage of whether the contestant stays or leaves the show depends upon votes. Since it eventually led to the unfair elimination of certain contestants despite their good performances, fans felt that the show was heavily biased. One of the contestants, Jessica Lee, also opened up about the extremities that the trainees had to live through.


Not only were the trainees' phones confiscated during the filming of the show, they were also put through intense diet routines that led them to binge eat. She also revealed that many of the scenes weren't actual incidents, but were shot manipulatively. With a long list of problems piling up, it comes as no surprise that many of the trainees begged to be eliminated.

2) PRODUCE X 101

Another one of Mnet's many K-pop survival shows that garnered attention for its problematic functioning was Produce X 101. The show started with 101 trainees from 47 different entertainment companies who would eventually debut into an eleven-member group, X1.

However, the debut group could only be promoted under Mnet for five years, half of the term with an exclusive contract, and the other half with a non-exclusive one.


While many fans could already guess the vote manipulation that took place in the elimination rounds, the final episode came crashing down with all of Mnet's secrets revealed. Around six of the contestants were unfairly eliminated, and due to the bribery and vote manipulation that involved the same, the producers of the show were arrested soon after.

3) Girls Planet 999: The Girls Saga

One of the most recent female K-pop survival shows is Girls Planet 999, with the highest number of trainees so far. About 99 female contestants kicked off the show in 2021, which naturally resulted in the formation of the rookie K-pop girl group, Kep1er. The show garnered a lot of attention due to heavy competition between several trainees who came from various Asian countries.


Though people were extremely happy with the final line-up of members for Kep1er, there were many problems that fans found with the show.

While vote manipulation was a constant in K-pop survival shows, fans felt that the voting ending within just one day after the performance wasn't enough buffer time to reveal authentic results. Additionally, the show eliminated many of its trainees too soon. Within the first three episodes, 81 out of the 99 contestants were eliminated.


Fans also felt that elimination was done without evaluating the trainees appropriately. Moreover, most of the trainees received little to no screen time during the show and many of the contestants were victims of evil editing.

Evil editing is a term used to refer to putting videos together in a way that showcases a person in a bad light.

4) Stray Kids

A 2017 reality show created by JYP Entertainment in an effort to form a new male K-pop group was Stray Kids, which resulted in a third-gen group that was named after the show. The show was more or less the male version of JYP Entertainment's previous search for a girl group, which resulted in TWICE.


With a different take on K-pop survival shows, Stray Kids had the members teaming up with each other and were expected to produce self-composed songs in order to debut together.

Many felt that the nine participants of the show were already set to debut and the show was just a superficial facade to keep the fanbases engaged pre-debut. This claim was further solidified when it was revealed that their music video Hellavator, featuring all nine members, was filmed way before the finals cemented their spots.

Additionally, fans also felt that the participants were put through a lot of emotional turmoil and mental distress despite their young age.

5) My Teenage Girl


The last on the list of K-pop survival shows is My Teenage Girl, a 2021 reality series created by MBC. Aiming to create a seven-member global K-pop girl group that can chart on Billboard, the finals of the show resulted in the formation of Classy. A total of 83 contestants participated and were divided into four groups based on their age.

One of the major reasons behind the show receiving a lot of backlash was the age of its contestants. A huge majority of the trainees were below seventeen years old, with their youngest contestants belonging to the 2010 line. Additionally, the show's finale song, SUN, also faced plagiarism allegations with KQ Entertainment for copying the chorus of ATEEZ's Wave.

Given the handful of K-pop survival shows and their even longer list of controversies, it naturally worries fans about the fate of true talent being able to shine in the industry and the working conditions of the trainees who participate in the same.

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Edited by Upasya Bhowal
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