TV CHOSUN’s mega hit audition program Mr. Trot, which has aired for about three months since the beginning of this year, finally ended with Lim Young Woong’s win. Just like its previous show Miss Trot, a catalyst for the trot craze in Korea, Mr. Trot has made various headlines and broken new records. The 11th episode that dealt with the final round of the Top 7 contestants on March 12 especially hit its own highest viewer ratings of 35.7 percent (provided by Nielsen Korea, as of the nationwide pay-per-view households). At the same time, it rewrote the records for the highest ratings in every music show of all Korean broadcasters as well as in all-time programs of the three comprehensive programming channels.
The greatest significance of TV CHOSUN’s Trot series, which started with Miss Trot, is that it has encompassed all generations as one fandom. Previously, many considered trot as a favorite genre only for the elderly. However, those who in their teens, 20s and 30s, the main viewers of the existing audition programs, have also become interested in the genre as other broadcasters have rushed to present similar trot contest shows since the success of Miss Trot. In addition, the middle-aged people, who were relatively unfamiliar with so-called “digital life”, have emerged as the important consumers of contents as the young. They have diligently participated in text voting for their favorite contestants, while watching videos of competitions and posting a lot of supportive comments on YouTube.
These integrations of generations and genres have happened not only among the viewers but also among the contestants. In case of Mr. Trot, although there were many contestants who had already been professional trot singers among the cast, there were also artists of the wholly different music genres such as opera and beatbox. Even there were other contestants who had no experience in show business including a soldier, university and elementary school students! The panel of judges in Mr. Trot also consisted of the celebrities from various fields. Starting with the three prominent trot singers (Jang Yoon Jeong, Park Hyun Bin and Jin Sung), many stars including the singer couple No Sa Yeon and Lee Moo Song, the songwriter Cho Young Soo, Park Myung Soo, Shin Ji of Koyote, Kim Junsu (formerly known as Xia Junsu of TVXQ) and Boom appeared in the show as judges.
Most of the songs sung in the contests were trot ones in accordance with the program’s title, but many contestants attempted their variations as different as their own ages and personalities on the live stages. In particular, Lim Young Woong, who ascended the throne of “Jin” (a No. 1 winner) in the final round, once tried dancing, his weakest point, during the broadcasting period of Mr. Trot. Expressing his joy and sorrow in the right place at the right time, this young singer has received much love from fans as a “Master of Emotions.” The last song he sang in the second contest of the final round was “Betrayer,” sung by Do Sung. The old classic was the song his late father enjoyed singing when he was alive. Of course, his sad family history may have stimulated the viewers’ sympathy. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t have been possible for Lim to rise from No. 2 in the middle to No. 1 (total 1,374,748 votes) of the national text votes to win the crown if he hadn’t had a mournful voice, which is one of his talents.
The long-awaited final round of Mr. Trot drew huge attention from the moment when the final seven contestants had been selected in the semi-final. All seven contestants greatly raised tension throughout the final, showing unique performances that grafts various genres such as EDM, dance, classical music and ballad into trot. Unfortunately, there was a bit of setback at the last minute as TV CHOSUN’s online server slowed down terribly due to the explosive increase in the number of the national text votes. As a result, the production team of Mr. Trot postponed the announcement of the final results to March 19, a week later, and then moved up the announcement date to the 14th. The viewers who were watching the show for more than three hours would have exhausted. Given the fairness issue that has been pointed out by the public numerous times through the previous audition programs such as Mnet’s Produce 101 series, however, that decision was the inevitable, only and best option for Mr. Trot.
Even though Mr. Trot was over with such a touching ending, there was a lot of gossip throughout the show. It failed to avoid controversy over the audition programs’ common problems including the malicious video editing and special treatments for the certain contestants. Even the winner Lim Young Woong was suspected of getting favoritism from the production team when one of the Mr. Trot scriptwriters posted a support message to him on her SNS channel with a hashtag saying, “so proud of you, my boy,” after the semi-final. If TV CHOSUN probably intends to prepare for the second seasons of the Trot series, its production team must constantly improve on the decreasing transparency on its own. Otherwise, no matter how great the contribution made by the show is for raising solidarity among the generations and lowering the boundaries of the trot genre, Mr. Trot won’t be able to stop the harsh criticism from the audience.
The more serious problem is that the contestants may get hampered by external pressure, such as the unreasonable broadcasting system, even after the end of Mr. Trot. On March 11 and 12, with the final round just around the corner, the gapjil controversy over Mr. Trot intensified as some Korean media reported a series of issues. One of them was about the unfair terms of TV CHOSUN’s “gapjil contracts” with the Mr. Trot contestants, while another issue was a warning message of the unidentified KBS producer given to one of the final seven contestants (his name was anonymous in the article at that time) on his appearance in Mr. Trot. Considering that the boy group X1, made of the final survivors in Produce X 101, eventually disbanded after the controversy over the manipulation of the show’s rankings turned out to be true, it’s highly worrisome that Mr. Trot contestants, including Lim Young Woong, will be hit harder by the subtle tyranny of the broadcasters. Some of the common problems such as malicious editing and the crash of the text voting server are temporarily solvable inside the production team. However, all kinds of gapjil against the contestants wouldn’t disappear forever if there were not a self-purification in the entire broadcasting industry.
Those questions remain unsolved, but the real journey of Mr. Trot contestants begins from now on. As Miss Trot‘s “Jin” Song Ga In has been dominating the numerous stages and entertainment shows as a new superstar, Lim Young Woong, the “Jin of trot men,” has taken on a new task of keeping up with the public expectation with his skills equivalent to those of Song Ga In. The rest of the Top 7 contestants, including Young Tak (No. 2 “Sun”) and Lee Chan Won (No. 3 “Mi”), also should solidify their respective positions in the music scene using the reflected glory of the broadcasting program. Anyway, I just hope that they will continue to perform very well for a long time in the tough entertainment industry, using their talents, friendship and sincerity they have proved over the past three months as the weapons.