MGM Television announced on May 6 that it’s partnering with Korea’s SM Entertainment — home to some of the industry’s biggest K-pop acts — to broadcast an American competition show to form its first U.S.-based K-pop group.
The group, called NCT-Hollywood, will be made up of American men aged 13 to 25, and will be the latest subunit of SM’s group NCT. The 23-member collective is an umbrella group made up of various units: NCT 127 (based in Seoul), NCT Dream (initially a teen group), WayV (based in China), and NCT-U (a rotating roster — yes, it’s confusing).
According to the announcement, the show won’t just be an America’s Got Talent-like offshoot. Though contestants will be American, they’ll be fully trained in the rigorous (and effective) K-pop style. Participants will also be flown to Seoul for bootcamp at the SM campus, where they will compete in various dance and vocal evaluations that will be both judged and mentored by SM founder Lee Soo-man and current NCT members.
“I look forward to making an unconventional audition show that all music fans around the world can enjoy,” Lee said in a statement. “I hope the audience enjoys watching the journey of new stars being born in Hollywood, that will be promoted as NCT-Hollywood in the global market in the future.”
Still, the news didn't quite receive the fanfare that one might have expected from fans. Yes, making localized K-pop groups has been a well-known longtime goal of Lee's. And yes, this could be a way to make K-pop an even more powerful, globalized industry and even gain NCT more fans. But many are equally wary of the move, which they see as SM prioritizing making newer groups instead of promoting the ones they already have. Others worry that transplanting K-pop into the U.S. could lead to whitewashing or stripping the industry of the non-Western cultural traditions that fans value so greatly. Fans, known as NCTzens, made their displeasure (especially targeted at SM itself) known through hashtags on Twitter like #CANCEL_NCT_HOLLYWOOD.
To be clear: K-pop artists aren't just Korean. That's especially true of NCT, which has members who are Japanese, Chinese, Korean American and Canadian, and Thai. Still, though they may be idols of different nationalities, and mixed races, nearly all are of Asian ethnicities. Debates on whether a non-Asian K-pop group could still be K-pop has been an ongoing debate and source of controversy among fans and executives for a long time.
Lee has never specified whether contestants had to be of Asian descent — nor did BTS’ company HYBE (formerly Big Hit Entertainment) when it announced a similar partnership with Universal Music Group to make its own show in February. Until we know more, it will remain a significant point of contention for fans eager to enjoy the genre they love, without the added pressure to appeal to a western audience.