[Disclaimer: No offense intended to any group or company mentioned]
All K-pop idols have to go through life as a trainee before they can debut, and this period of time is usually the most difficult for them. It’s filled with never-ending practices, criticisms, and at times even hopelessness, but this all serves as a foundation However, it can be said that how successful a debut of an idol or a group is largely affected by how the trainees are promoted before their debut. Based on existing and current examples from reputable companies such as SM Entertainment and YG, here are the four ways K-pop trainees are promoted before their respective debuts.
1. Competition Shows
These reality competitions are all the trend now, with YG’s “Win: Who Is Next” (2014), Pledis Entertainment’s “Seventeen Project” (2015), and JYP’s “Sixteen” (2015), to name a few. These competition shows normally start out with a large group of trainees, and after various missions and evaluations where contestants are eliminated, the final contestants will form a new idol group. This seems to be a good way to ensure a successful debut for the group, mainly because the contestants would have the chance to garner a strong fan base through challenges like public stages and even guerilla concerts.
In the case of JYP’s “Sixteen” for example, there is also public voting held through an app (Milk) held every week, increasing the participation of the public and thus the potential amount of fans for the contestants.
The correlation between groups who debut through competition shows and how successful their debuts are can be seen by a few examples. Firstly, through YG’s “Win: Who Is Next”, where the boy group Winner was born. With their debut album “2014 S/S,” the group achieved great success, as can be seen by how they topped charts and received numerous awards in music shows. Compare this to JYP’s GOT7, a boy group which also debuted in 2014. Unlike Winner, GOT7 did not debut through a competition show, and when they debuted on January 16 with “Girls Girls Girls”, they did not win a single music show. Despite having two members who had already debuted in JJ Project (2012) and had even acted in idol drama “Dream High 2”, they still did not have as large a fanbase as Winner at the time of their debut. This shows that competition shows are indeed more effective as a promotional tool, even compared to dramas.
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2. Social Media/YouTube Exposure
No one can deny that social media is a powerful thing, and through the example of EXID, who has found popularity three years after their debut thanks to a viral video of Hani, it can be seen that it has the ability to make a group or an artist extremely famous. SM knows this, and is using social media very effectively to promote their trainees, who are all awaiting debut. Known as the SM Rookies, this pre-debut group is already enjoying lots of popularity, thanks to the numerous YouTube videos uploaded by SMTOWN about them. There are videos of the boys doing short but extremely impressive dances, birthday surprises among the rookies, and even Lunar New Year Greetings.
These videos allow viewers to get to know these rookies in a more personal way, thus gaining them fans. The rookies also have an entire website dedicated to them, on which there are their profiles and more videos of them. Along with the website are Facebook and Twitter accounts, social media sites which serve to allow fans to keep up on what the rookies are doing. It seems that these measures are paying off, what with the rookies having 162k followers on Twitter and more than a million views on most of their videos. These rookies are even enjoying more popularity than some existing k-pop groups are, and I can’t wait to see how successful their debut will be in the future.
Another group from SM has proven this effective strategy, as can be seen by the massive waves they have made in k-pop ever since their debut in 2012. This group is none other than EXO, whose first teasers were released by SM around five months before their debut. This caused viewers and fans to get attracted to the group during that period and these promotions paid off when the group debuted to instant success. Since then, EXO has continued to remain extremely popular and they enjoy a huge and dedicated fanbase.
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3. CF/Music Video Appearances
There have been several instances in K-pop history when an idol group or artist debuts, only for fans to find that these new idols are not really that new anymore. Reason being they have appeared in music videos or advertisements pre-debut, making them familiar faces to the general public and even gaining them fans. A good example would be YG’s Kim Ji Soo, who is still a trainee and hasn’t made an official debut, but has already appeared in CFs for Nikon, appeared with popular stars such as Lee Minho, and even cameoed in a recent hit drama “The Producers”. She has already been given a lot of exposure as compared to fellow trainees and has gained herself numerous fans, making it hard to imagine how popular she would become when she does officially debut.
4. Not Promoting Them At All
Not all companies are as big and well-established as SM and YG, indeed. Big budgets are required for the promotion of idols, let alone for trainees who haven’t debuted. It is an unfortunate situation, but a realistic one, for several smaller entertainment companies. Take the example of new boy group Romeo from CT Entertainment. Despite being from a company that is a “spin-off” from SM Entertainment, the boy group does not share the same fame as the SM Rookies and debuted to little fanfare early last month. Without the help of pre-debut promotion, the group is still relatively unknown in the industry, and in an industry that has new groups debuting literally every week, they could easily be buried by other new acts.