- The septet’s first MV, ‘Breathe Again’, and mini-album ‘Check-In’ launched on May 12
- Wuzo Entertainment is following in the footsteps of Hybe, formerly Big Hit Entertainment, with high expectations of these seven wannabe stars
On Wednesday, a new boy band was launched into the cut-throat K-pop market: Blitzers, a gang of seven teenagers, hoping to follow in the footsteps of BTS, released their mini album and first official MV.
The video has clocked up more than a million views on YouTube, and shows the boys strutting their stuff like professionals over a dance-floor filler that is sure to win them a raft of fans.
But getting to this point, as you’d expect if you have any understanding of the K-pop world, has not been easy.
The septet was selected from an original 30 teenagers who, between them, underwent thousands of hours of training and dozens of shattered dreams. And now, their
three years of training have been distilled into three minutes of music and dancing that will determine whether they are a hit, or just another nowhere band.
The routine, always intense, was punishing in the weeks running up to their debut: gym sessions, singing lessons, promotional shoots, and around 10 hours of dance practice into the early morning.
Jang Jun-ho (left), Lee Jun-young and the rest of the band share rooms in a shared house in Seoul. Photo: AFPThe programme leaves them fewer than five hours sleep a night in bunkbeds in their shared Seoul house – the empty berths tombs for the hopes of those expelled after failing to make the cut.
In a dedicated, mirror-lined rehearsal studio, the seven survivors stood poised for the opening bars of their first single, Breathe Again, outnumbered by managers, trainers and choreographers.
The moment it came over the speakers they launched into high-energy lockstep moves, spinning each other around with military precision.
“Though I want to hold your hands I can’t come near you/Because I’m stuck unable to move,” sings 17-year-old lead singer Cho Woo-ju as he jumped off a human staircase formed by his bandmates.
As the song reached its climax they came together in a line-up, simultaneously throwing trademark K-pop poses.
Blitzers give it their all in rehearsals – but that isn’t always enough. Photo: AFPBut the response was underwhelming. “It was just a warm up for you guys, right?” said a dance instructor. “Let’s do it for real now.”
“Yes!” the boys responded with a unanimous shout.
“We practise our dance moves until we synchronise them perfectly,” said backup singer Jang Jun-ho.
Epitomised by the global success of boy band BTS, the K-pop
phenomenon earns billions of dollars for the country, and scores of groups are assembled and launched each year by record labels trying to capture a slice of the pie.
The Blitzers were put together by Wuzo Entertainment, a budding Seoul management agency.
The firm has invested around one billion won (US$900,000) in the band – its first – and is effectively betting its existence on their success.
But the odds are stacked against the Blitzers, whose six-track debut mini-album was released on Wednesday.
“Every year more than 50 idol groups launch into the market,” said Kim Jin-hyung, the label’s co-chief executive. “Only a couple of them survive.
“If Blitzers succeed the company succeeds,” he said. “If they fail, it’s almost certain we’ll have to shut down our business.”
The Blitzers are all aged 17 to 19 and were mostly recruited while still in school, some of them initially training part-time after class.
A rigorous testing process whittled them down, until 12 of them moved into the shared house for the final stage, with the seven group members chosen in November.
Even the winners were left with mixed feelings. Leader Choi Jin-hwa, 19, said that altogether he saw around 20 of his fellow trainees dismissed, but he “never got used to it”.
“Regardless of how long they had been with us, they had all practised all day long with me ever since joining,” he said. “Even though I had done nothing wrong, I felt a sense of guilt.”
The discipline is relentless, with Wuzo determining when they get up, when and what they eat, when they wear make-up and when they go to bed.
Every aspect of the Blitzers’ lives is managed to the nearest millimetre; here, group leader Choi Jin-hwa’s clothes are checked ahead of a shoot. Photo: AFPWeight control is constant. “We ban them from eating night time snacks,” said manager Oh Chang-seok, who lives with the band, combining the roles of caregiver and enforcer.
“It’s inevitable,” he explained. “They have to be ready at any time” if a promotional opportunity arises.
The K-pop industry is accused of consuming young hopefuls with only a tiny minority surviving to stardom, with former Nine Muses idol Ryu Sera last year likening it to a “factory-like mass-production system”.
Wuzo’s Kim rejects such criticism as “one-sided”.
“We as a company give trainees an opportunity to pursue and realise their dreams and they give us an opportunity to grow as a company,” he said. “We are all in this together.”
And manager Oh is realistic about cast-off former trainees. “We can’t help those who were given an opportunity for self improvement but couldn’t keep up with the others,” he said.
“We need to present the public with the best ones.”