THE UNIT Episode 1 Recap: A Chance to Start Fresh

There are certain groups every K-pop fan knows about: the top stars, the “legends,” the “super rookies,” etc. But for each one that you’ve heard of, there are probably three that you haven’t. K-pop is filled with groups struggling to make their mark, from freshly debuted rookies to five-year veterans who never found their groove. According to The Unit‘s intro, there are 436 actively promoting K-pop groups.  I could maybe name 100, and that’s me being optimistic. So now we have The Unit, which hopes to shine the spotlight on idols who never got their big break.  And as someone who listens to a lot of K-pop groups – both popular and somewhat unknown – I couldn’t be more excited.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

THE BASICS (Premise, Mentors, Audition Format)

AUDITIONS

***

THE BASICS

Premise

The Unit aims to bring attention to debuted idols who haven’t been able to make themselves known to the public.  The original rule was that anyone who has released a single may participate, but there are some trainees and actors in the mix.  he majority of the contestants debuted between 2011-2014 – a period when it was difficult for new groups to debut. After the audition, 126 contestants will carry out missions in units of nine. By the end of the show, there will be two temporary groups: one male, one female.

Mentors

MENTORS
Clockwise From Top Left: Taemin (SM Entertainment), Rain (R.A.I.N. Company), Hyuna (Cube Entertainment), San E (Brand New Music Entertainment), Hwang Chi Yeul (HOW Entertainment), and Jo Hyun Ah (Fluxus Music)
  • RAIN: Rain is an extremely famous singer and actor who became popular in the mid-2000s.  He’s also especially well-known for his dancing. He’s the host of The Unit and the lead mentor.  He was inspired to join this show because he was part of a failed K-pop group when he was a teenager.
  • HWANG CHI YEUL: Hwang Chi Yeul spent years as a vocal coach for groups like NU’EST before getting his big break on I Can See Your Voice in 2015. He continued to appear on other singing shows like I Am a Singer and Immortal Songs 2, the latter of which he now hosts.  He’s one of The Unit‘s vocal mentors.
  • SAN E: San E is one of the most successful rappers in the Korean music industry and is the rap mentor for The Unit. He’s been a producer for Show Me the Money (Season 4), and also hosted Unpretty Rapstar and Hip Hop Nation.  He also does some MC duties, like announcing each contestant as they come in.
  • HYUNA: A former member of Wonder Girls and 4Minute, Hyuna rose to international fame with her solo release “Bubble Pop” in 2011 and her appearance in PSY’s “Gangnam Style” video in 2012.  Since 4Minute’s disbandment in 2016, she has continued as a soloist and maintained her notoriously sexy image.  She’s one of The Unit‘s dance mentors.
  • TAEMIN: Taemin is currently one of the best dancers in K-pop (in my opinion, the best one).  Though he’s been a member of SHINee for nine years, he’s also enjoyed a strong solo career since 2014.  He’s one of The Unit’s dance mentors.
  • JO HYUN AH: Jo Hyun Ah is a member and vocalist of popular singer-songwriter group Urban Zakapa. Widely acknowledged for her singing skills, she is one of The Unit’s vocal mentors.

Audition Process

The Unit Poster
The Unit teaser poster (KBS, 2017)

Auditioning contestants can pass to the next round by getting boots from either the audience or the mentors.  This term is kind of confusing since it’s used in lots of different ways, so I’ll try to break it down.  If you look at the photo above, there’s a logo behind Rain’s head; it looks like the power button your computer.  It has segments, and each of those is basically one boot.

The first step is winning over the audience, who can vote to pass the performer (or group) at any time during their audition.  An audience boot is about 15% of the audience votes (30% is 2 boots, 45% is 3, etc.) If the contestants get 90% of the audience to vote for them, they’ll receive a super boot.  This means that they automatically pass to the next round, without any evaluation or intervention from the mentors (besides them confirming how good they are).  A group shares the audience vote results, so a super boot allows them to all pass together.

If the contestants fail to earn a super boot, mentors can save them with a mentor boot. It’s basically just a judge’s vote that passes the contestant to the next round. The contestants will be passed or failed individually, but they only need one boot from one mentor to continue.  If all six mentors award a boot to the same contestant, it’s called an all boot.  Tired of the word “boot” yet?  It’s just the beginning.

***

AUDITIONS

NOTE: Despite my efforts to remain as neutral as possible, I’m still a little biased.  There are some groups and contestants that I’m really rooting for, but I’m trying to discover everyone through the context of the show.  Therefore, I’ve decided not to do any extra research into the contestants I don’t already know.  (I also did this with NU’EST on Produce 101).  But for those who are curious about a group or idol’s past career, I’ve added some basic information and links.

GOOD DAY

Good Day
Genie, Heejin, Chaesol, Jiwon, Lucky, and Viva with Good Day (C9 Entertainment, 2017)

Agency: C9 Entertainment
Debut Date: August 30, 2017
Latest Single: “Rolly” (Debut single)
Members Auditioning: Heejin, Genie, Chaesol, Jiwon, Viva, Lucky
Audition Song: “Into the New World,” Girl’s Generation

The Unit has really been playing up their mission to help struggling idols, so it’s kind of interesting they’re starting with a brand new group. That being said, it’s also really hard for rookies to make it big quickly these days (unless you’re TWICE or Wanna One). So I agree with Good Day’s assessment that their participation will help them become more known outside of music shows. I checked them out when they debuted, and they seemed like an extremely typical rookie girl group: pretty, youthful, cute, bubbly, etc. They even sing Girls’ Generation’s “Into the New World,” the classic that’s inspired every girl group for a decade. It’s a clean performance that everyone appreciates, but I personally find it a little boring.  It’s not that I dislike cute girl groups; it’s more that there’s a limit to their appeal for me. Also, about 90% of girl groups have this image…so I must admit I sometimes yearn for something new.

The mentors, especially Taemin and Hyuna, enjoy the group’s energy and make a lot of remarks on how bright they are. They pay a lot of attention to Jiwon, who’s cute as a button and aptly describes her talent as “smiling.”  So basically, she’s everything anyone ever wants out of a female idol. Though I’m generally immune to these kinds of charms as a straight older woman, I’ll admit she makes me smile. Heejin also wows everyone with a rendition of Ailee’s “I Will Go To You Like the First Snow.”

Good-Day-Jiwon
Jiwon is immediately singled out as a cutie.

RESULTS:

AUDIENCE BOOTS: 4

MEMBER

MENTOR BOOTS

PASS/FAIL

Heejin

4 PASS

Jiwon

5 PASS

Chaesol

1 PASS
Viva 3

PASS

Genie 2

PASS

Lucky 0

FAIL

The only member to fail is poor maknae Lucky. Though she’s on the verge of tears, Rain encourages her by sharing his experience about being the maknae of a group.  He tells her she has just a little more growing up to do. We don’t learn much about the other girls, so hopefully we’ll see more of them in coming episodes.

***

A.C.E

A.C.E
Chan and Jun with A.C.E (Beatwin Interactive, 2017)

Agency: Beat Interactive
Debut Date: May 23, 2017
Latest Single: “Callin'” (released October 2017)
Members Auditioning: Jun and Chan
Audition Song: “Don’t Wanna Know” by Maroon 5, featuring Kendrick Lamar

If you’ve been keeping up with your survival shows, you’ve probably heard of A.C.E. Two members are on The Unit, and the other three went to Mix Nine. At this point in time, their claim to fame is as the group who performed in hot pants…which isn’t really something you want to be known for.  But Jun and Chan have bigger troubles besides flashy outfits. They come from a small new company that’s both small and new, and their debut was uncertain for a time.  Even now, they have to rehearse in a basement, eat convenience store food for dinner, and clean up the practice room themselves.  In short, it’s a classic case of thinking idol life would make things better, when in reality it didn’t.

Their audition is very “boy next door,” a concept that seems to be on the rise these days because of groups like SEVENTEEN and ASTRO.  We know my stance on cute and youthful things, but I find it enjoyable. The mentors, however, have mixed reactions.  When asked to show something else, Jun and Chan change the atmosphere by turning charismatic with Sunmi’s “Gashina.” It’s an interesting song choice, but it’s ultimately the right one. It shows off their versatility, and dance god Taemin is pleased.

A.C.E-Gashina
A.C.E’s charismatic “Gashina” passes them to the next round.

RESULTS:

AUDIENCE BOOTS: 3

MEMBER

MENTOR BOOTS PASS/FAIL
Chan 4

PASS

Jun

4

PASS

***

HYUNJOO

April
Hyunjoo with April before her departure (DSP Media, 2016)

Agency: DSP Media
Former Member Of: April
Debut Date: August 24, 2015
Latest Single: “Tinkerbell” (with April – released April 2016)
Audition Song: “Pretty Girl” by KARA

Hyunjoo is a former member of April who went on hiatus for health issues in 2016, which ultimately led to her departure from the group. But she thinks it’s unfair that her health problems effectively sidelined her unwillingly, so she’s not giving up on her dream.  The second she walks onstage, she dazzles everyone with her cute looks. She then launches into a bright aegyo-filled performance, stopping in the middle for a charming self-introduction that makes everyone smile.  Taemin turns into a giggling mess, which I find hilarious.  It’s always such a culture shock, because American guys are typically so not about the cute stuff. It’s a little much for me, but I agree with Taemin that this is the idol standard. It’s no surprise the mentors award her an ALL BOOT.

HyunjooLaughing-Taemin

***

JUN

U-KISS
Jun with U-Kiss (NH Media, 2016)

Agency: NH Media
Debut Date: June 2, 2014 (addition to U-KISS, who debuted in 2008)
Latest Single: “Stalker” (released June 2016)
Audition Song: “Dang Dang Dang” by Supreme Team

For the sake of *drama* the mentors pretend they don’t know U-KISS has been on hiatus for a year and a half.  So everyone is “surprised” to see a member from the once well-known group. U-KISS got a lot of attention during their debut for being multi-national, but they’ve become a symbol of misfortune in recent years. (Former member AJ also auditions this episode, but fails to receive any mentor boots) By now, many members have left, are pursuing individual activities, or are even married and raising families.

Jun, the group’s maknae, only joined a few years ago in 2014.  I’m not fully aware of U-KISS’s history, but it sounds like it when things were starting to go downhill.  People asked him why he would join a failing group instead of debuting with a new one, but Jun feels indebted to the other members. He wants to appear on The Unit to pay them back and do his part to bring notoriety to the group. Apparently he makes some mistakes during his stage, but I don’t notice because I don’t speak enough Korean.  The audience doesn’t seem to mind, either: Jun’s infectious energy, snazzy dance moves, and charismatic rapping are enough to earn him the show’s first Super Boot.

U-KISS-Jun
Breaking it down on the Super Boot

***

VARIOUS GIRL GROUPS

Girl Groups
Hyeyeon of BESTie (YNB Entertainment, 2015) / Yujeong, Eunji, and Yuna with Brave Girls (Brave Entertainment, 2017) / Woohee and Serri with Dal Shabet (Happy Face Entertainment, 2016) / Yujeong, Haein, and ZN with LABOUM (Global H Media, 2017)

GIRL GROUPS

 

Members

Participating

Agency

Debut Date

Latest Single

Dal Shabet

Serri

Woohee

Happy Face Entertainment

January 3, 2011 (Serri)

June 6, 2012 (Woohee)

“Fri.Sat.Sun”

(September 2016)

Brave Girls

Yujeong

Eunji

Yuna

Brave Entertainment February 16, 2016

(new members, the group debuted in 2011)

“Rollin’”

(March 2017)

BESTie

Hyeyeon YNB Entertainment July 11, 2013

“Excuse Me”

(May 2015)

LABOUM Yujeong

ZN

Haein

Global H Media August 28, 2014

“Only U”

(July 2017)

This is the part of the show that really bugs me.  For months now, we’ve been hearing about all the groups who are joining The Unit.  I was always planning on watching, but I was convinced when some of the underrated girl groups I liked announced their appearance.  I got really excited because I wanted the chance to root for groups like Dal Shabet, Brave Girls, and LABOUM.  So imagine my surprise and irritation when the contestants I’m most anticipating get lumped into a montage lasting less than three minutes.  Seriously.  That clip above is literally all we get.

Honestly, it’s super annoying.  Both Dal Shabet and Brave Girls did sexy dances (to “Lady Marmalade” and Wonder Girls’ “Irony”), so I get they got lumped together.  But LABOUM harmonized in English (to Christina Aguilera!), and we didn’t even see Hyeyeon perform at all. I understand we have a lot of contestants to get through, but we’re going to spend ten whole minutes on a fresh-faced young male actor later.  So frustrating. At least most of the ladies made it through with good results.

LABOUM
Forever salty we only saw LABOUM for about 30 seconds…

RESULTS:

AUDIENCE BOOTS: 4 for Dal Shabet, 3 for the other groups

MEMBER

MENTOR BOOTS PASS/FAIL
Yujeong (Brave Girls) 5

PASS

Eunji (Brave Girls)

1 PASS
Yuna (Brave Girls) 0

FAIL

Hyeyeon (BESTie)

1 PASS
ZN (LABOUM) 3

PASS

Yujeong (LABOUM)

4 PASS
Haein (LABOUM) 5

PASS

Serri (Dal Shabet)

ALL BOOT PASS
Woohee (Dal Shabet) ALL BOOT

PASS

***

HAN AHREUM

Ahreum
Ahreum’s profile photo for The Unit (KBS, 2017)

Agency: DWM Entertainment
Former Member Of: T-ara (Core Contents Media, now MBK Entertainment)
Debut Date: July 7, 2012 (addition to T-ara, who debuted in 2009)
Latest Single: “Sexy Love” (with T-ara, released September 2012)
Audition Song: “Day and Night,” which she sang with Gunji and Shannon Williams

San-E-is-Surprised
“T…a…ra?”

We now make a distinct turn from obscure struggling idols to ones who notably left their team.  Han Ahreum was one of the first contestants to announced for The Unit, and she’s certainly one of the most buzzworthy ones. San E almost can’t believe that he’s announcing her former group’s name, and the audience immediately starts whispering.  The mentors play dumb and pretend T-ara is still a really popular group, to once again play up their incredulity that a former member is here. Which is kind of weird, seeing as T-ara is about to disband. (Not arguing that they’re popular and influential, though)

T-ara
Han Ahreum with T-ara before her departure (Core Contents Media/MBK Entertainment, 2012)

Ahreum was with T-ara for about a year, right in the middle of the bullying scandal that ultimately took the once-great girl group down.  When asked about it, she basically confirms there was discord – BUT she also admits that most of it was immaturity and false rumors. However, the criticism didn’t stop after she left.  People started calling her “mentally ill” when she uploaded Halloween makeup pictures to SNS, which gave her anxiety and cause actual damage to her mental health.  Seriously, K-netizens sometimes…

Ahreum's-Nerves
Ahreum can’t hide her nerves, but still makes it through.

Ahreum’s breakthrough moment came when she was at home dancing to GFriend’s “Fingertip.” She saw herself in the mirror, and felt that she was too good to stay home.  That’s a great feeling to have – I seirously aspire to be that confident – but it sadly doesn’t translate on stage.  Though she sings and raps fine, her emotions get the better of her and she can’t control her shaking.  The audience gives her three boots, but Hyuna and Hwang Chi Yeul are moved by her story and pass her to the next round.

***

IM JUNHYEOK

Junhyeok DAY6
Junhyeok with DAY6 (JYP Entertainment, 2015) and Be Blossom (V Entertainment, 2016)

Agency: V Entertainment
Former Member Of: DAY6 (JYP Entertainment)
Debut Date: September 7, 2015 (with DAY6)
Latest Single: “Congratulations” (with DAY6, debut single)
Additional Information: Currently part of the band Be Blossom, who has been performing since 2016 but hasn’t released any official music
Audition Song: “In Front of Your House” (Sorry, I can’t find a link to his audition!)

I know very little about DAY6, and therefore even less about Junhyeok. Unfortunately, the only things I’m aware of are not great. There’s speculation that he left DAY6 because he got backlash for dating a fan, which he doesn’t really confirm or deny in his interview. But in the context of The Unit, what matters the most is his performance – and it’s a good one. It’s not your typical idol fare (he sings and plays the piano), so I hesitate over whether he’ll fit into this competition in the long run or not).  But it’s still very moving, despite all of the quite obvious beads of sweat dripping down his face. He sings well, and he plays the piano even better.  Both the audience and the mentors give him four boots, moving him to the next round.

***

BIGSTAR

BIGSTAR.jpg
BIGSTAR (Brave Entertainment, 2015)

Agency: Brave Entertainment
Debut Date: July 12, 2012
Latest Single: “Full Moon Shine” (released September 2015)
Members Auditioning: Raehwan, Feeldog, Sunghak, Jude (Baram is fulfilling his military service)
Audition Song: “Flower Road” by gugudan’s Kim Sejeong

It’s kind of sad that Brave Brothers has produced lots of hits for groups other than their own. BIGSTAR is the definition of a group that needs rebooting.  Not only did they debut at a time when the market was over-saturated with new groups, but they also went with an expensive but unpopular “hot party boy” concept. It didn’t work for them, and it just went downhill from there. Their performance of Kim Sejeong’s “Flower Road” is interesting and inventive – especially with the dancing – but it fails to capture the audience completely.

Sunghak ends his dance routine with an abs flash and Raehwan sings a moving rendition of 15&’s “I Dream,” but Feeldog‘s the one who grabs the most attention. I’ve already seen him on Hit The Stage, but it’s a good opportunity for more people to learn how awesome he is.  It’s not just the skills; it’s the expressions.  He looks like he’s having the time of his life. Bora’s boyfriend totally kills it, and I never expected anything less.

Feeldog
The dance is strong with this one.

RESULTS:

AUDIENCE BOOTS: 4

MEMBER MENTOR BOOTS

PASS/FAIL

Jude

2 PASS
Feeldog ALL BOOT

PASS

Sunghak

3 PASS
Raehwan 2

PASS

***

LEE JUNG HA

Lee Jungha
Lee Jungha’s profile photo for The Unit (KBS, 2017)

Agency: Namoo Actors
Audition Song: “What’s Happening?” by B1A4

Jungha-and-Rain.gif
Even Rain can’t resist Lee Jung Ha.

Lee Jungha is one of the more polarizing contestants on the show.  “Controversial” people usually either have an attitude or are completely incompetent… guess which one he is. Here’s a hint: he’s actually training to be an actor instead of an idol.  (That’s right, he’s basically The Unit‘s version of Kim Sohye) That being said, he’s admittedly adorable.  His sunny disposition reminds me of ASTRO, if he had more experience. The subtitles sum it up: “His positivity is fatal.” Out of all the mentors, I find it hysterical that Rain is the one who’s totally smitten.  He even gives him a personal dance lesson.

Lee-Jungha

The audience gives Jung Ha 2 boots, but the the mentors pass him with 4. This is a controversial decision, because he really doesn’t have the talent at this point. Personally, I don’t mind because I think people always have room to improve.  If he works hard in later episodes, I won’t see it as taking someone else’s spot.  What I don’t like is that we spent ten minutes watching Rain teach him how to do the wave, when I could have seen Dal Shabet and LABOUM in full instead.  The segment could easily have been cut in half.

***

LEE JUHYUN

Lee Juhyun
Lee Juhyun’s profile photo for The Unit (KBS, 2017)

Agency: Cube Entertainment (trainee)
Audition Song: “Valenti” by BoA

Apparently trainees can be part of the show, so Cube Entertainment sends their 13 year old dance prodigy Lee Juhyun – braces and all.  (Side Note: Why didn’t Cube send CLC???) Although the mentors try to get her to say Hyuna is her role model, she politely says it’s actually BoA. Her audition is quite good (it receives 4 audience boots), but I can’t help but feel she’s so young.  However, her dance skills are really no joke.  I started dancing at the her age (which is super late in dance world), so I respect her skill immensely.  The mentors see her potential and give her an all boot.

Lee-Juhyun
That cute face is hiding some fierce dancing…

***

YANG JIWON

Spica
Jiwon with Spica before their disbandment (B2M Entertainment, 2016)

Agency: B2M Entertainment
Former Member Of: Spica (disbanded 2017)
Debut Date: February 7, 2012
Latest Single: “Secret Time” (with Spica, released August 2016)
Audition Song: “Tonight” by Spica

Time for the highlight of the night! Spica was constantly heralded as an underrated girl group, and their disbandment earlier this year caused a stir. It’s safe to say many were excited about a member’s participation on The Unit. Personally, I was super excited when I heard that it was Jiwon.  I never had much of an opportunity to get into Spica outside of watching their music videos, but I think she would have been my bias.

Life was hard for Spica.  They were competing against AOA for a while, but AOA’s rebranding as a sexy group shot them to fame and left Spica in the dust. They ultimately never had that breakout hit. Jiwon’s struggles date even further back; she was supposed to be part of Five Girls and T-ara before she finally debuted.  To make ends meet, she took a part time job delivering fruit juice.  It’s pretty sad story for someone who only wanted to be a singer since she was a child.

For these auditions, many groups and former idols choose to cover a song rather than sing their own.  Jiwon sings “Tonight,” which is probably Spica’s most well-known song,  and she just shines.  She gains a Super Boot less than a minute into the song, earning 5 boots while she’s singing and the 6th just when she starts to dance.  The mentors praise her and tell her how this is truly her moment to be reborn. Again, I had no idea she was that good.  I always got the impression she was seen as more of a visual. And just like that, she’s landed on my short list of who I want in the final group.

Jiwon.gif
Another well-deserved Super Boot!

***

We end the episode with a cliffhanger.  Two young men come out onto the stage, energetically proclaiming that they’re members of HOTSHOT.  Taemin immediately turns around and start crying.  The backstory is that HOTSHOT member Timoteo is part of Taemin’s close circle of friends that includes Kai, Ravi, Jimin, and Sungwoon. But we’ll have to wait until next time to see how things play out.

All in all, I think this show is really promising.  I always want to see idols succeed, so I’m really glad about the concept.  There are some slight editing issues, but so far everything seems pretty straightforward and fair (and not transparently manipulated by production).  I’m looking forward to what comes next!

SOURCES: The Unit (KBS) Episode 1, Youtube, Wikipedia, Soompi, Omona They Didn’t (Livejournal).  None of the images or videos belong to me; credit goes to the agency in the caption under the image. All GIFs are from Episode 1 of The Unit and were taken from videos on KBSkpop’s Youtube Channel.

2 thoughts on “THE UNIT Episode 1 Recap: A Chance to Start Fresh

  1. I have many of the same feelings as you Kat. Dal shabet, laboum, and brave girls are just a few of the underated queens. i cant wait to hear what you think of melodyday, another groups ive followed since debut, their audition was so good. Jiwon from spica was my least favorite member, i still loved her, but regardless i was super glad she showed up. I love spica because literally every member can sing, even the rapper, and they had a mature yet diverse sound that had a nice spectrum. Dal shabet, jiwon, and zn from laboum are the main people i want to see make it far. I cant wait to see your recap on the next episode.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Always glad to see someone who shares similar opinions! I must admit, a big reason I’m watching The Unit is because of all the underrated girl groups. There are so many that I’m already having a hard time picking who I want to make it. I have a couple of other posts to get through first, but hopefully I’ll be able to get a recap up for Episode 2 soon. Thanks again for reading!

      Like

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