I thought maybe I would skip it this year, but of course I got sucked in and am now watching the fifth season of Korea’s groundbreaking musical soap opera, Show Me the Money.
Yes, this year we even had a character felled by a sudden illness! All we need now is an evil mother-in-law and a love triangle! (I’m going to nominate Team AOMG for the latter. Let’s face it, Simon Dominic already is the male lead in a K-drama–handsome, but with a fiery temper and a troubled history–while the equally-desirable-but-much-more-approachable Gray will be the guy who should get the girl, but doesn’t. Zion T is their wacky neighbor who is also in love with her–and with half the male cast–but no one takes him seriously.)
I think what makes Show Me the Money work for someone like myself who doesn’t typically enjoy reality television is the fact that it combines:
- The very small world of Korean hip-hop.
- Stakes that are actually genuine.
So the judges are judging people they know, and they are very aware that they could be tanking the career hopes of a friend, protege, or mentor. And of course the show does everything it can to make things more difficult for everyone, because they don’t care whose house they burn down as long as the fire makes for a good show.
Case in point: At one stage the judges face a problem, and a potential solution gets mentioned and then is immediately shot down as totally ridiculous and unworkable. Guess which solution the show adopts?
One innovation this season was that they did auditions in Los Angeles: That actually worked a lot better than I thought it would because they wound up selecting for the most part very capable bilingual Korean-American rappers. They only chose one rapper who spoke no Korean–not surprisingly, that was kind of a waste of everyone’s time. (At least she got a free trip to Seoul and saw a concert.)
The other thing that’s interesting is that the younger judges–Zion T, Mad Clown, and Gray–are very upfront that they are judging as producers. They’re overtly not looking for Korea’s Best Rapper (however you judge that), they’re looking for rappers who they want to work with. I think the success of “Fear” and “Oppa’s Car,” plus the impact the show had on Illionaire Records and Zico, has affected both who wants to judge and how they want to go about doing it–they’re definitely looking to their own careers as well.
And Mad Clown and Gil are currently getting my Inadvertent Comedy Gold Award. Mad Clown is a HUGE Leessang fan (his name is taken from a Leessang song), and he has Gil on such a pedestal (they didn’t know each other at all before the show) that his reaction to finding out any detail, at all, about Gil that would suggest he did not spring, fully formed, from the forehead of Zeus, is a really hysterical, “WHAT!?!” I get the feeling he reacted the same way to discovering that Gil eats, sleeps, breathes, and uses the toilet. (Just like us–OMFG!!! Mind. Blown.)
Oh, hey, we could have a birth-secret twist, where it turns out that Gil is actually Mad Clown’s father! It would work even better if it turns out that Mad Clown’s new wife (Did I forget to mention the surprise marriage? No lie–there’s an honest-to-God surprise marriage on the show) is related to Gil in some fashion.
* * *
The big controversy has been how Taewoon’s elimination was handled, but that to me just demonstrates how good the show is at manipulating people’s emotions.
If you just watch episode four, what goes down is not bad for Taewoon at all–yes, he gets eliminated after going up against Myundo four times, but he gets a fucking ton of screen time and does very well. The judges, who were not crazy about him before, repeatedly compliment him and say that they wish both contestants could move on. It’s like BeWhy’s elimination last year or Junoflo’s this year–the kind of “failure” that can really help a career.
But in the previous episode, the show really pushed this idea that Taewoon was being horribly persecuted and treated unfairly. He does a cypher and screws up, and “all” (i.e. two, or maybe three) of the anonymous comments about him by the other rappers (which are read aloud by the host) are vicious. Meanwhile, Reddy screws up just as badly, and “all” (i.e. two, or maybe three) of the anonymous comments about him are super-supportive.
This is combined with a lot of editing–cuts to reaction shots (and background music) that suggest that everyone hates Taewoon and loves Reddy, and that the Reddy love really hurts Taewoon’s feelings. BECAUSE IT’S SO UNFAIR.
But honestly–it’s a lot of this kind of thing:
There’s a lot of cuts to reactions that could have been taken at any time, in reaction to any thing. Reddy actually gets snapped on, but of course all that takes place at a remove from the whole Everyone Hates Taewoon/Loves Reddy/IT’S SO UNFAIR scene.
And, hello, do you expect me to believe that the responses they read weren’t chosen with this exact impact in mind? I seriously doubt that they were a random selection, or that nobody had anything nasty to say to Reddy or kind to say to Taewoon. Anyone who has been paying attention (and I’m sure the show’s producers have been) knows that Taewoon is sensitive about what people say about him–he did an entire fucking song about it.
As he says to Myundo (translation by @kim_nahae & @kangyerimsubs & xewmin.tumblr.com & anjull.tumblr.com & artcapsule.tumblr.com–whew! It takes a village):
So if you’re looking to stir up drama (AND THEY ARE) you find the sensitive guy, you hit him where it hurts, and you film it as he curls up and wants to die. Voila! He is now The Underdog!
Then, when he’s eliminated, people come with pitchforks and torches (because everybody loves an underdog). I’m sure Myundo has realized the truth of Taewoon’s words by this point, but again, the show does not care. Controversy does not hurt ratings–quite the contrary. People can bitch and moan about the contestants, the judges, the process–they’ll still watch, and they’ll still listen.