The name of “Produce X 101,” the most recent installment in Mnet’s TV talent show franchise pitting K-pop trainees against each other, is likely to go down in infamy, as fans are suing the program’s producers for allegedly fixing the competition.
Local law firm Mast Law & Consulting said Thursday it has filed a class-action suit on behalf of 260 “citizen producers” -- the label the show gives fans voting for their favorite contestants on the show -- accusing Mnet of fraud and obstruction of business.
It has also accused the talent agencies of the winners in the competition of being accessories to crime.
The class-action suit is the most recent in the ongoing scandal in which “Produce X 101” allegedly rigged the number of votes via text messages each contestant received in the program. On Wednesday, police raided the office of CJ ENM and the company that manages the data related to the text votes submitted for the program. Mnet is a subsidiary of CJ ENM.
“Produce X 101” (SKT)
“Produce X 101,” which aired from May 3 to July 19 on Mnet, was a program where K-pop trainees from various talent agencies across the country were competing for a spot on new boy band X1, slated to debut immediately after the show. Fans of the program were to vote to determine who would emerge as winners and form the group.
But a controversy emerged when fans of the show noticed a repeating pattern in the number of votes each contestants received. While the top contestant got 29,978 more votes that the runner-up, the exact same disparity was present between Nos. 3 and 4, Nos. 6 and 7, Nos. 7 and 8 and Nos. 10 and 11.
It was also determined by fans who raised suspicions that 19 of the top 20 finishers’ vote totals could be divided by the same constant variable of 7,494.442, rounded to the nearest whole number.
Mnet charged 100 won (8 cents) for viewers to vote.
This is not the first time the “Produce 101” series has been embroiled in such a scandal. The same issue -- a certain number that each vote total could be divided by and the same disparity between votes -- surfaced in last year’s “Produce 48,” but the case never was never formally investigated.
This time, however, a lawmaker has commented on the issue.
Ha Tae-kyung of the conservative opposition Bareunmirae Party recently posted on his Facebook page that it is mathematically impossible for such a phenomenon to occur.
“Rigging the votes on an audition program that features teenagers, that is a clear case of employment fraud. (Mnet) has deceived and hurt the fans who submitted their votes for their idol stars,” he wrote, urging authorities to get to the bottom of this.
Mnet admitted that an error occurred while tallying results, but denied that the competition had been fixed.
In the aftermath of the scandal, some fans of the newly formed X1 issued a joint statement Tuesday calling on CJ ENM and Mnet to get to the bottom of the scandal and postpone the band’s debut until the dust settles.
“The companies’ (CJ ENM and Mnet) decision power through with the debut despite the ongoing lawsuit, animosity of the public and dangers that the aforementioned suit may bring, is a short-sighted and irresponsible decision that puts short-term profit ahead of the artists’ well-being. It is also a cruel decision that will inflict severe mental damage on the members,” the statement said.
For over a decade since the first season of “Superstar K,” also on Mnet, audition programs have enjoyed great popularity among viewers and fans here. But with the waning impact of “Superstar K” and other series that featured contestants without professional training, programs spotlighting K-pop trainees like “Produce 101” and “Idol School” begin to pop up.
But fan voting, the go-to method for Mnet’s competitions, has long sparked controversy and suspicion.
“Idol School” in 2017, which saw the birth of girl group fromis_9, faced similar suspicions concerning votes that contestant Lee Hae-in received, although the case was never formally investigated.
By Yoon Min-sik