'Street Man Fighter' fights off criticism with catchy tunes and unique content

Dancers perform during a mission on Mnet's dance competition show ″Street Man Fighter″ [SCREEN CAPTURE]

Mnet’s ongoing dance competition show “Street Man Fighter,” the male version of last summer’s hit “Street Woman Fighter” (2021), was one of the most controversial television show launches of this year.

Since airing its first episode in August, it has been the most-talked-about TV show (non-drama series) for the past five consecutive weeks in Korea, according to analytics company GoodData Corporation.

While its viewership rating is not as high as that of “Street Woman Fighter,” the male spinoff is being talked about not only for its episodes, but also for its music.

“New Thing,” a hip-hop number created by rapper Zico for a dance mission on the show, has been No. 1 on the Melon Chart for over a week. The song has also sparked the “saebbing” challenge, named after its Korean title, which saw a wave of K-pop idols upload dance cover videos of the song.

K-pop idols Yeonjun of Tomorrow X Together, left, and Jisung of NCT Dream participate in the "New Thing" challenge. [SCREEN CAPTURE]

The enthusiastic public reception is a stark contrast from the overall hostile attitude people had toward the show earlier this year.

The production of “Street Man Fighter” was already confirmed last year after its female-version predecessor’s success, but it seemed to have been branded as an “unlikeable” show due to a series of controversies before the show even aired.

People surrounding the show — singer and one of the show’s hosts Kang Daniel, along with chief producer Kwon Yeong-chan — faced backlash for making comments that compared the female and male version, dubbing the female dancers “scary,” “jealous” and “greedy” while the male dancers were described as “proud” and “loyal.”

Chief producer Kwon Yeong-chan faced backlash for making comments that compared the show's female and male versions, dubbing the female dancers “jealous” and “greedy” while describing the male dancers as “proud” and “loyal" during a press conference.

Many viewers, mostly female, had declared a boycott against the show after chief producer Kwon made such remarks openly during a press conference.

Dancer Park Hyun-se of competing crew YGX added fuel to fire when he and other dancers uploaded a video of them dancing to “Hype boy” by NewJeans, a new female K-pop group, in a mocking manner. Many called the video disrespectful and for a further boycott.

Nonetheless, “Street Man Fighter” is proving to be another hit. Considering that today, Korean television and K-pop alike tend to be conscious of female consumers due to their stronger purchasing power, it may be surprising that a show which faced a boycott for months is proving to be so successful.

Poster for "Street Man Fighter" [MNET]

“Part of it is about noise marketing, but it’s more about how replaceable the content is,” said pop culture critic Kim Heon-sik. “There are usually so many entertainment shows and K-dramas of similar genres airing at once. When one comes under fire for being problematic, viewers have many alternatives to turn to.”

In that sense, the ongoing popularity of “Street Man Fighter” can be explained with the same reason that its female-version prequel became a cultural sensation; it centers around the topic of street dance, a once-obscure field that Korean pop culture rarely dealt with before “Street Woman Fighter.”

“As of today, viewers virtually have no other dance competition shows they can replace ‘Street Man Fighter’ with,” Kim continued. “That’s why all those surrounding controversies turned out to have an insignificant impact on the viewership.

"From another perspective, the irreplaceability of cultural content shows how well-produced it is. Potential controversies in the future [regarding ‘Street Man Fighter’] are also likely to be dismissed as trivial.”