HYBE on the hunt for next big girl group in 'R U Next?'

Choi Soo-young, presenter, and four coaches, Jo Kwon, Park Gyu-ri, Lee Hyun and Aiki pose for the camera at the press showcase for JTBC, HYBE and Belift Lab's upcoming girl group audition program ″R U Next?″ in Mapo District, western Seou

It’s barely been a year since HYBE successfully debuted its girl groups Le Sserafim and NewJeans, but the agency is already committed to producing its next-generation girl group.

“R U Next?” a girl group audition program created in collaboration with HYBE, JTBC and Belift Lab — an entertainment agency that is a joint venture between HYBE and CJ ENM — which will see 22 female trainees from Belift Lab compete for a spot in HYBE’s next generation girl group.

“I’ll be honest, when I was a trainee, I didn’t get the opportunity to receive the systematic and organized care that the HYBE trainees receive nowadays, and I am slightly jealous of them,” Park Gyu-ri, one of the show's five coaches, said during the press conference on Friday in Mapo District, western Seoul prior to the show’s first episode. “Back then, we were raised like wild horses, pastured in the wild.”

Park debuted as a member of the second-generation girl group KARA in 2008.

“But it also means that the standards of the general public are higher than ever, and I think I, as a wild horse who’s been through it all, should give the trainees the right advice,” she said.

Fellow second-generation idol Jo Kwon of boy band 2AM, singer-songwriter Lee Hyun, known as the leader of ballad group 8eight and recently as Midnatt, dancer and choreographer Aiki and singer-songwriter Kim Jae-hwan, who debuted as a member of project boy band Wanna One after winning Mnet’s idol audition program in 2017, will also be joining the show as coaches.

But the two co-producers of the show, Kim Sun-hyung and Lee Ye-ji, insisted that “R U Next?” is very different from other past idol audition programs.

“We wanted to present the show as a human documentary,” said producer Kim.

“There are many contestants and we hoped the viewers will see each and every one of their charms and their specialties.”

“There has been a lot of talk about the voting systems in the past, and through trial and error we are sure that we’ve overcome the transparency issue,” said producer Kim.

Mnet’s popular audition series “Produce” created a huge controversy when massive vote rigging was detected on multiple seasons of the show. The show's producers were charged with fraud, obstruction of business and breach of trust, and were slapped with two-year prison sentences in 2021. Project boy band X1, which debuted via "Produce X 101" in 2019, was disbanded the following year, after releasing a single EP.

“Our voting system is very transparent and we hope that will alleviate people’s worries [about integrity].”

But the producers did not provide further details about its voting systems, as it “changes per round.” Voting will be done through HYBE’s fan platform application, Weverse, and Toss, a finance-banking application.

“Instead of having almost a hundred trainees on the show [like in others], we only have 22 trainees, all from Belift Lab. I think that in itself will be a differentiating factor,” producer Kim added.

22 Belift Lab trainees participating in HYBE, JTBC and Belift Lab's upcoming girl group audition program ″R U Next?″ [JTBC]

The 22 Belift Lab trainees include Japanese trainee Ruka, known as one of the final candidates for Le Sserafim, Jeongeun, who started her career in acting in 2016, and Funa, who joined JYP Entertainment’s Japanese girl group audition program “Nizi Project” in 2020. There are 11 Korean trainees, seven Japanese trainees, two Thai trainees and two Korean-American trainees, with the youngest member born in 2011.

“I must confess, I love NewJeans so much,” Park said, causing the other coaches and producers to burst out laughing.

“So this role of choosing HYBE’s next girl group is such an honor and precious opportunity for me. I’m putting even more effort into it, more so than just as a coach.”

“The trainees are putting their faith in the show, and I am coaching on the show, fully aware of that fact. I hope the viewers too, watch them with an open mind,” Jo said.

“They are still trainees, and they still have a lot of room for growth. Even when they feel unskilled and raw, I hope the viewers watch them with a parental mindset,” said the producers.

The first episode of “R U Next?” airs Friday at 8:50 p.m., on JTBC and Japanese streaming service Abema TV. The 10-episode show will also be available to stream on Netflix and Wavve.

To find out more about "R U Next?" visit Celeb Confirmed!

Main poster for HYBE, JTBC and Belift Lab's upcoming girl group audition program ″R U Next?″ [JTBC]