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'Produce 48' Premieres in South Korea, Putting K-Pop Hopefuls & J-Pop's AKB48 in the Spotlight

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PRODUCE48, "Pick Me"

First came I.O.I, then Wanna One, and now another new group is in the works from the prominent Korean competitive Produce 48 series, produced by local cable channel Mnet. But the third season of the show comes with at twist: Produce 48 is a Korean-Japanese production featuring K-pop hopefuls and members of the popular J-pop act AKB48 and regional sister groups, 12 of whom will make it into the final team.

The new variant, which was preceded by the 2016 and 2017 Produce 101 seasons, premiered on Friday (June 15), unveiling the 96 potential girl group members, 48 of whom were trained in the Korean industry and 48 of whom are already Japanese pop stars. The final 12 winners of the show will be picked by Korean audiences voting, and they will reportedly remain together for about two and a half years before disbanding.

Though prior seasons have featured competitors who were already part of K-pop acts -- Wanna One, the 2017 group that is currently active, features members of Nu’Est and Hotshot -- the inclusion of members of AKB48 and regional variants HKT48, NGT48, NMB48 and SKE48 marks the first time that half of the competition features active stars.      

Unlike its predecessor series, Produce 48 is streaming live worldwide through the Global Tving platform produced by CJ E&M, Mnet’s parent company. The show is hosted by singer-actor Lee Seung-gi, and FTISLAND's Lee Hongki, Soyou (formerly of SISTAR), and rapper Cheetah appear as trainers alongside prominent K-pop choreographers.

The first episode introduced viewers to the 96 contestants and drew attention to the differences between South Korea and Japan’s idol-oriented music industries.

Prior to its premiere, Produce 48 drew a lot of attention through the release of its theme song “Pick Me (It’s Mine),” the latest “Pick Me” EDM track oriented with the Produce series. A performance video, sung in both Korean and Japanese, was uploaded to YouTube on May 10 and has since surpassed 9.6 million views. The song was released separately in Korean and Japanese on Apple Music, Spotify, and other digital music platforms.