kpop

Zhang Hao Makes History As First Chinese Winner of K-pop Survival Show

Chinese performer Zhang Hao has made history on ‘Boys Planet’ as the first non-Korean person to be crowned champion of a K-pop reality TV competition

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Hayley Zhao
10:52 AM HKT, Wed April 26, 2023 2 mins read

When the host of Boys Planet, a K-pop reality contest, announced on April 20 that Zhang Hao from South China’s Fujian province was the program’s winner, the 22-year-old was visibly stunned by the surreal moment.


“Am I dreaming?” he asked, holding back tears.


The emotional response was justified: Zhang had made history as the first non-Korean to win a K-pop survival show.

Produced by the Korean cable network Mnet, Boys Planet gathered 98 contestants from all over the world. Over 12 weeks, the trainees battled it out through K-pop performances, and contestants with fewer audience votes were eliminated each week.


After the show’s conclusion, the top nine trainees who survived the elimination process formed a new K-pop group.


kpop, boys planet

Contestants on the final night of the K-pop survival show Boys Planet. Image via Weibo


The show’s participants were divided into two groups: K-Group for Korean contestants and G-Group for international contestants, who were primarily from Japan and China. Zhang found popularity right from the start and earned acclaim for his singing, dancing, and stage presence.


Zhang Hao, K-pop

Zhang performing on the K-pop survival show Boys Planet. Image via Weibo


Mnet has a long history of producing viral reality survival shows such as Girls Planet 999, the female version of Boys Planet, and the Produce franchise, which gave us popular K-pop groups like IZ*ONE and Wanna One.


Even though Boys Planet doesn’t officially broadcast in China and hasn’t reached the popularity of the hit Produce franchise, Chinese netizens were surprised and overjoyed by Zhang’s win. Even non-viewers joined in on the celebration, and a related hashtag has gained more than 150 million views on Weibo.


“Wow, never thought they could let a Chinese trainee debut as the center,” reads one viral Weibo post.


Meanwhile, some netizens suspect Zhang’s win is part of an attempt by Korean companies to tap back into China’s lucrative market as the country’s restrictions on Korean entertainment seem to be partially lifted: Chinese streaming platform Tencent distributed the first Korean movie in nearly six years last November. (Whether K-pop groups will be allowed back remains to be seen, however.)

Allegations of vote manipulation were raised by fans and a watchdog group just a week before the show’s finale, adding to the drama. The controversy mostly centered around alleged favoritism towards Canadian contestant Seok Matthew, who eventually won third place.


The network Mnet has denied any wrongdoing and stressed that the votes were verified by the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).


This is not the first time Mnet has found itself embroiled in a vote-rigging scandal. In 2020, two prominent producers at the network were sentenced to two years in prison for forging vote results on several K-pop survival shows, including the popular Produce franchise.


Still, for fans of Zhang Hao, this victory is a hard-fought and well-earned one.


boys planet

The nine highest-ranked contestants will debut as the new boy group ZeroBaseOne. Image via Twitter


“A big thank you to all the fans and every single vote you made for Zhang Hao. We never expected him to debut as the center, and he really made history there,” said Du Hua, CEO of Zhang’s agency Yuehua Entertainment, during a livestreaming session on Weibo.


Zhang will debut with eight other contestants from Korea, Canada, and China as the new K-pop boy group ZeroBaseOne (ZB1). The group will be active for two and a half years.


Cover image via Twitter

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