Article. Lee Jiyeon
Photo Credit. HYBE

The Debut: Dream Academy was officially announced during a press conference held at IGA’s studio on 9AM, August 29 (KST). The audition, a joint effort between HYBE and Universal Music Group (UMG) subsidiary Geffen Records, will air for 12 weeks—September 2 through November 18—on YouTube, ABEMA, Weverse and elsewhere. “I’ve dreamt of providing an opportunity to talented young people from all around the world to be members of a fabulous band based on K-pop methodology,” Bang Si-hyuk, HYBE’s chairman, said. Twenty candidates from around the world trained in the United States under HYBE, and what kind of changes will they bring to K-pop, and pop music on the whole? Here’s a look at what Bang, Geffen’s CEO John Janick, and other leaders tied to the Dream Academy project had to say about its vision and goals, the K-pop methodology, and the culturally diverse lineup of trainees. 

  • ⓒ HYBE

HYBE x Geffen Records

John Janick (chairman & CEO, Interscope Geffen A&M Records): We are so happy to be here to share with you an extraordinary and groundbreaking project—and a dream partnership that happened when Universal Music Group chairman Lucian Grainge introduced me to Chairman Bang at HYBE. We had an immediate connection and formed this special joint venture between Geffen Records and our remarkable friends at HYBE. As many of you know, Geffen Records has a rich history of introducing so many iconic and beloved artists to the world. The success of Geffen has come from a strong commitment to artist development, giving artists the time and support they need to explore their artistry, find their creative way, and fulfill their artistic potential. Chairman Bang has built in HYBE a company who in a lot of ways is similar to Geffen. Our shared commitment to helping artists develop, explore and express their talent at the highest levels is the common ground we’re building upon now with HYBE—whose own global success story is now legendary.

Bang Si-hyuk (chainman, HYBE): I’ve dreamt of providing an opportunity to talented young people from all around the world to be members of a fabulous band based on K-pop methodology. Most people think that the A&R process in the Western market and the training system in K-pop are quite different, but through this project, I have come to realize that they actually share a key essence: finding incredibly talented artists and watching their growth as artists. I am very proud of the rich history we have made and the tremendous talent we have found. I am proud of the opportunities we have created within the K-pop universe at HYBE. And now, the time has come to keep growing and expanding our core principals in big and bold new ways. Working together, we embarked on this new journey to create an international, diverse, and exciting group of talented performers to be trained through the K-pop method that’s become a global phenomenon.

The start of The Debut: Dream Academy

John Janick: More than 120,000 people from all around the world applied to be a part of this and today, we are about to reveal the 20 talented contestants who have already been working hard on their journey towards global stardom. These finalists have been training for over a year. Within the next 12 weeks, the final selections will be made, and the ultimate members of this new global group will be revealed. We have been documenting every step and note of this journey—as we will the whole journey forward—and it’s a story we can’t wait to share with you when it airs in 2024 as an exciting, engaging new Netflix docuseries. These women are in control of their destiny, working hard together to develop their unique, individual talents all on the global stage. We are so excited for everyone to see what they have been working on.

Bang Si-hyuk: The contestants were selected from 120,000 talented individuals worldwide who tried out. Our 20 contestants for this new group have come from all around the world and have very diverse cultural backgrounds. But they have become friends. They have connected through a shared dream, a common purpose. Watching this process has been very enjoyable and something I think the world will be very interested to watch right along with us as this group develops. Just as they have diverse cultural backgrounds, their activities will not be confined to the United States. They will do their best to show the best performance in countries and cultures connected to individual talents. Also, they will not forget the respect for K-pop because they have grown as artists following the methodology of K-pop. In that sense, Korea will be a very important country for our group to act on. I hope these efforts will be meaningful to everyone who supports them.

They say teamwork makes the dream work. And so right now, we’re going to hear from some of the team that’s already been hard at work on making this dream come true. What is the Dream Academy?

Son Sung Deuk (executive creator, HxG): First off, I’m honored to be able to introduce The Debut: Dream Academy here today. The foundation of The Debut: Dream Academy is formed by all the girls gathered together here. Girls from all over the world who share the same dream have come together here, and together their individual dreams form one even greater dream. And they’re all learning so much and growing together as they passionately work toward making that dream come true. I believe it’s these girls, and their journey together, who really make The Debut: Dream Academy what it is.

Humberto Leon (creative director, HxG): The Debut: Dream Academy stems from all the stories that represent each of the contestants. In all my creative work in the fashion industry, everything I have done comes from a place of storytelling and authenticity. My immediate reaction was to meet the contestants, get to know them, and be able to tell their story. For me, that’s what the Dream Academy is: it allows these 20 girls to tell their story, which is brought into this project holistically.

How does this development program differ to the traditional K-pop idol system? Once the group has formed, will it also function differently to traditional K-pop groups?

Mitra Darab (HxG): It does not differ. The training and development system is one of the key principles of K-pop methodology, and we wanted to use the same T&D concept here in the US. We established a T&D center in LA, and we thought that while choreography, vocal training, and working with songwriters are all important, so is 24-hour access to health specialists. We provide everything for the candidates, including monitoring their physical health very carefully. We cultivate the girls’ skills like vocals, choreography, and songwriting, but our process is so special because we give them so much love and support.

Humberto Leon: What makes it so special is their sisterhood. The contestants care so much about each other. The way they interact and support each other like they’re practically sisters has created an unprecedented bond since the program started, and it’s been beautiful.

What makes this group global, outside of just their nationalities?

Mitra Darab: It’s the effort that we put into this. There are auditions that were held in 15 cities around the world. We held auditions in places including Sydney, Tokyo, Seoul, and Dallas to ensure that the group was truly global. Equally as important is the fact that you have two powerhouses, Geffen and HYBE, joining forces together to make a girl group under the K-pop methodology—that’s truly global.

Tom March (president, Geffen Records): This is very much a group of the world rather than a group from one place or country. Most often, our artists and music groups come from one place. This group is the opposite in the sense that it is going to have members from multiple countries. It’s such a unique proposition to be in, so that’s going to throw up loads of different cultures and languages. There’s going to be fans right from the beginning in multiple countries all around the world helping us pick the final artists to form the group. Musically, creatively, and stylistically, we will honor and highlight their nationalities, cultural traditions, and languages.

How did you go about selecting these girls and where are they at now in the process?

Jay Ihn (head of creative production, HxG): We started this journey two years ago. The girls have a really good opportunity to train under a fantastic T&D system inspired by K-pop methodology. The girls are committed to training and we are here to now show that to the whole world.

Could you tell a bit about the core characteristics that someone who wants to be a future applicant and wants to work in a group based on K-pop must have?

Son Sung Deuk: Strong vocals, strong dance, individuality, personal style and flare, and unspoken star quality—but most importantly the dedication and commitment to music, and a commitment to pursuing dreams. I don’t think you can touch people’s hearts without being dedicated.

K-pop is now a global phenomenon. How did the immense global popularity of K-pop shape how this group was formed?

Son Sung Deuk: K-pop was once confined to Korea and Asia in general, but it now transcends eras and generations to reach a global fanbase who love and find comfort in it. When we think about how K-pop came to be so loved, there’s several reasons—good music, dancing, plenty of content to enjoy together. But I think the communication and connection between artists and their fans was a particularly big reason. It used to feel like artists were so far away, but by communicating and connecting with fans through their content and music and in the process getting closer to them, many more people got to know about K-pop and fell in love with it. With that context in place, there are some people who dream of becoming a global artist, using K-pop as a starting point. That seems to have been part of the push for the candidates here. As a Korean creative, I’m really excited for this project. We know how important it is for artists to be able to connect with and excite their fans and plan to help them achieve that.

Everyone must really be looking forward to seeing that kind of outpouring from fans. What was the inspiration for the group’s look and feel?

Humberto Leon: Because of my multicultural background, I try to show East meets West in everything I do. I try finding the best brands and aspiring designers from around the world, similar to what has been done with the group. I wanted to showcase what is special about each contestant. Honoring traditions and cultural differences in the girls is what makes this group so cool and so special. It was fun reflecting their cultures and personalities through their costumes—for example, having the Indian member put on a bindi, or giving the Korean member a daenggi to reflect her culture. We touched on environmentally friendly wardrobes and incorporated a lot of ideas like upcycling.

What musical style will this group be pursuing?

Jay Ihn: The start of the creative process comes from the artistry and backgrounds of the group. The contestants are so talented and creative, and so are the big producers and writers they are working with. What makes the group so special is their diversity. We want the musical style of the group to take influence from all of the contestants’ countries. Where they are from and their life experiences will heavily influence the music.

How will you balance between the Korean roots of K-pop and the global nature of this group? What language will they be singing in? Who is the intended audience?

Mitra Darab: Streaming and social media has been instrumental in connecting to music from all over the world. It’s amazing to see non-Korean-speaking fans singing along to the lyrics of K-pop artists. We see that in the popularity of Latin music as well. I think that’s the power of music. Music is what breaks down the barriers across languages and culture, and that’s our goal.

Jay Ihn: K-pop’s not just a genre of music—it is about art. We’re making it comprehensible for everyone to reach K-pop fans all over the world with more diversity. English is a universal language. We want to reach a global audience, so we will use the language that makes the most sense and speaks to each of these artists. We’re experimenting with many different sounds and excited about sprinkling in sounds from the contestants’ different languages and backgrounds.

What is your main goal with the debut of this new girl group?

Tom March: This is the most ambitious project both HYBE and Geffen have ever been involved in. We want to make incredible music that fans around the world will love. We hope that by doing that, together with the fans we will create the biggest group in the world with massive cultural impact. We are hoping to create something that genuinely moves culture with a group that makes magazine covers and headlines festivals.

How are HYBE and Geffen going to ensure this group’s success?

Tom March: Between our companies, we have broken some of the biggest artists in music across every genre. This is a group that takes the incredible learnings from the work that HYBE and Geffen, and UMG, have done to form a modern-day, global group. We will be marketing the group in a global way from the start. I’m excited to create this group in real time with fans from all around the world.