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Street Woman Fighter: Is Dance set to propel K-POP to new heights?

The atmosphere at MIPCOM 2023 was charged with excitement as CJ ENM unveiled Street Woman Fighter during the KOCCA session on Highlighting Creativity IPs, a surprising move in a reality-dominated market.

Street Woman Fighter first graced our screens in 2021 and returned for its highly anticipated second season in August 2023. Featuring female dance crews in street dance battles, it takes audiences on an enthralling journey through rounds and challenges as they compete for the title of Korea’s best female dance crew. The show consistently ranks as one of the top performers on CJ ENM-owned channel Mnet, with a strong presence in the 15-39 and 20-49 demographics, particularly resonating with female audiences. Dance moves from the show have even gone viral on TikTok, and the music produced by K-POP artists exclusively for the dance crews’ missions has secured top positions on various music charts as well.

What sets Street Woman Fighter apart and drives such remarkable success?  In Cannes, we had the privilege of sitting down with CJ ENM’s producer, Jung-nam Choi, the creative mastermind behind the show, and AIKI, the charismatic leader of dance group HOOK, which gained immense attention during and after the show.

Choi (pictured) boasts an impressive track record in producing dance competitions for the network. She’s also a recipient of CJ ENM’s 2021 Visionary Award, sharing the honour with global sensations like BTS and Dong-hyuk Hwang, the creator of Squid Game. Drawing from her experience, including her work on shows like Dancing 9, Choi embarked on a mission to craft a dance competition with a straightforward premise – one that would be accessible and engaging for audiences of all kinds. Choi explained her vision, saying, “I wanted to focus on one genre and one gender”.  This singular focus gave rise to a competition where female dance crews, representing the world of street dance, take centre stage.

Yet Street Woman Fighter isn’t just about competition; it’s about interaction, identity and growth. As Choi highlighted, while there are numerous dance competitions in the market, the show’s uniqueness lies in its emphasis on group competition. “It’s all about the crew,” Choi emphasised, “and thus, having a leader is crucial. Observing how the leaders connect with their crews, understanding their thought processes – all of these factors contribute to the show’s attractiveness, setting it apart from other dance competitions solely focused on the dance itself.”

AIKI (pictured), a crew leader from the first season, added depth to Choi’s insights. In a candid conversation, AIKI offered us a glimpse into her captivating journey as a leader on the show. She emphasised how being on Street Woman Fighter is a transformative experience, likening the exit from the show to a graduation from the Korean army. The format features different rules and battles with an injection of an intense survival element. In the very first round, every member of each team selects a participant from any of their rival teams to challenge, while in the next mission, leaders have to rank their members, with those in the same rank competing for the main dancer position. As a leader, AIKI consistently adopted a strategy – regardless of the rule, her end goal was to “infuse creativity and build a fun identity for my crew”.

When asked about what makes a talent competition appealing to her in general, AIKI underlined, “As individuals, we may experience both wins and losses, but after each competition, what I value the most is the growth in confidence and the ability to overcome challenges. For me, it’s all about personal growth.” According to her, Street Woman Fighter encapsulates this sentiment; “It’s not just about winning; it’s about personal growth. The show delves into the personal stories—the human side of us, as dancers.”

One impressive aspect of Street Woman Fighter is its social impact, which goes beyond just high ratings and viewer retention. The show elevated dancers from being background figures into the mainstream. They are now officially recognised as an occupation, and AIKI herself can proudly hold a distinct identity as a working mom. A collaborative movement between K-POP idols and dancers also blossomed following the show’s success. “K-POP is all about the move, and performance is what makes K-POP awesome. Yet it wasn’t until Street Woman Fighter that people finally started to question who’s behind those mesmerising moves. Performances have become more collaborative, and even camera work, which traditionally focused solely on idols in music videos, has started to feature dancers more”, said AIKI.

In the last part of our interview, addressing the challenge of sustaining the show’s success across seasons, we turned back to producer Choi, who openly revealed her forward-thinking approach. Choi explained, “I look at each season from a different perspective, exploring various facets of dancing. For example, after the first season, we began to scout crews from different countries, turning it into a global competition.”  The second season indeed featured a diverse roster of participants, including dancers from Australia, Japan and New Zealand, expanding beyond its Korean roots. And the show didn’t stop at international diversification. It also gave rise to its spin-offs, such as Street Man Fighter and Street Dance Girls Fighter, both of which garnered substantial ratings. Choi also added, “If I run out of ideas, I possibly think of gathering all the champions from previous seasons for a new edition.”

Mnet, meanwhile, has leveraged the show’s influence to create a dance show universe, popularising dance to a broader audience. They designated a Tuesday night slot as the Dance Block and launched a new YouTube channel called The CHOOM, specialising in dance content. Undeniably, with that track record, Street Woman Fighter has evolved into an IP for the channel, domestically and among the world of K-POP fans.

Street Woman Fighter

Now, the big question is whether this dance format will soon expand its reach to the global mainstream. After the success of The Masked Singer and I Can See Your Voice, the global market has eagerly anticipated the next sensation from South Korea – hopes have been high for the familiar hybrid singing genre and possibly, the recent psychological reality formats. However, in a world where the next big hit can unexpectedly arise from a less-hyped genre, and given that Dancing With The Stars has consistently ranked among the top 10 travelling TV formats of all time, we wouldn’t be surprised if a dance competition like Street Woman Fighter emerges as the next sensation in the years to come. CJ ENM has taken the first step to promote the format and the genre. Time will tell whether it’s destined to become a global hit, but it certainly deserves recognition for a format that highlights self-transformation and celebrates female strength.

To conclude, borrowing Choi’s words, “It’s the K-POP dancers who will make K-POP even more popular. Because dancing is a universal language that anyone, even those who don’t understand Korean, can follow.” We also firmly believe in the transformative power of dance and the future resurgence of dance competitions.

Trang Nguyen

Trang graduated from the University of Manchester with a master's degree in Business Psychology. Having joined K7 Media in 2019, she tracks the evolution of TV and entertainment trends across the Asian territory. She has also expanded her knowledge into the Middle East and Africa region, overseeing K7's MEA monthly report.

Outside of work, Trang enjoys watching Asian dramas and checking out new restaurants around the area.