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TikTok stokes users’ dreams of becoming K-pop stars with a new talent show inside its app

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Could TikTok assemble the next Blackpink?

TikTok wants to put together the next Asian boy band or girl group. The short-video app announced today that it’s starting the search for talented young dancers and singers in a new program called TikTok Spotlight. TikTok users in Japan and Korea can compete for a chance to win a record deal by uploading original music videos.

TikTok is creating a new channel on its app for artists to upload their songs, which will then be featured on a playlist for the public to listen to. TikTok will measure the number of song plays to gauge each song’s popularity. Audience preferences play a major role, as artists can get a leg up if their songs get a lot of play time on TikTok. The Spotlight program is similar to one that already exists in China, launched by TikTok’s parent company ByteDance.

There are two rounds to the competition over five months — an initial screening where the Top 100 artists are chosen, and a final round where a judging panel will choose the Top 18. TikTok is also leaving room for more than one winner: the top five to ten artists will get chances to produce music professionally and potentially other prizes.

TikTok has the backing of Spotify, Line, Warner Music, and Universal Music. The producers behind some of the hottest boy bands like BTS and EXO are also on board. And the app also enjoys association with acts like Blackpink, the first K-pop girl group to book Coachella and which just dropped a viral new EP yesterday that immediately topped the US iTunes chart.

A decade ago, I’d hear about a K-pop talent competition happening in New York through a raggedy paper poster tacked on a bulletin board or tucked into the corner of a mall, and my friend and I would update each other during class on how our rehearsing was going. But soon, the talent showcase moved onto YouTube and SoundCloud, as bands like 2NE1 asked their fans to record themselves singing “Lonely” for a chance to win a trip to Korea. Now TikTok is taking the hunt to where teens are spending a lot of their time already — within its own app.

If Spotlight succeeds in Japan and Korea, it’s possible that TikTok could take the competition abroad to the US, where the app has attracted millions of users, and to the rest of the world. The results would certainly be entertaining: the next generation of pop artists could be more global and tuned into social media than ever before.