Contestants from around the world competed for a place in the upcoming girl group – the six members and creative director Humberto Leon tell NME about their unique new venture

 few months before I auditioned, I suddenly became a big K-pop fan,” Sophia, a 21-year-old from the Philippines, smiles. It was BTS’ ‘Butter’ that first got her hooked, the strutting disco-pop song opening up a rabbit hole for her into the kaleidoscopic scene. “I was learning all these things and absorbing all this knowledge [about it].” It turned out to be a life-changing learning curve for the music fan.

After subscribing to HYBE’s – the label behind BTS – YouTube channel, Sophia saw a video announcing something huge. The agency was teaming up with Universal Music Group’s Geffen Records to create an “unprecedented” new girl group, with wannabe artists around the world encouraged to apply. Only 20 candidates were chosen from over 120,000 submissions to enter The Debut: Dream Academy, a new take on the survival shows that have spawned many a K-pop group.

Given K-pop’s explosion internationally and the incredible fan power behind it, it was really only a matter of time before the tricks of the Industry were deployed by Western labels on their own artists. But HYBE and Geffen are going one further than simply lifting the K-pop blueprint and instead uniting to create a global girl group using knowledge, techniques and experience from both the Korean and American ways.

Throughout the course of the programme – and now as KATSEYE move forward into the world – the girls worked with Humberto Leon, co-founder of fashion brand Opening Ceremony and now the creative director of HxG (the name for HYBE and Geffen’s joint partnership). “I’ve been a huge fan of girl groups through the years and I’ve also felt the absence of a new one [in the west],” Leon tells NME. “When I was told [about The Dream Academy], I thought it was probably the best way a new girl group could be formed.”

KATSEYE (캣츠아이) ‘Dirty Water’ Performance Video


Pre-debut: The Debut: Dream Academy

HYBE and Geffen Records established a joint venture in 2021. On August 25, 2023, HYBE teased The Debut: Dream Academy, an audition show that takes place in the United States and attracted 120,000 applicants around the world over the past two years. The show aims to globalised the K-pop production system. On August 26, additional teaser photos and video were released announcing that a global girl group will be created through the show. They pared down the 120,000 applicants to 20 contestants.

The Debut: Dream Academy premiered on September 1, 2023, while the live finale was broadcasted on November 17, with the girls who ranked in the top six to debut in the show’s product group KATSEYE. During the finale, six different contestants were revealed to make their debut. Sophia ranked first overall, Lara ranked second, Daniela ranked third, Yoonchae ranked fourth, Megan ranked fifth, and Manon ranked sixth.


RankNameNationalityPosition(s)Year(s) active
Members of KATSEYE

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