Winner, the five-member boy group from YG Entertainment, made their official debut this week, releasing a full album and two music videos for “Empty” and “Color Ring.” In the crowded world of Kpop, it’s easy to ignore the nugus, but Winner is one group you need to pay attention to. Why? Because there’s every chance that we’re watching the beginnings of the next Big Bang. No, seriously. Pay attention.
Winner began their career as “Team A” in YG Entertainment’s reality show, aptly named, Who Is Next: WIN. They won. Members Kim Jin-woo, Lee Seung-hoon, Song Min-ho, Kang Seung-yoon, and Nam Tae-hyun now operate with the weight of Kpop giants YG behind them. They have the distinct advantage of already being winners. Fans of the show will naturally get behind Winner, creating a ready-made fanbase for the group. But really, fans should not be hard to come by. Winner’s debut rivals the releases of much more seasoned artists.
2014 S/S: The Debut
For a rookie group, there are some really stellar songs here. “Don’t Flirt” is an immediate favorite, a 1-2 reggae beat that is super catchy and absolutely necessary after the two slower songs that preceded it. If Winner doesn’t release “Love is a Lie” as another promotional single, YG has truly missed an opportunity here to capture the club scene for the rest of the year. It’s impossible to not dance when listening to this song, it’s just that catchy. We’re grooving our shoulders now, listening to the song yet again. It just about steals the show.
But don’t get us wrong, Winner shouldn’t just be chasing energetic club hits. “I’m Him” has an early millennial feel and is far darker and meaner than any song on the album. It’s also good to see different emotions emanating from the group; dimensions can only be a good thing. It’s too bad that the prerequisite ballad, “Confession” falls flat and at just over four minutes long, feels about four minutes too long.
“But” would also be unmemorable, but feels fresh by showcasing all the members, climaxing in the chorus with the unexpected (and welcome) cheer. It’s like the song you don’t really notice over the flashier hits, but then a year later it’s your favorite song on the album. “Smile Again” is another standout song, and certainly feels like the last song in the album. Embodying both an anthem and a summary of Winner’s aesthetic, “Smile Again” is a fitting and appropriately complex song to end 2014 S/S.
But let’s back up a bit and go to the beginning here. “Empty” and “Color Ring” are two songs that were fortunate enough to be the promotional songs, and they’re good songs, both of them. But we’re not sure if they work so well together, and really our biggest gripe of Winner’s debut is how similar these two songs are. The music videos too are very similar, and worse, very safe. Forlorn, handsome young men may attract views and fans (and have proven to do so), but aren’t really interesting or innovative, especially when featured in back-to-back videos. “Empty” would surely have sufficed by itself. Instead, YG watered down their debut by promoting the same sound twice.
The Next Big Bang?
Hear us out. There’s two big reasons why we make this claim. The first is obvious. Winner is signed under YG Entertainment, and the label has made no secret of their ambitions for the new group. Winner even went on tour with Big Bang at the end of 2013, singing to the exact same set of fans. It’s an obvious move from YG, really. Big Bang is winding down. They’re maybe not done yet, but each member has started the slow process of breaking away to produce on his own. YG is reading the cards, and they’re preparing a successor to their most popular group ever. It’s their investment in the future.
But there’s another reason why Winner is poised to take the mantle of biggest male Kpop group. And that’s because right now, there’s a vacuum in Kpop. The empty space left by Big Bang is tremendous. Added to that, somewhat, is empty space left by Exo, who left the scene at the beginning of the summer under very negative circumstances following the exit of Kris and relationship scandal involving Baekhyun. All this displacement has left the male Kpop scene wide open. It’s an ideal time to debut for a talented, well-produced boy group.
Given the current scene, success is there for the taking. Will Winner be the ones to step in? That remains to be seen. Their main competition will likely come from BTS, who are on a major upswing following the well-received Skool Luv Affair and preceding their upcoming release of Dark and Wild. There’s no guarantee in the entertainment biz. But Winner have been given everything they need to succeed their labelmates as kings of Kpop. However you feel about the men of Winner, their debut songs, or their album, one thing is for sure. Winner is here to stay. YG Entertainment will make sure of that. Might as well start listening now. It’s a brilliant debut, only hindered by their choice of promoting two similar, safe songs. All in all, we give Winner’s debut a strong