With over 2,600 songs on my iPhone’s “K-Pop Singles” playlist, I thought it would be fun to add a bit of unpredictability to my song review posts. So as a result, we have the “Random Shuffle Review” feature.
The rules are simple. I fire up my playlist, press “shuffle,” and whatever song plays first gets the full Bias List treatment!
Year Released: 2014
Winner made their 2014 debut as the… erm… winning group of YG Entertainment’s competition series Who Is Next. Their rivals during that show would later go on to become founding members of iKON. During the late-2013 run of Who Is Next, I remember preferring the energy of “Team B” (iKON) but knowing that “Team A” (Winner) would probably debut with a sound more suited to my personal taste. Plus, they had Kang Seung Yoon among their ranks, who had delivered one of my favorite tracks of 2013 with Wild And Young. So, even though the series was needlessly cruel by design, I was excited to hear the music that would spawn from its debuting group.
The wait between Who Is Next and Empty (공허해) was also needlessly cruel. Nearly ten months passed between the series’ final episode and Winner’s debut. Luckily, the end results were worth it. Funny enough, Empty was co-written by iKON’s B.I, which had to sting a little after his team’s defeat. To my ears, it’s still the best melody he’s ever composed.
Empty opens with both vocal and instrumental, hitting us immediately with a compelling verse that tows the line between sing-song melody and hip-hop. While not completely dissimilar to Bigbang’s more pensive moments, the tone is uniquely Winner. I love the production here, especially the descending synth lines (or are those heavily processed vocal ad-libs?) that add an unexpected rhythmic touch to an otherwise straightforward mid-tempo. Empty’s chorus brings in beautiful falsetto, taking advantage of Winner’s range as a vocal group. This is further explored as the track twists and turns toward surprising peaks. For a song with such a subdued vibe, Empty manages to find momentum through the interplay of the members’ performances, giving it a powerful fluidity that still feels unique today. Five years into their career, Winner have yet to top this memorable debut.