Review

Random Shuffle Review: Winner – Empty

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.

 Hooks 9
 Production 9
 Longevity 10
 Bias 9
 RATING 9.25

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6 thoughts on “Random Shuffle Review: Winner – Empty

  1. Yes, yes, and more yeses! This is my all-time favorite Winner song, and I had it on constant rotation for the rest of 2014. I’m still bitter that YG hid them away for well over a year after such a successful debut (Just YG Things™), but I’m happy that they were able to overcome that and maintain their popularity. That’s definitely a testament to Winner’s charms and talents.

    I’ve gotta say that I’d love it if they returned to this sound for a future title track, though! Their trendier stuff (Everyday…) just doesn’t have the same timelessness that Empty has, in my opinion.

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  2. I remember being so aggressively obsessed with this track (and, in fact, Winner’s whole debut album) a few years ago. My tastes have changed a lot since then, but I can’t deny the stickiness of the songwriting here. It’s not exactly the peak of originality, but the simplicity really does serve it best in the long run.

    P.S. pretty sure those are heavily processed vocals – and also my favorite part of the instrumental! They really tie the whole thing together.

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  3. Slightly OT, but what do you think about EXIT: E in 2019? It was easily one of my favorite EPs by an idol group in 2016 and I remember being super salty in my early days of lurking here that you didn’t seem to love it as much as me. This post made me revisit the older Winner albums – I forgot I biased them pretty hard at some point – and it just made me wonder!

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    • It’s easily my favorite work by them apart from the debut album. Part of that is because of its more rock-influenced approach, but to be completely honest I just think they worked better as a quintet. Ever since Taehyun left, their music just feels more generic and less “them.”

      It will be forever maddening that all we got from EXIT was “E.” I’m sure there would have been some fantastic music spawned from X, I and T.

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      • I didn’t want to say it, but yeah – I really loved Winner as five and my interest kind of dropped off entirely after Taehyun left. Especially since they dove straight into trop house and never looked back, the group has felt more faceless despite having really talented members.

        YG has screwed a lot of artists over the years, but the thing I’m probably second most bitter about (besides, you know, the tragedy of 2ne1’s mismanagement) is that X, I, and T were never released.

        After the success of “Really Really,” I’m not sure if they’ll ever go back – but I really thought they were carving a niche out as K-pop’s sad boy rock kings, and that never materialized the way I wish it had.

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  4. Pingback: Looking Back: The Top Three K-Pop Songs of August 2014 | The Bias List // K-Pop Reviews & Discussion

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