“Bling Bling” and “B-Day” Bring Out The Best In iKON

iKON is back, loud as ever.

For whatever reason, it seems that iKON has yet to tap into their full potential, and that’s odd to say about a group from one of Korea’s big three companies. YG Entertainment (home to the likes of BIGBANG, PSY and, formerly, 2NE1) has struggled to strike a balance with this ensemble, especially sonically, as iKON’s music has washed back and forth between EDM and pseudo hip-hop — two outfits of music that have otherwise come rather easily for the iron machine. So, what gives?

Well, most of iKON’s weaknesses thus far have come from the lineup itself and not necessarily from their music. Up to this point, nearly every iKON single has drawn very little out of member Chan-woo, and similarly provided unremarkable moments for Jinhwan, Donghyuk and Yunhyeong. When you have more than half of the group underperforming, something’s not clicking.

One of the biggest hurdles that iKON has continuously faced is their group concept. From the get go, iKON was pre-selected to sell YG’s version of hip-hop — a loud, abrasive and balls-to-the-wall take on the genre — which itself is asking a helluva lot. It’s been an easy task for crown jewels B.I and Bobby, who have proven their worth as rappers and, thus, reside at the head of the table. But when hip-hop just doesn’t come naturally, it’s a far more challenging undertaking.

That has been the case with the iKON members not named B.I or Bobby. For the most part, each single since the group’s debut has relied heavily on either those two steering the ship or on a production so absurdly overdone that we’ve lost the entire squad in the process. Songs like “리듬 타 (RHYTHM TA)” just hold very little weight because of this. But that all might change now because something interesting has happened.

“Bling Bling” and “B-Day,” to be precise.

What works really well about these two singles, particularly “B-Day,” is that it makes a strong(er) effort to gel these guys together in a harmonious fashion. “B-Day” is highly melodic, which is paramount for a group aiming to fuse hip-hop and pop in such an aggressive manner as iKON. Each member’s verse slides smoothly into the next without harsh transitional breaks, and as the song builds towards the hook, nobody is left behind. It’s anthemic in a BIGBANG kind of way (almost a little too closely), making it pretty damn effective.

Predictably, “Bling Bling” does its best to run parallel by highlighting the group’s “harder” edge, and it does so pretty well. The song focuses mostly on rap, drawing most of its energy from B.I and Bobby, who take full ownership of the verses while the rest of the gang acts as a supporting cast. This is the iKON formula that drags those same weaknesses out in the open, but what this single has going for it that holds it a little more together is a fresher arrangement. If the chorus of BIGBANG’s “뱅뱅뱅 (BANG BANG BANG)” was made into a full song, “Bling Bling” is it. It’s on brand as far as its heavy processing, but the song benefits from a lot of breathing room in the instrumental. By the end, the production team throws damn near everything but the kitchen sink at this thing (a classic YG move), but overall it feels a lot more cohesive and you get a better serving of iKON’s strengths presented in their hip-hop inclinations than ever before. The group’s penchant for tired cliches is still there, but what can you do?

Until now, the puzzle pieces haven’t really fallen into place for iKON, at least not musically. However, things might be changing after this week’s releases of “Bling Bling” and “B-Day.” Could iKON’s new singles be the breakthrough we’ve been hoping for? After today, I say yes.

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