The Quick Introduction
Okay… I don’t think this is any surprise, but I’m officially completely taken by the YG-produced reality show, WIN: Who Is Next in which two trainee teams aptly named Team A and Team B, battle it out for 100 days for the chance to début as YG’s newest boyband under the (lame) group name WINNER.
That’s the short story and really, although I’m averse to this decision of CEO YG himself because its just… cruel, from a human perspective, to subject these boys – kids! – to more pressures and false hopes. Okay, maybe not so much false hopes but just think about – and I’m sure we’re all mostly familiar with the idol world mechanics – that these trainees literally and painstakingly practice day and night, 24/7 for years with no guarantee of a secure future, that key to the magical lock of debuting, becoming a star and all the (supposed) perks. To a degree, you’re already toying with them and not just emotionally, you know? Perhaps telling them that “One day – that day will come. One day,” when in truth… Will it really? Apparently, as we’re finding out – it actually will.
But… only for some of them.
Initial Thoughts, with a Dose of Skepticism
I admit that when I first read the news about this show, I was disgusted.
I’ve been in the JPop scene for longer than the KPop scene (though I think I’m more in-the-know about the latter today), but overall it’s been almost 9 years that I’ve familiarized myself with the idol-dom scene in both countries. I admit that despite the many things (okay, guys in particular) that I really like, there are as many things I don’t and the primary reason is fakeness, which is much, much more prevalent in KPop than JPop.
Idols are supposed to be representatives of… I don’t even know, a lot of good things, which is all fine and dandy except that oftentimes I think they’re put on this pedestal and lauded like gods and demi-gods – which simply doesn’t sit right with me, for one. For another, the downside of that pedestal is that they’re basically expected and groomed to behave in specific ways. I may be wrong and yes, I’m aware the likes of idols like G-Dragon of BIGBANG and Heechul of SUPER JUNIOR who are still keeping it real and defying the odds, but let’s face the reality that there are more cookie-cutter chips than there are real cookies out there.
Which is why I never wanted to watch this show, nor did I want to care. A week ago however, I came across a subbed video of the first episode while surfing the net on Kang Seung Yoon (whom I’m having quite the KPop crush on, ha) and on a whim, decided to give it a go.
More Introduction & Thoughts…
Here’s the short breakdown, though I’m not about to name all of them: there are 11 boys in total, namely five in Team A and the remaining six in Team B. The former’s average age is older by three years than the latter; in general, Team A comprises of mostly sunbaes in their late teens to early twenties while Team B are of high school ages.
In the first twenty minutes of the first episode, I got confused just trying to distinguish one boy from the other. I couldn’t even distinguish between teams without counting the number of members, forget remembering names! I am however, obviously already familiar with Kang Seung Yoon and Lee Seung Hoon from their earlier stints, but also took notice of rapper and leader of Team B, B.I. who’s called out by YG as having similarities to G-Dragon. Everyone else though? I tried, really I did, but by the time episode one ended I didn’t make much progress.
But here’s the upside: I enjoyed it, more than I thought I would(n’t).
So I kept an eye out for the release of the second episode and surprised myself when… I got teary-eyed at the Skype conversation between Team B’s rapper, Bobby and his mother and the rest of his family who’re now living in Virginia, USA. Then there’s that bit I remembered from the first episode I think, of that kid Kim Jin Woo of Team A who’s now YG’s longest trainee; he got teary-eyed and sounded really, really defeated about this whole thing that it just got to me right in the heart. The way he admitted aloud that it’s either the début happens now or it’s the end for him because he’s seen too many former trainees leave… Gutted.
Even More (Now, Emotionally Invested) Thoughts
Here’s what struck a chord with me when it comes to both boys – they’re from different teams with different things at stake, but that earnestness to stand on stage with their comrades and brothers as one… is emotionally impacting.
It’s all the more heartbreaking when we realize that no matter how many years they may have trained or the ages they started off when they first signed on as trainees … They’re still kids, boys. I don’t think any of them are even legal – if someone is, probably barely – that in the scope of Real Life perspectives, they’re still so young to be hit with dashed dreams, the kind that’s most frustrating: it’s so close, you’re so bloody close to it and you’ve worked your asses off both as an individual and member of a group but… You didn’t make the cut.
Here’s the other thing that really gets to me: everyone’s not only earnest in their undertaking, but they also seem like genuinely great guys. The entertainment world hasn’t eaten their souls up yet with the superficiality so that hunger, desperation and outright passion oozing out from each of them are pretty damn palpable and oh, so real. I think it doesn’t help – or it does? Depending on how you look at it – that their sunbaes within the company are powerhouses, namely BIGBANG and 2NE1 who are already carving and branding themselves internationally, not just domestically. There’s so much pressure and… Desires, you know? Dreams.
Is Losing REALLY The Worse Outcome?
I get it that the worse might not be the worse – the losing team will continue to be trainees for about 3-4 more years (if they’re not uhm, disbanded…) but when I think about it from their perspectives, I get as emotional as they do. In both teams, there are folks who have reached their 3rd year in training so having to continue doing so for another 4 years? Ugh, I can’t even. Not only that, think about their families and what it must mean: sacrificing not only their future in terms of education but also income because this training business means they’re not doing ‘real jobs’ ergo earning for themselves and the family. If they’re not from affluent families which I suspect most of them aren’t (everyone seems to be from modest backgrounds), then surely, eventually they’ll internally question – as if they aren’t already – “What am I doing all this for? How long more? Where is that light at the end of the tunnel – does it even exist?”
So when I put myself in their shoes and up the stakes with these Real Life concerns… YG‘s really kinda cruel, you know. Granted, it’s a tough world out there and debuting is just the beginning anyway, plus the fact that regardless how doe-eyed these boys start off as eventually they’ll definitely be jaded, colored and matured by their environment. Basically, the counter-argument – one can’t blame YG cos he’s really just giving them the real deal earlier than most.
The part of me that empathize with the kids wants to call him out on this shameless act of clearly playing puppet master, pulling the strings of these 11 talented boys as he pleases according to his so-called visions, backed up by his experience and while there’s obviously a degree of truth to that, I still can’t do so. Not because I’m YG-biased – please, I’ve enough sense and maturity to call a kettle a kettle, thanks – but because when I put myself in his perspectives, I see what he’s trying to do and in fact, the results are already evident in three episodes. It’s this: he’s testing their fighting spirits by challenging them to rise above themselves, both as individuals and as members of a team.
It’s the exact example of tough love; to bring out and reach the pinnacle of potential, a necessary-cruel decision is required.The boys are at different stages in their skills, emotions, fighting spirits and confidence respectively – some are perhaps ambling and lost, a small few are overconfident, others are desperate and bursting with frustration and the remainder may be ambling, not quite lost, but too comfortable in the trainee world – that this is perhaps the most fitting dose for a wake-up call on personal reassessment and ambitions. So I hate him for doing this, but I see why – other than its good entertainment, which I don’t dig but I’ll stay mum on this bit – because when these boys realize they’re pitted against one another and that this is pretty much the likes of a life/death competition, stakes appear and with that, a sense of responsibility and ownership to do right with themselves and their futures. It then becomes do or die, dreams versus reality and ultimately, winning and losing.
With that, naturally it means they’ve to bring their A-games, all of the confidence they possess, every skill they’ve acquired thus far and most crucial of all: every ounce of their fighting spirit.
Thoughts on Teams A & B
Now that I’ve covered my thoughts about the show in general including yes, the smaller and larger scope of idol-dom and Real Life where these boys are concerned, let’s focus on the two teams – our budding stars, that is.
The short answer: I love them both.
…Which is something I think all of us are pretty much in tandem about, because there really is such earnestness in their desires to be the winner. I think everyone is highly talented in their own fields and have honed themselves where they used to lack – like dancing, for Kang Seung Yoon for instance. The fact that I’m not a dancer or singer (okay anything music-related, you can count me out) just makes me appreciate what they do all the more and is also why I am continuously impressed by their obvious leaps, bounds and talents.
There are a notable few who’ve caught my attention, enough for me to remember names to faces but the real tokens are the ones who creep up on me – next thing I know, I can’t not pay attention when they’re onscreen, you know what I mean? The person who falls in the first camp is that earnest kid in Team A who’s also the longest trainee, Kim Jin Woo. I want him to be able to début SO BAD because the story about having seen so many trainees who started off at the same time he did leave must’ve been depressing and how can he not start questioning “Will it be my turn next to leave?” It’s just too cruel to have that come true. Then there’s that bit about his dad and those scenes they showed us when he went to see his dad. When both father and son teared up wordlessly the moment they saw each other, oh my goodness… Where is the tissue box? Pass it around!
I’m also starting to take notice of that dude, Nam Taehyun also of Team A who sang a cover of “Snow Flower” – only one of the best, most epic OST for a drama ever! Here, give his take a spin:
As for the ones who have that X-factor – in my eyes, at least – and crept up on me, they’re none other than the leaders of each team, namely Song Minho for Team A and B.I. for Team B.
Let’s talk about B.I. first, who’s pretty much the face, brand and brain of Team B. I don’t mean this unkindly, rather matter-of-fact because this kid – he’s definitely talented. The fact that he realizes that and has honed his skills and talents from such a ripe, young age when he was headhunted just makes his cool, confident demeanor appealing as opposed to a turn off. He is like GD in that sense: it’s not that he’s trying to be It – he is It. Bring on his talents, add it to his looks and complete that with his cool and composed personality, I’ve no doubt that even if Team B loses, he’ll have his début one way or another because he’s too good to go unnoticed.
As for Song Minho, like everyone else, I first noticed him when he was appointed the leader for Team A but for me then, that was it. As the first episode progressed, I’d quickly forgotten about him until he was highlighted in the second episode. I think I took notice when that other idol rapper, ZICO from Block B (whom I’m not familiar with but now know of thanks to Rosie’s monthly KPop digest!) dropped in to say hello to him. Turned out, they’re really close friends who used to be a rapper duo. Except… The reality is that one has now debuted and is enjoying steady fame, whereas the other is still struggling to get out of that trainee camp. Ugh, the reality of how things turn out, you know? Clips of them rapping together and then Minho‘s rap solo in Team A’s performance in episode three convinced me that this kid… He has an understated kind of confidence in his craft and self that’s worth paying attention to. Like B.I., he’s not a green rapper and I thought that just as the former did, he too shone during his solo rap in his team’s performance. Unlike B.I. though, there’s so much swag but none are of the flashy kind, which just makes him ack, such a heartthrob.
A worthy and last mention is of course my bias and current crush, Kang Seung Yoon. He’s way too nice in my opinion and perhaps also already schooled when it comes to reality shows – his commentaries are always extremely well-said i.e. polite and inoffensive. It makes me curious of the person that he really is (I didn’t watch Superstar K which was his breakout platform) in that is he really this nice, sweet kid with the eargasm voice or is there more to this dude? Personally, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his solo materials and don’t mind it if he continues going solo – plus he’s not even main vocal in Team A, what in the what! – but he seems to really love his team, which makes me think that maybe it’s not such a bad thing for him to be in a boyband as opposed to remaining a solo artist.
The Million Dollar Question: Which Team Am I Rooting For?
Surprisingly easy: Team A.
I think both teams are immensely talented and deserving of the winning opportunity to début, with the same kind of earnestness and desperation to become stars, but I’m a believer of competitions, tough love and fair play: there must be one winner for stakes to really count and meanings to hold. With that said… For me, Team A’s fighting spirits echo more to me than Team B’s does.
I admit that personally thus far, I find Team B to be the stronger one musically of the two, especially with B. I. leading the way forward, but when I mentally compare the two, I just feel like Team A has more at stakes for them, like the reality that this is really the end for them if they don’t make it – it’s début or disband, literally – because they’re more seasoned both in terms of age and exposures. There’s Lee Seung Hoon and Kang Seung Yoon who’ve had their fair shares of talent competitions and then there’s Song Minho, Kim Jin Woo and Nam Tae Hyun who all feel like they’ve been in this trainee level for too long – all five of them just give off this sense that they’ve time-ticking clocks on their shoulders.
Then there’s the outcomes of the monthly evaluations… How can I not root for the underdogs, you know? I realize and agree too, Team B has that youthful confidence and carefree feel which lacks in Team A like a sore thumb, but in the scope of stakes – I think each member of Team A has more to lose than that of Team B. I know age isn’t supposed to be a factor but let’s not BS – it is. I feel like the 4-year extension will hurt the older boys more than it would those in Team B, who’ll roughly be 20 to 22 years old by then. If they’re cut back from debuting this year, this just means they can spend their teen years immersing in theories, honing skills and building individual appeals.
If you’re into KPop, I’m pretty sure you’re already watching this. If you’re an idol-dom enthusiast which is more along the lines of what I would coin myself as (thus making me a casual fan in general) and on the fence about watching this, I suggest you do because there’s something real underneath all the pretty faces. If you’re here cos you can’t get enough of the boys be it their talents, personalities, friendships and earnestness – well hello there, so am I! Aha.
WIN: Who Is Next is a surprise win for me – so full of earnestness, heart and above all, dreams. Watching this just reminds me that I was once a dreamer, too. Sometimes I wish I could shake these boys and tell them that when it comes to our dreams, the windows and doors of our respective opportunities are dynamic – they continually change, marred by experiences and perspectives but what’s important is that we know and understand that regardless what the outcome(s) may be, things will turn out as they’re intended to.
Here’s the life lesson I hope to impart to them: in the pursuit of our dreams – everyone’s a winner.