Since debuting in 2015, iKon have tried on various concepts on the spectrum between soft and hard, ironically without ever quite pinning down an iconic sound. You can track their swings from their pre-debut smooth, romantic track “My Type” to the swaggering “Rhythm Ta” to the melancholic “Airplane.” Next came the ballad “Apology,” followed by the rebellious high-energy singles “What’s Wrong” and “Dumb & Dumber.” The sweet, boyish “#WYD” preceded the energetic “B-Day” and braggadocious “Bling Bling.”
Their trio of 2018 releases saw the emergence of a more reflective iKon. After their mellow smash breakout hit “Love Scenario,” they came back with the dramatic, slick “Killing Me” and ended the year with the breakup ballad “Goodbye Road.”
For the repackage of New Kids: The Final, iKon have released one more single to serve as the last note for their album series. The formulaic “Goodbye Road” seemed like a subpar send-off to New Kids, and having stuck to their past patterns, now would be the time for something upbeat and playful, perhaps sweet and hopeful, silly, or full of swagger for the future. Instead, iKon serve up a combination of their last two singles with the somber hip-hop ballad “I’m OK.” This finale sends a statement that iKon are committing to this more mature, lyrics-driven release.
Since their debut, iKon have struggled to find a consistent identity, which is only exacerbated by the group’s constant comparisons to label seniors Big Bang as well as their survival show competitors Winner. Winner have been set up as the more mature group of the two, while iKon was meant to be more youthful. But with Winner caught in an infinite loop of autotune and tropical house samples, iKon are pulling ahead as the emotional powerhouse of the two. They’ve reinterpreted their boyish image as a way to explore the pains of youth — heartbreak, regret, loneliness, indecisiveness and emotional immaturity.
While the point of view of breakups in “Love Scenario” was a bittersweet appreciation of a finished relationship, “Goodbye Road,” “Killing Me” and now “I’m OK” wallow in pain, wrestling with dark emotions that are frustratingly contradictory.
“Goodbye Road” is more complicated than it might first appear. Despite bemoaning their lost love, it’s revealed that the persona is the one who broke things off. iKon plead with their ex to forget all their memories together, but they are also pained at the thought of being forgotten.
“Killing Me” seems quite aggressive in its language. But the Korean phrase that translates to the lyric “killing me” is usually used lightheartedly, as in, “Man, my feet are killing me.” And the dark lyrics differ from the energetic instrumental chorus and eye-catching choreography, creating a contrast that some listeners found confusing. But this contrast reflects the opposing ideas near the song’s end when iKon confront their real motivations:
I guess I loved her so bad
I guess the fire that was gone is beginning to burn again
Is it a heartbroken longing for her
Or selfish loneliness?
While that same disparity might not be so sonically present in “I’m OK,” lyrically, the song is a spiritual sequel to “Killing Me” as well as “Goodbye Road,” in that it’s also full of conflicting emotions.
Quite simply, the men of iKon are not OK in “I’m OK.” They are trapped in a frustrating emotional paradox of being lonely but also wanting to be left alone, of needing help but also not wanting people to comfort them or even look at them in their pain. Bobby raps:
Even though I’m better off by myself, loneliness hits me from time to time
Even though I want to do many different things, I become lethargic
My answer will always be a huge smile if anyone asks how I’m doing
The track was composed by B.I and Future Bounce with lyrics written by B.I, Bobby and Kim Jong-won. Bobby’s rap verse is focused on the struggles of life, while B.I’s verse is about romantic heartache. Parts are fairly evenly distributed among the rappers and vocalists, with Song and Chan getting moments to shine in their delivery of the impactful lines of the pre-chorus.
The slow-tempo song’s whiny, pleading synth and distorted vocal effect are grounded by a driving drum beat and simple piano. This repetitive backing helps add emotional heaviness to the soul-baring lyrics and pained performances of the seven members.
There’s a sense of familiarity to the track. It borrows bits from past iKon releases like “Airplane” as well as Big Bang’s hip-hop ballads, specifically the sublime “Loser,” which confronted dark emotions with a similar chorus structure. Overall, the song is satisfactory but not really revolutionary.
The MV is much more of a creative letdown. Compared to other simple, symbolic videos, it doesn’t have much to say or any novel aesthetics. Interesting visuals are few and far between, and the symbolism that is used is very on-the-nose, such as an emotionally empty Jay lying in a pile of empty plastic bottles. They’re both empty, get it??
The video has an impactful opening with B.I stumbling out of a fiery wrecked car. And later on, the image of him screaming in a field while the car explodes behind him is heart-stirring in its rawness. The MV notably doesn’t have a single shot of choreography, despite the group dancing while previously performing it live and later releasing a performance video revealing a full routine.
The final shot shows the boys walking along a road into a future so bright it casts stark shadows behind them. Though they have some battle scars, their heads are held high and they’re looking grown, polished and confident.
While they could still conceptually swerve again, iKon seems to be doubling down on mature, emotional hip-hop and leaving the superficial, bombastic sounds of releases like “Dumb and Dumber” and “Bling Bling” behind.
In the behind-the-scenes filming of the MV, B.I promises fans, “We’re still us and won’t change to live young and wild.” The group’s ethos might still be the same, but “I’m OK” is the culmination of the group’s redefinition of what that looks like for iKon.