It’s now 2020, the year where iKon ventures forth as a six-member group. Considering the events from last June, where B.I left the group only hours after allegations rose of his attempts to buy drugs, fans were left uncertain of iKon’s future. After all, B.I has played multiple roles in the group so far – leader, producer, lyricist, and co-rapper alongside fellow member Bobby. B.I and Bobby in particular had a long history that goes back to Show Me the Money 3 days, alongside their previous survival shows. Without B.I in the picture, it was nearly certain iKon may undergo an identity crisis. 

Then, YG Entertainment revealed the news that they would still release B.I’s productions half a year later. Clearly, this was in part trying to test the waters with the public’s reaction to iKon – trying to strike the right balance between their acceptance of the members, versus their music. Reactions were split between domestic netizens and international fans, as the former was disappointed and the latter expressed excitement. There was the obvious issue of a previous member still indirectly participating in their group’s activities, but others were relieved that iKon’s transition as a new group would be relatively smoother.

The first week into February, they returned with “Dive,” which was still produced by B.I. Suffice to say, the result of listening to their comeback song is having more questions than answers. As opposed to feeling a certain reassurance, I’ve been left wondering what constitutes iKon’s identity from here on forth.

In other words, “Dive” is a confusing outcome that doesn’t quite resolve the issue of iKon’s future musical direction. Considering the unclear presence of B.I in the production itself, it’s hard to tell whether iKon is supposed to move forward as themselves, or as a newer group entirely. But for now, let us simply touch on the MV and song – which were overall a pleasant surprise in its aesthetic cinematography, as well as its filming of the group’s choreography.

First, this song stood out the most for its unique instrumental and member arrangements. The moment it began, a light, addictive country guitar riff catches your attention, and it was surprisingly the foundation of the track. Considering the song and MV switched things up from more serious to brighter moods , it was interesting that this instrumental follows suit and plays around with the atmosphere as well. It wasn’t out of place and provided a refreshing earworm for the song – yet, it also doesn’t overwhelm the listener, as it corresponded with the members’ voices. Not too many songs have experimented with this kind of genre, but it works even for a charismatic love song where iKon proposes to “dive” in to danger for their lover.

This track is also a pleasant surprise from the longer time frames provided for the vocalists. It is now vocals that carry the song, and it was pleasing to hear the slight differences per vocalist. To some degree, the balance of this track as coming from iKon has tipped from majority rap to vocals. While this does have to do with the number of rappers decreasing, there is now a more cohesive balance at hand for everyone in the group. While Ju-ne and Jay commonly sing the chorus (each by themselves, no less), I’ve enjoyed hearing more of Chan, DK, and Song. The neat thing about this track’s arrangement is that everyone has their part. Enabling a fairer, more even distribution also calls for greater cohesion.

Although, some may argue that the song didn’t make the best of what iKon can offer as a group, as it is more on the “safer” side of the K-pop song spectrum. It takes a few listens for the song to stick in one’s head, beyond the unique instrumental and the ending climax.  Not to mention that the last 40 seconds of the song is left to a tactic pretty common in most YG songs — a sudden shift in genre that exemplifies a “party” mood, disregarding whether it’s necessary or not.

Nonetheless, the MV itself was a solid production that highlights the group, with both aesthetics and camerawork. The quality of the MV truly shone through, as every setting for the group and its members offered something new but were cohesive altogether. Burning bridges meld in with flowers to a high diving board and a clean, white room full of arrows. Every scene is both beautiful and slightly haunting, offering various interpretations to the song’s message of “diving” into danger for a lover. Each scene also makes the members stand out in a memorable, distinct way through color and mood.

The camerawork also filmed the choreography very consistently. Every now and then, a K-pop MV can have slightly choppy editing of the main choreo, leaving much to be desired (and performance MV’s to be hailed thereafter). But while there were many transitions present, the MV succeeded in providing a full shot of iKon’s dance in the chorus. I further appreciated the smooth transition from a close-up to the chorus vocalist (Ju-ne or Jay), back to the full group line-up. This part too was smooth because the closer profile shots were still a part of the overall choreography, rather than being brought in from an entirely separate scene. Moreover, doing so provided opportunities for the multiple choreography backgrounds to be shown at once during the short snippet of the chorus. 

All this to say: iKon having chosen “Dive” as this year’s comeback has left me in a rut. Yes, to a certain degree this song does differentiate iKon post-B.I’s departure. However, there is no clear contrast in their overall discography before and after. It’s more so just a genre change in their style, since it actually doesn’t reflect B.I’s production. Largely due to this newer sound (from new arrangements, genre, etc), the end result of “Dive” is simply another genre that iKon has attempted – rather than a sure change in direction that signals a greater molding of their discography to come. 

While this shift is definitely triggered with B.I’s departure, it is not the sole reason for my uncertainty regarding their musical direction. Having suffered the loss of their main producer and leader, one would mostly expect iKon to show a radical change — until we knew he would still stick around. But what’s with the song sounding as if B.I did indeed leave, despite his production? This outcome conflicts with iKon’s previous dependency on B.I for their music. So then, why keep the producer but venture forth with an utterly new sound? This makes their already confusing identity crisis even harder to understand. Essentially, with or without their main producer, their attempt to strike at any possible genre still continues. In other words, B.I’s leaving only served to make the crisis even more severe.

This is by no means to put down the song or MV, but – for all their experimentation – “Dive” splinters the group off from what they’ve attempted to build up. This track can befit any idol group who has a rapper and vocalists present. Experimentation has possibly reached its limits with iKon, especially considering B.I’s departure was a chance for them to establish a completely new color – as iKon. But it’s as if B.I worked behind the scenes to curate a new group by himself; iKon has faded along with B.I to bring forth an uncertain comeback that has me confused at their musical aim. B.I was the heart of iKon, and his loss was both painful and confusing for fans. But perhaps having iKon come back as an unrecognizable group entirely is not the answer – especially when B.I has had a hand in production this time around.

On the other hand, I recognize that it may also be too early to tell. Especially since both iKon and their management are still experimenting with balancing B.I’s production for six members. Disregarding the sequence of events that have taken place for the group, “Dive” was a solid release that worked to show how the group can still carry their torch. Yes, B.I’s absence was subtly felt when Bobby was the only rapper; yet, fans can distinctly hear the slight differences between the vocalists to a greater degree. Moreover, the comeback was high quality, and enabled iKon to prove their potential despite difficult fallbacks. Here’s to hoping that 2020 will be a fruitful and productive year for iKon to better stabilize their musicality!

(Youtube. Images via YG Entertainment)