It’s been an interesting year for YG Entertainment’s cadre of artists. A select few have been active most of the year, while most have spent the bulk of their time out of the public eye. Rookie group Winner, who debuted late in 2014, were oddly silent for the first part of the year. Then suddenly, in the summer, there was a flurry of activity.
Rapper Mino headed for Mnet‘s Show Me The Money 4. It was also announced that YG was going to produce its very first web drama, starring Kang Seung-yoon, Winner’s leader. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Both fellow rookie group Got7 and mega-stars EXO had just wrapped up their respective successful web dramas. These episodic dramas are low-cost, highly effective, easily consumable and extremely popular with a built-in fan base.
However, the success of any drama hinges on several factors — most notably the plot, the pacing and the chemistry between the actors. We Broke Up is the story of a young couple who fell in and out of love but have to keep living together. In order for the drama to work, the couple has to be believable and watchable, episode after episode. Now, I’m under no illusion that a web drama has to actually be good to be popular, but it would be an added bonus for the viewer, who in this case, was me.
So how well did YG’s first outing fare?
Having only watched a few episodes of Got7’s cheesily fantastical Dream Knight, I didn’t know exactly what to expect from We Broke Up. It wasn’t completely obvious at first why these two were chosen, out of all of YG’s stars. Well, Dara was an understandable choice, since she’s been leaning toward acting for a while. But YG has younger stars under his wing that could’ve been cast as a lead actress for one of his younger leading men as the age difference between the two stars is noticeable.
The choice of Seung-yoon, however, was more of a wild card. Other than getting promo for his group, it didn’t seem like he had much to gain other than putting himself up for public ridicule (as his bandmate Nam Taehyun learned the hard way when netizens attacked him for his performance in Late Night Restaurant).
By the end of the first episode, though, any questions about the casting were answered. Seung-yoon is effortlessly natural in his role as Won-yeong, a struggling musician whose drive for success puts a wedge between him and his love. He has great comedic timing and is handsome and charismatic enough to carry a leading man role.
Dara is a little less successful as Woo-ri. The age difference isn’t a complete write-off, except that the character of Woo-ri seems to have been written to be a lot younger than Dara. Of course, Dara looks amazing but she gives off a mature vibe that didn’t necessarily gel with the innocent, stars-in-her-eyes character of Woo-ri. Despite all these factors, Seung-yoon and Dara have chemistry. So, in that way, We Broke Upscored a point. It’s believable that these two characters were in love. It’s enough to keep viewers hooked to see how the story pans out.
The story, however, is where We Broke Up falters. The plot is practically non-existent. Beyond the setting up of the situation (Woo-ri and Won-yeong, through a string of circumstances, are forced to live together after breaking up) and the introduction of side characters (including two new love interests for our main characters), there was no real plot to speak of. There was also no sense of urgency. The characters meander through life, getting jobs, playing shows, hanging out with friends and arguing with each other, with no ticking clock to keep the story moving. It was a slice of life drama, which I didn’t expect going into it.
At first, I didn’t mind because I was interested in the tidbits of Woo-ri and Won-yeoung’s relationship that were often revealed in flashbacks. However, by episode 8, I began to wonder if anything was actually going to happen. Short answer? No. Long answer? Won-yeong and Woo-ri realize that the lives they thought they wanted weren’t all they were cracked up to be and basically end up back right where they began. So, nothing groundbreaking and nothing particularly compelling actually happened.
Despite this, I wouldn’t call We Broke Up a failure. It’s actually quite the opposite.
The producers took an interesting chance with this web drama. I’m not sure who was completely responsible for the final outcome, but it definitely fits with YG Entertainment’s business model for Winner. As I was watching it, I realized it wasn’t really written for or marketed towards young girls, which is the typical fan base for idol content.
This drama is focused on early twenty-somethings who are trying to make their way in life. There are no over-the-top, unbelievable moments. There’s a tiny bit of cheese, but for the most part, all the actors play their parts straight. The acting is understated and believable. Some might call We Broke Up boring, and it definitely seemed to fly under a lot of people’s radar. It didn’t get same level of attention as Dream Knight or Exo Next Door, that’s for sure.
I would argue that the biggest success of We Broke Up is the revelation that Kang Seung-yoon is probably going to be a huge star. Already popular pre-debut for his appearance on the reality show Superstar K2, Seung-yoon is definitely one of the more well-known members of Winner. But after watching his raw talent in We Broke Up, I’m more convinced than ever that he deserves whatever praise he gets. He’s a great performer, and acting comes naturally to him. He performs a couple of songs throughout the drama, as well as the OST with Dara, and the music is never far from the action.
However, having gone without a comeback for most of 2015 has done his band no favors. The inclusion of Seung-yoon in this drama was a smart way for YG to push Winner to an older audience. YG has seemingly never been content with marketing strictly to the teen audience that tends to consume idol content. He’s looking at the bigger picture. He wants mature audiences as well, people in their twenties and beyond. With We Broke Up, Seung-yoon (and Winner in conjunction) is being marketed to a wider audience.
With Winner’s long-delayed comeback now looming, it has yet to be seen how YG’s foray into web dramas will actually pay off. Whether they’ll gain the mature audience that YG is aiming for is still up in the air. But using We Broke up as a first step towards seeking longevity for the band and for Seung-yoon’s star power is ultimately a smart choice. So although this drama isn’t cheesy and hilarious enough to be considered a guilty pleasure and didn’t make any huge waves with viewers, from a marketing and artistic standpoint, it still qualifies as a success.