WINNER: ‘We Don’t Put Limits on Genre’
The South Korean group on their diverse new album ‘EVERYD4Y,’ dealing with the pressure wrought by immense chart success and what the future holds for them
While no artist is exempt from the highs and lows of the music business, it’s safe to say WINNER have had a particularly bumpy ride. With a delayed debut, a series of prolonged hiatuses and losing a member, the odds seemed to be stacked against the South Korean boy group for several years. This year however, signaled a record-breaking change of tides.
Formed in 2013 after winning the Y.G. Entertainment and television network MNET’s idol survival show WIN: Who Is Next, WINNER debuted in 2014 with five members. Comprising leader Yoon, vocalists Taehyun and Jinu and rappers Hoony and Mino, they released their first studio album 2014 S/S to considerable commercial success and were the first boy group to debut from Y.G. Entertainment since veteran group Big Bang in 2006.
WINNER’s evolution since that landmark release has been fascinating to trace. Initially favoring trap and R&B ballads (“empty,” “color ring”) during their 2014 debut era, the group dove into more sophisticated sounds in 2016 with the release their first EP EXIT : E. The project’s lead single “Baby Baby” garnered a wide amount of attention thanks to its bluesy vibe while the pop/rock-fueled “Sentimental” made them stand out from other K-pop artists. Soon after, the group entered a 12-month hiatus which saw the departure of main vocalist Taehyun, who was largely responsible for the blues/rock influence. Fans were alarmed, unsure of what it meant for WINNER’s future.
As the world waited with bated breath to see what would come next, the remaining four members chose the route of reinvention for their 2017 comeback. With tropical house dominating a lot of K-pop releases that year, WINNER embraced the trend with the island-flavored “Really Really.” The track signaled a fresh, happier vibe for the group and racked up several million hits on YouTube, eventually becoming the quartet’s most-viewed music video (it currently stands at over 70 million views.) Several similar singles followed and for a moment it seemed as though WINNER had found their ‘signature’ sound–2018 however, proved things wouldn’t be as simple as that.
Released on April 4th, their sophomore LP EVERYD4Y is the first release with every member involved in production and serves as a tight round-up of the group’s diverse artistry. “It’s been four years since we’ve released a full album,” says Hoony. “We knew our fans were really looking forward to this, so we tried our best.” Starting with chill trap (“Everyday”) to draw in Winner’s newer island-vibe loving fans, the album blends in more genres as it progresses. There are subtle touches of bossa nova (“Turn Off The Light,”) Fifties doo-wop (“We Were,”) funk (“Special Night”) and ballads (“Raining”) to give older fans a bit of familiarity as well.
“We wanted to show that we were capable of many genres and we wanted to be recognized,” Jinu adds about the band’s mindset throughout the process of crafting EVERYD4Y. The album won the attention of the masses, granting Winner their first ‘all-kill’ by topping all major real-time charts in South Korea and making them the first boy group to break 100 million streams on the country’s Gaon chart. Internationally, the LP went on to hit Number One on iTunes album charts in 18 countries, even peaking at Number Three in India.
In this exclusive conversation with Rolling Stone India, WINNER open up about the pressure of sustaining this immense success, wanting to meet more international fans and plans for future releases.
Congratulations on your new album EVERYD4Y. You guys are heavily involved in the production and songwriting process of your music—can you tell me a little bit about the journey of making this album and some of the biggest challenges you faced?
Mino: Thank you. We put in a lot of care. We put high significance on the message of each song as well as the overall flow of the album. We wanted to gain the sympathy of listeners.
Hoony: It’s been four years since we’ve released a full album. We knew our fans were really looking forward to this album so we tried our best. I participated in composing for the first time in order to give various musical colors.
Yoon: We recorded and worked on this album all day and night long. One of the biggest challenges was trying out a new genre ‘chill trap’ [heard on “Everyday,” “Luxury” and “Hello.”]
What were your main influences or sources of inspiration while producing this album?
Hoony: We talked a lot about music with one another.
Yoon: I received a lot of inspiration from our fans.
Mino: As for WINNER, when we produce music, we don’t put limits on genre. We always listen to new music. So it is natural for us to get influenced by trend. From time to time we melt the trend into our own style of music.
Your immense chart success is incredible, but does it ever put too much pressure on you guys or stress you out? How do you deal with that pressure?
Hoony: We can’t completely ignore chart results. When I feel pressure at times, I spend as much time as I can with other things.
Yoon: I try not to receive pressure and stress. But because I am human, it is inevitable. I try to create happy memories with my fans and members.
Jinu: I do feel pressure whenever we make a comeback. At times, I talk a lot with my members and boss YG [Yang Hyun-suk, CEO of Y.G. Entertainment.] We rely on each other. I am just so happy and thankful to meet our fans.
Mino: I do feel somewhat a sense of pressure with chart results but it isn’t a ‘totally’ huge pressure. I’m the type who would just accept reality. But if our results were really poor and our music was swept off the rankings, I would be upset with the fact that people would have a lesser chance to listen to music that we put in a lot of effort and affection into. I would then just go into bed and watch a funny video.
How do you expect WINNER’s sound to grow and evolve in the future? Any genres or topics you guys are keen to explore?
Hoony: I would like challenge more diverse genres and re-create it into Winner’s unique style of music. I want to write not only about love but also about personal messages in music.
Mino: Songs with messages that more people can feel sympathy towards… Or a song which has a sophisticated sound, that you can enjoy lightly [or even] a song of a hearty message that leaves a strange trace in your heart.
Yoon: No one really knows what will happen in the future but I want to show music we like, and stories we want to tell at various points in our life.
What is one thing you hope your fans learn from you and your music?
Yoon: Hoping that everyone receives positive energy and the message that ‘We are all winners in life.’
Hoony: If you can rest, enjoy and be comforted through our music, I am satisfied with that.
Jinu: I hope you feel healing and sympathy.
Mino: Even if it’s a little change of thought through our music, even a simple, instant excitement… If there is a slight change in your day through our music, it would be the reason for us to make music.
Do any of you guys have solo projects planned for this year? Mino, would MOBB (the duo he formed with labelmate boy group iKON’s rapper Bobby in 2016) be making a comeback sometime soon maybe?
Mino: We don’t have specific plans but everyone is preparing hard. As to MOBB, maybe you should ask our boss YG [grins.]
EVERYD4Y hit Number Three on the albums chart on iTunes India—something even many Indian artists struggle to do. How does it feel to know there are so many fans waiting for you here, and do you think you’ll ever come to our country for a show?
Yoon: We are very grateful. If there is a chance, we will go and meet our fans in India.
Jinu: Thank you for listening and showing so much support.
Hoony: We’ve never been to India before so we would really love to do so. If we get the chance to do a world tour, we want to go to places we’ve never been to, to see our Inner Circles [the group’s fanclub.]
Mino: We want to do more international promotions. India is a place I really want to go to. Whether it be for a concert or fan meeting, we want to visit in the future.
Watch WINNER’s music video for “Everyday” below: