The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] Winner back 4 more

Boy band Winner promises wider scope of music after 14-month break, main vocalist’s departure

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : April 5, 2017 - 13:46

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The number 4 was plastered all over the release of Winner’s new single album, “Fate Number For.”

In addition to the title -- the obvious dual meaning of “for” and “four” -- the album was released on the fourth day of the fourth month, at 4 p.m.

“Four was never really my favorite number, but it’s starting to grow on me,” said Lee Seung-hoon with a hint of a smirk.

The quadruple emphasis on the number was the boy band’s way of paying tribute to Nam Tae-hyun, whose departure made Winner into -- you guessed it -- a four-piece band.

Winner poses for a photo prior to an interview Tuesday in Seoul. (YG Entertainment) Winner poses for a photo prior to an interview Tuesday in Seoul. (YG Entertainment)

The absence of Nam’s vocal prowess is substantial. But in a joint press interview held Tuesday in Mapo-gu, Seoul, Winner vowed to continue to grow as a musical group.

“Truth be told, his (Nam’s) absence can be felt. But we can’t be hung up on that,” said band leader Kang Seung-yoon. “We prepared thoroughly for this new album, to prove that we can still show (the public) what Winner is all about.”

The boy band was precisely about that -- a winner of reality competition show “WIN: Who is Next” in 2013. In a show pitting YG Entertainment’s trainees against each other, “Team A” emerged victorious and debuted as YG‘s first boy band since Big Bang.

After making a splash, however, the group went on a 14-month hiatus -- practically a lifetime by K-pop idol singer standards -- following the release of an EP in February 2016. In November of that year, Nam left the group citing health reasons.

“We took the time as an opportunity to grow,” said Kang.

For Song Min-ho, this meant working on his rapping skills.

“I’ve always been concerned about my rapping tone. So I tried hard to make sure my voice would be easy to listen to.”

Kim Jin-woo, whose singing role has surged since Nam’s departure, said he worked hard to fill the void.

“I’ve also taken up acting gigs, from which I learned to better express myself and be more confident on stage,” he said.

Overall, the band said it wanted to shed some of the band’s old image and try new things.

“We all have certain images. For example, I have an image of a rocker. I wanted to leap past that, to encompass various genres and to learn fresh music that the young generation loves.”

Such a comment may sound strange considering the oldest of the group, Kim, is just 25. But Winner’s music has always been somewhat “serious.”

This was the tough process that went into their new song “Really Really,” written jointly by Kang, Lee and Song.

“Really Really,” an upbeat house track that depicts the joyful anxiety of fledgling love, went down a different path from the band’s previous songs.

“If we had done more ‘mature’ type of music up until this point, now we want to show something that’s ‘fresh.’ Something that was perhaps more befitting people our age,” said Kang.

But Winner went exactly the opposite direction with the other track on the album, “Fool,” a brooding piece written by Kang and YG producer Airplay that laments lost love.

“I wanted to express that desperate feeling. Once I set my goal, writing it just came naturally,” said Kang.

He added that the change does not mean they are starting down a different path from before.

“When you listen to ‘Fool,’ the old us is still there. What we want to do is expand on the type of music that we do,” he said.

The songs were received well upon their release Tuesday, topping iTunes’ album charts in 21 regions across the world, according to YG Entertainment.

With Winner’s popularity soaring, talks of the group becoming YG’s next heavyweight are swirling. The agency’s perennial headliner Big Bang will take a break, as its members have commenced their mandatary military service, starting with T.O.P in February.

“Realistically, how could we possibly replace Big Bang?” asked Kang. “The biggest thing about Big Bang is that they’ve been a group that continued to grow, whether it be musically or in other aspects. Our biggest goal is to be a group like that.

“And who knows? If we try our best at our goal, maybe we will end up filling their shoes to some extent,” he said.

By Yoon Min-sik (