I’m no music pro so this isn’t a music-driven review, just a fan-reaction (minus the extreme fangirling) write-up on the début album of YG Entertainment’s newest powerhouse and talent extraordinaire WINNER. Their début album, WINNER 2014 S/S, was released on August 12, 2014.
Just a note, this was how I approached the debut album:
- Dialed my expectations low, like real low up until four hours to the released (then I got super excited)
- Listened to the entire album ‘raw’ as in not understanding the words etc and didn’t read anything about it
- Watched the two music videos on a blank slate – didn’t read any reviews and avoided gifs and images
- Re-watched the music videos twice, thrice
- Re-listened to the entire album after looking up the producers and lyricists for each song
- Re-listened to the entire album with English translations
The next morning, I did the following:
- Re-watched episode 6 of WINNERTV to find out which songs made the cut
- Re-watched their WIN: Who Is Next performances, namely Smile Again and Go Up
- Re-watched random videos of them from WIN and WINNERTV
Now days later having just watched their début live stage (and drowning in emotional feels), here I am writing this.
The short verdict: Solid! Loved it! Gotta admit I’m biased haha, but honest-to-God I love the album.
I like them all, I really do.
To me Empty is the most typical YG-style – a hip-hop and pop rock kind of feel, i.e. shared similarities to BIGBANG‘s music from the latter’s Alive era and the more I listened to it, the more I am loving it. Love the opening with Song Minho‘s rap and deep voice, absolutely love the segue from his voice to Kim Jinwoo‘s soft vocals and love Kang Seung Yoon‘s vocal control, carrying the song and anchoring the rest of his team members’ voices with his own powerful vocals. Lee Seung Hoon‘s rap has improved so much, which makes me feel immensely proud. I love Nam Tae Hyun‘s voice, period, but I have to give it to Seung Yoon in this song cos he was totally the vocal center.
As for the second title track, Color Ring grew on me with each listen; a slower process, not an immediate liking. However, upon first listen I really thought it had that distinctive Kang Seung Yoon-sound and feel; electronic-rock? It’s like an emo-rock ballad with a modern touch (forgive me for my poor descriptions, I’m obviously not a music person…) that sounded familiar to my ears when I compare it to Smile Again and Go Up. My favorite part has to be that opening though i.e. that bit where Seung Hoon provided vocal backing to Minho‘s half-rapping-half-singing.
As for the other songs in the album, I like them all! Ah, you can’t make me choose! Immediate favorites were But and Different. I honestly thought Don’t Flirt sound so much like a typical B-side JPop song – fun and cute, but ultimately a filler. It’s still an enjoyable listen, though.
On the other hand, I really enjoyed Minho‘s I’m Him and hope that one day they’ll let him promote solo cos he’s totally got game, whereas Tae Hyun‘s Confession – which I took an immediate liking to when I first heard on WINNERTV – did not elicit a more memorable response upon first listen. It’s still a great song and like I said I absolutely love his voice, but it took me some time to warm up to this one. Thankfully, the other two tracks that he did produce for the group, But and Tonight, are so friggin’ awesome. Like Seung Yoon, Tae Hyun‘s music taste has a distinct sound and feel to it; even before checking who produced But I had guessed that it belonged to Tae Hyun.
As for that one song which changed everything, Smile Again, honestly… I’m a teeny weeny disappointed that they changed the arrangement – it’s like, it has a faster tempo now? – but it’s still Smile Again and most importantly, a studio version so I’m keeping my complaints to a minimum aha.
Smile Again excluded, I do find it kind of funny that at least seven songs are about break-ups, as in they have a thematic connection and so the boys are singing about the same one thing, except they’re exploring it from various perspectives and outcomes. Do I wish there’s more fun songs and less emo-rock? Not really, because I think the latter creates a more significant impact and is more memorable to the listeners. My theory is because of the emotional connection associated to the songs, like thinking and believing that they’re singing our hearts out. That’s not to say a fun song is forgettable, but it takes the likes of a song like BIGBANG‘s Fantastic Baby to create the kind of fun that never goes out of style. So y’know, in short I’m cool with this début album being all about emo-rock ballads with a twist of electronic and some old-school rock tunes.
The Music Videos
Like (most) everyone else on the web has stated, the two music videos didn’t present anything groundbreaking to us, but damn if both videos weren’t well done. Both videos played with colors amazingly and was directed stylistically; I love them both. I also appreciate that at least, the plot for both videos made sense and relate directly and metaphorically to the lyrics as opposed to drama for the sake of looking good …though I have to be honest and admit that I paid no attention to technicalities during the first three or four times that I watched both videos because I was too busy paying attention to the boys and each person’s screen time haha. Ooops.
In a nutshell, Seung Hoon was awesome, Seung Yoon‘s emotional expressions were pretty spot-on and that voice of his, dear God that voice is amazing. I thought Tae Hyun stood out in both videos – he’s got stage presence, this one – while Jin Woo needs more screen time (and lines) but I think in the end it’s Minho that totally killed it. The combination of his voice, deep-setting gaze, looks and rap skills – mmph. I’m sold ha.
The (First) Live Debut Stage
Why did they cut short both songs?! Inkigayo, did you really need to do that?! Plus the camera work for Empty was so wonky it’s ridiculous. Jin Woo barely had any screen time for both songs, though it was worse in Empty (poor guy, really). I do love the stage set-up, but I gotta say Color Ring‘s one was way, way better. That W stage was epic and made me feel so emotional cos legit internally I was all, “Oh my god they’ve really debuted, they’re now singing on live shows!” (sob) The WINNER tower in Empty was cool but… only Seung Yoon moved? It was… kind of awkward?
My favorite parts from the live are all in the Color Ring stage. When Tae Hyun first sang his part – he totally sounds better live – and later the harmonization between him and Seung Yoon. Ahhh, eargasm. The intro raps by both rappers were seamlessly done while still maintaining each person’s distinctive style and flavor – love it! I also appreciate that Jin Woo was in the center – I know it’s a height thing, but it’s a nice touch nonetheless and when Seung Yoon gifted our ears with his vocal command, I felt so effing proud. Well done, boys!
A Side Note about Team B
Here’s what I want to say: live and let live.
I think at this point everyone needs to move forward – I have! – and just look on the brighter and bigger picture: everyone wins. I know B.I. and Bobby contributed to the production of Empty and you know what, that’s cool. Thanks to them, WINNER debuted with not one but two killer songs. As much as we hate how WINNER and Team B are – let’s face it – forever going to be pitted against each other for better or worse, let’s not give that anymore attention than it does not deserve.
In an interview with a music website called Norse which was conducted a few months ago, Seung Hoon‘s answer to the question about Team B really touched me and made me realize that despite whatever we think, these boys – all eleven of them – they’re brothers and friends, truly and sincerely.
I wanted to end in asking if you guys have any favorite memories of Team B, or things you most appreciate about them.
LSH: One of the greatest memories so far since the program is that we were recently on the YG Family tour, and Team B participated in that too. We got to perform together at the Tokyo Dome, and seeing them – you know, there’s really that emotional aspect, because we really practiced together and helped each other grow so much. I just hope we can do that in the future, and that we become fellow artists. We always gain energy from each other and help each other out.
There’s so much love between them that if we’re genuine about our love for them, you know, I think the least we can do – for everyone’s sake – is to respect that and cheer for all eleven of them. For example, because Double B contributed a track to WINNER‘s album, hey for all we know maybe WINNER would return the favor i.e. maybe we’ll see a track in Team B‘s debut album that’s put together by our budding singer-songwriter-producers?
So yeah, no doubt YG and his trolling and favoritism sucks but let’s handle this maturely; let’s live and let live.
The reason why I went back to their older recordings was to hear and watch for myself, how much they’ve progressed in ten months. All three vocalists sound really, really good in their album and even today’s début stage, while the rappers – pffft, I need not gush anymore because both are fantastic. Those months spent opening for BIGBANG and 2NE1 helped plenty too, in terms of stage presence and live interactions; all five seemed really comfortable onstage, especially Jin Woo who carries himself with more confidence now, compared to a year and a half ago.
To be completely honest, I don’t think this album is the most groundbreaking album of all time or within the year (but then again I don’t follow every team under the KPop sun so what do I know), but it is an undeniably solid first offering. More than that, it really showcases WINNER as individuals, musicians, budding artists – they totally proved that they’re neither some random concept, nor a fleeting up-and-comer that’ll whittle away.
Overall, I really like the album. Scratch that – I love it. I think WINNER really showed us their definitive colors through this album – each song is distinct, well-made, lyrically meaningful and are suitably arranged. Like BIGBANG, the members’ parts are (more or less) given based on their strengths and how their vocal colors and styles best complement each song, as opposed to trying to make sure each member has at least a minutes’ worth of parts. I still think Jin Woo needs more lovin’ but I don’t begrudge anyone because this is just the first album – there’s still an entire lifetime to explore and experiment. I like their style and music genre – I perceive it as emo-ballad/rock/pop rock/electronic rock -but who’s to say what they’ll experiment with later in the future right? I’m excited when I think of their potential.
These (dorky) WINNER boys are here to stay, that much I’m sure, and I plan to be there every step of the way.