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WINNER
WINNER (L to R: Yoon, Hoony, Jinu, Mino)Courtesy of YG Entertainment

A conversation with WINNER, the superstar boy band making K-pop history

The South Korean group open up about their rollercoaster, record-breaking career so far, and their new album EVERYD4Y

WINNER’s Jinu, Yoon, Mino, and Hoony are sat, makeup- free, on the couches in of South Korean pop giant YG Entertainment’s sleek headquarters in the Hapjeong area of Seoul. The walls are black and reflective, and on the wall hangs a large clock. It’s 6.15pm; 15 minutes earlier, WINNER released their new video, “Everyday”, and album, EVERYD4Y. The former will go on to earn WINNER their first ‘all-kill’ two days later, topping all six of the country South Korea’s real-time charts. But for the moment, they’re admittedly nervous, and Yoon divulges they had no sleep the night before. “We weren’t really expecting this much attention,” Yoon says. “But we always appreciate our global fans for looking forward to our new album and comeback.”

As pop trajectories go, WINNER’s past five years have certainly been a rollercoaster. After winning (and taking their name from) WIN: Who Is Next, an idol survival TV program run by their parent agency YG, and achieving wildly enviable success in their first year, WINNER went silent, with a 12-month hiatus that saw them lose a band member. Despite this shock, they carried on. While it was always likely that their comeback would be a success – thanks, in large part, to their well-established fandom – no one predicted just how huge “Really Really” would actually be, leading WINNER to become the first boy band to break 100 million streams on South Korea’s Gaon chart.

Having made their name as an idol group with mid-tempo melancholy (songs like “empty” and “color ring”) and timeless bluesy weariness (“Baby Baby”), it was frankly surprising to see them turn to a mix of trop-house, light disco, and funk on their singles of 2017. But with Yoon’s touch on every track as a songwriter and the members contributing lyrics, the step away from their beginnings was far less jarring than one might expect, and EVERYD4Y continues their ambitions as a group whose sonic boundaries are entirely malleable.

Before you release new material what kind of expectations, if any, do you set for yourselves as a group?

Yoon: It’s not really about becoming #1 on charts. It’s more about showing what we’re really good at. Showing our music.

During a press conference last year, WINNER said they had found their own unique style… when did you realise you’d discovered this?

Yoon: Last year when we released “Really Really”, “Island”, “Love Me Love Me”, and “Fool” was when we really found our true colours. One of the most frequent comments we received from the public and fans was, “No matter what type of song it is, it is WINNER’s music.”

Mino: Since people acknowledged and recognised our music we feel that we’ve found our own colour.

EVERYD4Y contains both new and older, unreleased songs – how long did it take to make this album?

Yoon: Some of the tracks in this album were made four years ago, like “Raining” and “Have A Good Day”. We released them on our Japanese album earlier this year, but fans really wanted to listen to the Korean version, so we decided to include them on this album. As for “LA LA” and “We Were”, they were candidates for our previous albums, but the time wasn’t right. It took a couple of months to just focus and prepare for this album – but if we included the history for each song, we can say it took around four years in total.

You guys have developed quite an affinity with the number four. Was the date of this release always intended to be 4/4 or is it just a happy coincidence?

Yoon: Last year we came back on 4/4 and the reactions we received were amazing. So, to us, the number four is very special. The number four contains good memories with our fans. So we wanted to continue the positive vibes this year.

Hoony: But four is actually a negative number here in Korea. It also has the meaning of ‘die’ in Chinese characters. We wanted the chance to reverse this negative meaning.

Mino: I want a new ‘4’ tattoo. Maybe on my left arm.

Yoony: It’s become a lucky number for us.

Hoony: For me, ever since I was young, I liked the number four. Although there are negative stereotypes, it’s all up to how I think of it. I think I can make great synergy just by changing the way I think. We’re also putting magic spells on ourselves saying “four goes well with WINNER” and “if we comeback on the 4th, we will receive great results”.

Away from the stage, how do you keep challenging yourselves creatively?

Yoon: I like taking pictures. I want to make an inspiration book out of the photos I’ve taken. I’m experimenting with this and taking photos of objects and landscapes.

WINNER are a group that write their own music and lyrics but now, several years into your career, has that process become easier or harder?

Hoony: These days, the lyrics of a song gather a lot of attention. The message contained in the lyrics influence the overall result of the song as well.

Yoon: We can’t really express if writing lyrics is getting “harder”. But we’re definitely taking much more care when writing so it takes more time. We put a lot of effort into each line, so in that sense, yes, it feels as if it is getting harder.

Hoony: Our boss, (who is also called) YG (Yang Hyun Suk), also puts a lot of significance when it comes to writing lyrics. So he gives us a lot of ideas and suggestions when it comes to writing.

Do you think then this album the most pure or true work WINNER has created?

Hoony: Well, our members participated in writing and composing all 12 tracks, and it’s our first time doing this. We wrote about love, hope, consolation, and everyday life stories so everyone could relate.

If last year’s single albums Our Twenty For and Fate Number For were about your own experiences as young men growing up, is this an album for the people?

Yoon: If we look at the lyrics, yes, it’s for everyone.

Mino: The meanings were similar. But whoever listens, we just hope for the message to be left in everyone’s hearts and that everyone would have good memories and vibes from our music.

With BIGBANG on hiatus, do you feel like there is pressure or expectation on you to be leading YG forward?

Yoon: We feel more responsible rather than feeling pressure. We want to walk our own path, but at the same time, since BIGBANG are outstanding artists we want to be like them too.

Since your official debut in 2014, which member has changed the most?

Hoony: Recently, it would have to be Jinu.

Yoon: He’s become much more confident.

Jinu: Well, my members really helped me to change. For example, when a family member scolds you, you become discouraged. But on the other hand if they compliment and encourage you, you become more confident. My members did that role of complimenting me and giving me support.

Mino: We’re really happy to see him blossom!

Your success last year was pretty impressive, so what do you do to celebrate when an album does well?

Yoon: We don’t really do anything in particular! (laughs)

Mino: When our album does well, we start preparing for a new album.

Hoony: You’d assume we would pop champagne or something like that. But we don’t actually do that. We just go out and eat. Our fans are happier (when we do well) so we receive a lot of energy from that. We’re happy that our fans are happy.

Jinu: Our boss YG does buy us really expensive and delicious meals.

I don’t want to be that person who tells you that you should come play in Europe, but your fans in UK and Europe really would like to see you.

Yoon: It is not a definitive step to talk about a tour right now but we also dream of having a tour in the future. If we want to make it happen soon, we need to show more songs and do more activities!