YG Entertainment’s boy group Winner has never been one to limit themselves to just one musical style, choosing to evolve alongside the latest music trends and the members’ own tastes. Their balance of experimentation while retaining their signature colour has led to their releases being consistently well-received by both fans and non-fans alike. In 2017, Winner took on the tropical house trend and scored their biggest hit to date with “Really Really”.

With YG Entertainment currently embroiled in the Burning Sun scandal, all their artists have been actively promoting to make up for any losses and salvage the company’s reputation. Even soloist Lee Hi was promised two comebacks this year by YG himself, after being unfairly assigned the unofficial role of cleaning the infamous YG dungeon for the past three years. More than ever, there is pressure for YG acts to do well and stay out of trouble, so the expectations of any non-public friendly music or experimentation from Winner’s comeback were close to none.

Meanwhile, interest in laid-back, positive, feel-good pop has been emerging in Korea, with songs like IKON’s “Love Scenario”, Pentagon’s “Shine” and N.Flying’s “Rooftop” performing extremely well on the charts. Having Winner take on the ubiquitous, faultless trend seemed like the most obvious option, and the result we are presented with comes in the form of their title track for their latest album released on 15 May 2019.

“Ah Yeah” is a bright, light-hearted love song about not being able to stay friends with a past lover. Instead, they want them back at all costs.

Complementing the innocent, playful lyrics is the choice of backdrops through the music video. The colourful, heavily saturated shots of places students would frequent (a classroom, a movie theatre, and a gaming room) effectively reflect the idealism of the lyrics. Although uncharacteristically bright and juvenile by current YG artists’ standards, the music video is still effortlessly stunning and remains a visual treat as the music video dynamically switches between green screens, physical sets and different styles of digital animation.

As a group that has never been afraid to be take risks and be little bit more promiscuous, with many of their older music videos featuring kissing scene or scantily-clad female backup dancers, the choice of featuring only animated silhouettes or a split second back shot of a faceless girl became especially noticeable. A lot of thought was clearly put into making the music video as squeaky clean as possible, making “Ah Yeah” is their most safe, child-friendly music video to date.

The choreography also stays true to Winner’s signature style of being fairly simple and trend-driven, but made impressive by the natural groove and charisma of all four light-footed members. It’s particularly effective in “Ah Yeah,” and it’s impossible not to smile and want to dance along with the members’ perfect expression of naive joyfulness.

Musically, the song also goes exactly where one would expect it to, providing little surprise in its structure. Like many similar songs, “Ah Yeah” starts off light to set the tone, with rapper Mino’s voice over a sparse guitar instrumental before Jinu (Jin-woo) comes with the melody and starts the build-up to the chorus. When the final chorus rolls around and the song utilises the oldest trick in the book — the obligatory mass sing-a-long choral harmonies in the final chorus that gives the song an anthemic quality —- it’s easy to feel thoroughly unimpressed by the lack of innovation. But most will be left singing along anyway because the song is catchy. The disappointment sinks in only when the song ends rather abruptly, giving the song an unfortunately anti-climatic end.

The song’s mixing and production are satisfactory. The members’ voices are nicely positioned in a way that manages to highlight the progression in the instrumentals without overshadowing the vocals. Thanks to the explosive burst of energy at the end of the song to express its celebratory mood, main vocalist Yoon (Seung-yoon) was also able to shine through more belts and noticeable ad-libs, something that is seldom as obviously fore-fronted in many of Winner’s recent title tracks (with the exception of the vocal-heavy ballad “Fool”).

The highlight of the song proved are the rap verses, which prevented the song from sounding entirely unrecognisable as a Winner track. Mino and Hoony (Seung-hoon)’s respective rap styles and flows weaved nicely into the the rest of the song without any awkward or forced transitions, and offered much-needed lyrical depth to the otherwise rather uncreative lyrics that compare themselves to protagonists in a romance movie.

If Winner’s goal was simply to create a unapologetically happy song, “Ah Yeah” is no doubt a success. Even the harshest of critics would not be able to fault the music video and lyrics as being problematic in any way.

Yet, it’s a release that borderlines dangerously close to generic, which is disappointing considering the members clearly have the talent and versatility to come up with a more unique spin on any type of song. This is something that “Millions”, their pre-release single from last December, succeeded far better in achieving a balance of a fresher, cheerful concept without losing what made them stand out and sound like Winner, to begin with.

Nonetheless, “Ah Yeah” has proven to be a hit, and has stayed at #1 on most major Korean music sites since its release even amidst stiff competition. Its fatal flaw then seems to lie not in the song itself but its wasted potential, and how it might signal a temporary stagnation in Winner’s musical artistry and growth over the years.

(YouTube, instiz iChart, Instagram; Images via YG Entertainment)