Shortly before the release of “Remember”, it was announced that Winner‘s oldest, Kim Jin-woo, would be enlisting in the military on April 2. While Jin-woo’s enlistment sometime this year was expected given the idol’s age, the suddenness of it — with the announcement being made a mere week in advance — took fans by surprise. Jin-woo himself appeared to be holding back tears during a short statement given to the press as he enlisted. Soon after the release, it was also announced on April 12 that the second oldest, Lee Seung-hoon would be enlisting on April 16. It is no wonder then, that on the day of Jin-woo’s enlistment, YG Entertainment announced that Winner will be taking a break from team promotions.

It is against this backdrop that Winner released their third full album, Remember. In YG’s own words:

This album is a gift from Winner to their fans, reflecting on Winner’s career up until now and also laying out the foundation for new memories to come in the future.

Tear-inducing and sincere, the title track “Remember”, together with its MV, fully embodies the concept of a heartfelt goodbye. Winner keeps things simple — musically, lyrically, and visually as the group says goodbye. Sometimes, it is the simple things that have the biggest effect, and “Remember” delivers all the bittersweet emotions that accompany a parting.

The parting is written under the guise of a break-up song. The song’s persona acknowledges that there is no such thing as a good break-up so he has to be the bad guy. However, he could not bring himself to do it by way of a text message and wants to do it face-to-face. In the world of the relationships that exist between K-pop idols and their fans, a text message may be a statement by the agency and a handwritten letter from the idol, whereas face-to-face might mean through a press conference, or even more meaningfully, through music.

Without having to say we both sensed it
I’ve gotten over everything before I even realized
It’s also been quite awhile

Out of courtesy I couldn’t end it through text
So I tried to break up face-to-face
I couldn’t say goodbye

There is no choreography, grand narrative, or loud special effects to distract us from the music; musically, this is Winner doing what Winner does best. The song has a simple instrumental with a delicate acoustic guitar and understated, repetitive beat. “Remember” relies heavily on the members’ voices to carry the song — an area in which Winner excels. The members’ voices are gentle as they break the painful news.

Admittedly, the song is not meant to draw in new fans or to be promoted heavily on music shows and concerts, and it may not appeal as much to the objective K-pop listener who is more used to dramatic flairs from K-pop titles. Instead, “Remember” is very decidedly a parting gift for Inner Circle, and a plea to be remembered for all the time they have shared together.

Feet don’t fail me
Not even going to look back
Even if I run away like a coward
Please don’t forget me
Forever Remember me

In keeping with the intent of the song, the MV too is a gift for fans. It opens with the members of Winner coming together to watch something on a big screen. The movie they are watching is of their own journey. The MV switches between the present, where the members are surrounded by photographs and videos replaying happy moments of the past, and footage from the past.

This footage covers the span of Winner’s career as a group. The movie begins with a nod to their debut album as the words “Winner 2014 S/S” appear on the screen in front of them. Amongst the different frames, we go back even further to the day of the finale of Win: Who is Next?, the 2013 survival show show competition in which Team A, now Winner, were pitted against Team B, now iKon, in a brutal competition where both teams visibly gave their all. We see a montage of memories of concerts and the members’ interactions with fans, of hotel lobbies, and filming schedules.

In the present day, the members’ expressions are somber and serious, unlike in their memories of the past, where they are smiling, laughing and happy. The lighting is dull in the present, the background palette dominantly white and blue, otherwise colorless, but in the past, brightness and color abounds.

Only near the end of the MV do the members begin to smile in the present, after recalling their many memories with fans. Yet, in another frame, Jin-woo cries softly. It is clear which way happiness lies, and it is equally clear that the good times have come to an end.

Don’t think I could speak my mind so I wrote it down on paper
Sold myself short and wrote ‘Sorry’ over 10 times
But what else can I say
The memories we’ve had are too vast to be called our youth

While Jin-woo and Seung-hoon serve in the military, Seung-yoon and Mino will no doubt be active solo. It is about time Seung-yoon gets a solo album, and the Mino-P.O. duo needs their own variety show. Nevertheless, there is a sadness. This journey with Winner was sometimes tumultuous, but always fun and full of love.

Frankly speaking, farewell songs from male idols as they enlist in the military are nothing new. Some of my own favorites from last year include Shinee‘s Minho‘s “I’m home“, EXO‘s D.O.‘s “That’s Okay“, and (former) B.A.P‘s Bang Young-guk‘s “Orange Drive“. What sets “Remember” apart, however, is that it is not Jin-woo or Seung-hoon’s solo farewell song, but a goodbye from the entire group. Inner Circle will not only not be seeing Jin-woo and Seung-hoon for the coming months but they will also not be seeing Winner as a group in the coming years, at least not until maknae Seung-yoon has returned from his own enlistment — and who knows what will happen then. Acknowledging that an era has come to an end, the simplicity of the release allows Winner’s sincerity and love for their fans to shine.

Years later, in your heart
I want to last as a warm feeling

As a fan, Winner have given me nothing but joy, laughter, and good music, and brought me closer to a good friend who loves them dearly — Winner have left me with warm feelings indeed. Keeping my memories of the present day Winner in my heart, I look forward to seeing the group reunited as an older, more mature team in a few years, all the while hoping to hear their music for many more years to come.

(Starbiz, YouTube; Lyrics via lyricskpop; Images via Osen, YG Entertainment)