For most K-pop groups, longevity is a pressing issue — particularly once they reach a turning point in their career, involving a member change, military enlistment, etc. In the case of Winner, they’ve had their first turning point with a new number of four members. And now, this spring marks their second through a mandatory round of enlistments. Oldest member Jinu has left on April 2, with Hoony having left two weeks later on April 16. In order to commemorate the group’s achievements and experiences up until now, the group promoted pre-release track “Hold” on March 29, prior to releasing their title track “Remember” and album of the same name on April 9. In a timely manner, Winner chose to “cushion” their hiatus with a high quality comeback that reflects on their journey as artists.

Quite clearly, the album is meant to have fans remember them — their distinct color, musicality, and personalities that makes them so endearing for many Inner Circles. Chock full of 12 tracks, the album combines new and old, fun and somber tracks to provide a diverse experience of Winner’s capabilities. After having released EP’s or digital singles for a while, it’s been refreshing to see a long, full album. With it, however, can come the risk of including “filler” tracks or veering off course with the overall genre. Fortunately, Winner has managed to evade both to deliver a very refined album, one that’ll truly be a pleasant surprise from start to finish!

(Due to the diversity in genres, this review will be categorized based on genre over chronological order.)

First, they chose to forego a brief introduction to start off with their memorable title track. Both “Remember” and Jinu’s solo “Dduk” are ballads that begin the album on a mellow, somber note. Yet, despite reminding fans of the temporary departure that will ensue, Jinu and the group surprises with their refined luster.

If anything, “Remember” reaffirms Winner with their skills in the ballad genre. Starting from their debut songs “Color Ring” and “Empty,” to even “SOSO,” Winner hasn’t strayed away from making the best of a genre that’s normally left to being a B-side or purely solo track for most K-pop groups. Their four distinct vocal colors lead to a unique balance that only Winner can achieve — with Jinu’s softer voice weaving through Mino and Hoony’s smooth, lower tones before Yoon’s gritty rock voice pierces through. Simply put, this track is a pleasant, harmonious ear candy that delivers a beautiful message to hold steadfast to Winner despite the passage of time. They repeatedly echo that they wish to not be forgotten, a relatable theme for any artist facing a hiatus — a turning point that leaves much of their longevity to fan loyalty and precious memories.

This title track is followed up by another great solo from Jinu, “Dduk” (not to be confused with “rice cake,” which also shares the same romanization). Pronounced as “ddook,” it’s originally a phrase that implies to stop crying or shedding tears. But here, it’s dually used as onomatopoeia, describing the tears dripping down one by one. Listening to this song has been a pleasant surprise, as Jinu’s voice easily balances between soft and strong timbres, based on what the song needs to flow well. Set up against a classic piano instrumental, Jinu sings brutally honest lyrics that depict the sorrows of seeing a loved one shed tears because of him.

I set my heart on becoming the bad guy

With cold and sharp words

But if you cry like that

It’s cheating

Teardrops dduk dduk

Your distorted pretty face

Two eyes full of hatred for me

In simple words, the lyrics depict the struggle of making it “easier” versus “harder” for either side to let go of each other. While it may be a common idea, the song was both written and performed beautifully. Though on a side note, both “Remember” and “Dduk” mention the members considering themselves as bad guys, or having to be bad guys in order to take on the greater part of the pain. Prior to the chorus, the lyrics for “Remember” also read that “there’s no such thing as a ‘good’ break-up / so I have to be a bad guy.” It’s an interesting choice to approach a farewell in this manner, as a means to subtly express guilt.

Next is an energetic bundle of jams to lift the mood — “Hold,” “Just Dance,” “Serenade,” and “Well.” These four tracks do well to remind us of not only Winner’s somber, serious side but also their playful antics. As aforementioned, “Hold” was a pre-release track that included a hilarious MV highlighting AkMu’s Suhyun suffering from four overprotective brothers. Though ironically, the song is about Winner asking the recipient of their confessions to respond now, as opposed to having them wait. Through combining multiple interpretations of this feeling — by mood, lyrics, and MV — the audience perceives a greater depth behind this idea of waiting. Filled with over-exaggerated face expressions and costumes, the MV reminded us how Winner can let loose and go wild to make us laugh. The track is also spunky and plays around with rhythms and instrumentals to keep us hooked.

Similarly, “Just Dance” continues this theme of just letting go and having fun. It’s the perfect road trip song to blast on your speakers, with the bright sun by your side and wind running through your hair. Through perfect falsettos and easygoing vibes, Winner sings and raps of nothing but awaiting a night full of dancing — the perfect way to uplift fans from the album’s initial trip down nostalgia. Bass, electric guitar, drums, and synthetic claps keep the instrumental groovy, enticing any listener to get up and dance right along with them.

On the other hand, “Serenade” and “Well” are mellower, but still hardcore with plenty of sing-along moments to nod your head along to. First, “Serenade” is Hoony’s solo track that marks his turn to showcase his jack-of-all-trades skills. With both rap to honey vocals, Hoony easily shifts from one to the other to deliver a solid, borderline rock track dwelling on wanting to reunite with a lost lover. Through very realistic lyrics, Hoony regrets the past fights and hurtful words, and is willing to give up his pride to have her come back. The chorus actually centers on sentimental and hopeful emotions, wanting to turn back from an ending:

A song to sing in the face of an ending, a serenade

Only the sentimental feelings linger before I turn around and

Without love or emotion, singing, singing!

When time passes and you think of me, just say my name

The tears that fall now don’t feel like a waste

Hiding love and emotion and singing, singing!

Though the verses wrestle with dark emotions, the chorus implies that ultimately he chooses to pursue a possibility of reunion — as he dreams of singing long into the night with her.

Meanwhile, “Well” is a heartfelt track that can be applied towards anyone special — from lovers to family, friends to even fans. In the midst of nostalgic and fun tracks, Winner provides a sweet reminder for all kinds of listeners to simply take care of themselves and “be well.” While it is technically a farewell love song, I believe that Winner implies that despite regrets and sleepless nights, for us all to take care of the simple and mundane parts of life. The chorus reminds us to eat well, sleep well, to be spared from nightmares and to be happy from here on forth. Although, kind of like Hoony’s solo “Serenade,” the melody of the chorus conflicts with the deeper, bittersweet meaning behind the lyrics. Doing so renders the track to be open to a variety of interpretations, hinting at Winner’s creativity and experimentation in expressing multiple messages at once.

Following up are a couple of golden R&B tracks, “Teaser” and “My bad.” Though there are only two tracks to represent their grungier side, they’re well worth the listen. Indeed, this kind of genre is always welcome coming from Winner, especially since Mino’s voice shines through. With this song, the idea of a teaser is cleverly played out as a hint of an incoming break-up. While it’s often a challenge to properly define the vague grey area that signals trouble for a couple, this was an ideal metaphor to use. More so because the idea of a hint of something is normally used for the idea of attraction, as opposed to a falling out. As usual, Winner remains innovative of both words and ideas.

From the moment the song plays, it seemed evident that this was best suited for Mino, as it low-key brought back memories of his raunchy solo album XX. Instrumental, mood, and flow are all smooth and sexy, despite singing about the impending loss of a lover. Once again, Winner extends the boundaries of what we thought were their capabilities through this kind of distinct approach. One can paint an imaginary MV that includes plenty of low lighting, red roses, and romantic angst.

In terms of spotlights, we can’t leave out Yoon! If “Dduk” is for Jinu, “Serenade” for Hoony, and “Teaser” low-key for Mino, then “My bad” is where leader Yoon shines with his strong high notes and clear falsettos. While everyone performed stellar as usual, it was Yoon’s voice that truly stood out for both his technique and clear anguish present in his tone. It was also helpful to hear him against a relatively threadbare background. The instrumental is simple and very laid-back, leaving most of the song to be carried solely by the members’ voices. For this song, the choice to rely on the vocals for the majority was ideal, as it enables the song to be more raw. In this way, the emotions reach us head-on, allowing our imaginations to wander off long after the song is over.

Lastly, Winner chose to wrap up their album with a unique surprise — re-recording past legendary tracks as a four-member group (hence the “4 ver.”). They’ve made sure to include crowd favorites, being creative with how they can mesh their past and future musicality into one. While perceptions on these new renditions may be different for everybody, it seemed that Winner was precise in maintaining the overall sound of the song. Despite there being four members now, the song’s differences don’t stand out as too jarring or changed from the original — rather, it’s just slight alternatives that remind us of where Winner currently stands, in both numbers and perhaps even skills.

Specifically, for “Empty” and “Don’t Flirt,” the differences in vocals stand out mostly in the chorus of the songs. After all, with Jinu and Yoon having more lines leads to the outcome that we’ll hear them more throughout the song. The increase in Yoon’s rock voice and Jinu’s soft vocals makes for a pleasant collaboration that doesn’t take away from the original track. Same goes for “Color Ring” and “Different,” although for the former, the new rendition does make the track somewhat more threadbare. Perhaps it’s just a personal reception, or because there is now more “space” for each member to sing. And lastly, “Different” also remains beautiful and polished as usual. It seemed the hardest to tell any differences with “Different” (pun not intended), but this doesn’t mean that it was for naught. I believe this was a great idea for Winner to execute, and that the outcome has been amazing. From first to finish, they’ve initiated amazing ways to truly make fans remember a remarkable career of music thus far.

As a side note, however, it’d initially seemed random to wrap up with “Different” — a side b-track, as opposed to maybe their title debut track. Although, there’s the idea that again, “Remember” and “Different” (plus “Dduk”) also carry similar messages. Granted, the context of these tracks highly contrast each other. However, both lyrics ask that despite the boys being “different” and/or having to be “bad,” to ultimately not forget them. Whether it was for creating a big picture or a mere coincidence, it was an innovative idea to start and end with this kind of notion.

Overall, Winner has outdone themselves with their third studio album, leaving behind a golden gift for fans as they wait for enlistments to go through. They’ve provided a complete package that shows they’ve given all they got for us to enjoy and hold onto until they all reunite. It’ll be a difficult hiatus to go through for Inner Circles, as most likely the remaining members will promote with solo activities for the time being. Nonetheless, we shall persevere, ready to welcome them all back soon.

Which genre of Winner did you enjoy the most in this album? Let us know in the comments below!

(Osen, YouTube [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]; images via YG Entertainment)