I’m a big fan of WINNER and I have been since pre-debut times. And after the breakup of 2NE1, they have become my favorite group from South Korea’s YG Entertainment. They have a certain sentimental swagger about them and I love the diversities of tone and style each individual member brings to the group. Finding success in the fast paced South Korean pop scene is difficult, especially with their more niche image, but WINNER has had an especially rough time recently. The emotional backbone, the lead vocal for the group, and my favorite member, Nam Taehyun, had to leave the group for mental health reasons last November. This came at the end of a rough 2016 for the group in which their multi album project, EXIT, never made it past the ‘E’ phase due to its lack of commercial success (and the struggling health of members) compared to their debut album, 2014 S/S (which infuriates me to this day because I am still in love with the unique pop rock sound of EXIT and consider it one of the better albums to come out of South Korea in 2016).
With all this going on, you could say this new release has been a long time coming. And I can’t say it’s by far my favorite of theirs but it is definitely consistent in terms of its sound, melody, and overall production. I like that whenever I hear a WINNER song, I can tell it is a WINNER song. And this held true for Fate Number Four. However, “Really Really” is a first for them in terms of style. Definitely very dance pop and more American sounding than anything that’s recently been coming out of South Korea. When I first heard it, I liked it but had the feeling I’d heard it before. Not necessarily a bad thing, just on trend with where the rest of the world is currently. The song is fun (and WINNER doesn’t have any fun songs…maybe “Sentimental” but…?) and I think they accomplished the whole “cute falling in love pop song” well. What I actually liked best about this song was the production and mix. I think that it is exceptionally good. The crispness of the beat is just…so much better than anything I’ve heard in a while. The balance of the synths and drum kit (especially the kick) is unexpectedly satisfying and professionally done. So props to the producer and mix engineer. I also like how this song evolves over time. The chorus is repetitive and very pop and left me feeling lukewarm but the way the first verse builds to the second verse and then onward to the final breakdown adds melodic complexity to this song and when those changes happen I find myself really enjoying it the most.
“Fool” is a song that sounds very familiar for WINNER listeners, reminiscent musically of 2014 S/S, but perhaps with an overall crisper production. This song goes back to the more mature pop song that WINNER does so well. I think it’s a good track to include because it seems WINNER is trying to capture a larger (and more commercial) audience with the poppier “Really Really,” and then getting them to stick around with something more their signature style, “Fool.”
Overall I think the album stays consistent to who WINNER are as artists. I still dearly miss Nam Taehyun and I can only imagine what his vocals could have added to the tracks. However, the remaining four did justice to their brand and I hope they have only more success in the future.
As for the music videos, I thought they were both okay. I found I liked “Fool” more but maybe that’s just because I love the sentimental grandiosity of it (and this music video is more in line with what WINNER has put out before). “Really Really”’s cinematography was quite good and I really enjoyed the contrast of the poppy summer song with the extremely classy black, white, and geometric shots. However, I think the director was actually a bit lost with how to shoot the choreography. And the lowriders at the end?? It just seemed…an odd choice. Why? Why the lowriders?? Thematically Meyers seemed to struggle. However, the “Really Really” music video has already surpassed last year’s “Baby Baby” in terms of views and I hope this marks a successful turn in WINNER’s future.