YG’s organization is a running joke with K-pop fans (the company, not Yang Hyung Suk). Creatively, they’re on fire – their artists are widely acknowledged for their talent and popularity, often dominating charts and music shows. But in terms of planning, they’re a hot mess. “In the YG dungeon” has become the term for the many artists who go on extremely long hiatuses. Many people have been waiting for Winner’s comeback for a very long time. “Really Really” and “Fool” are both really quality comebacks, so I think that it’s been worth the wait.
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*WARNING!* This review assumes the reader has listened to the music and/or seen the music video!
Concept: Winner is known for rather low-key music with simple melodies and instrumentals. Their songs often have a bit of a melancholy feel to them – not overly depressing, but somber and reflective. “Fool” falls into this category, while “Really Really” is a fun and upbeat style that’s new for the group.
I also just want to say that I’m actually not really familiar with Winner. I watched Mix & Match, their music videos, and one or two of their variety show appearances. But since they were on hiatus when I got into K-pop, I only started following them recently. Though I did my due diligence when looking into their discography, I don’t “know” them as well as most of the groups I review.
Music by: Seungyoon, Mino, Uk Jin-Kang
Arranged by: Uk Jin-Kang
“Really Really” is pretty bright, or at least as bright as a group like Winner might care to get. It’s different from their usual style, but it also fits right into their discography. It relies on a few key instruments, letting the catchy and simple melody shine. I wouldn’t have expected them to go for tropical house, but it definitely works. Perhaps it’s Winner members have a hand in writing their own music, allowing them to infuse their own style and preferences.
Personally, I like “Really Really” a lot because it’s super pleasant. While it ultimately doesn’t build or go anywhere in terms of energy, it has a great laid-back feel. I’m starting to get nice weather out where I live, and it’s the kind of song I’d listen to while I’m driving with the windows down. It’s also super catchy, which is a big advantage. I find myself singing it all the time. And it’s not annoyingly catchy, either. It flows really smoothly, making it easy listening.
Music by: Seungyoon, Airplay
Arranged by: Airplay
“Fool” is a pensive and morose ballad that’s more typical of Winner’s signature style. The vocals are clearly the star here, and all four of them sound amazing. I’m personally really impressed by Seunghoon, who has a very different tone from any of the others. (For the record, my mother preferred Mino) I’m not really a huge ballad fan, but I do have my exceptions.”Fool” is one of them. It seems so simple, but it’s filled with a lot of small nuances.
The instrumentals are so simplistic. I actually only counted three or four while listening (piano, electronic effects, percussion, and I think guitar). But at the same time, they determine the whole mood of the song. The first verse is only piano, and then it fades into the background as the electronica highlights the chorus. The percussion only comes in on the second verse, and it’s fairly light at that. This all continues to steadily build through the bridge, then dies down to the piano when Jinwoo sings the opening of the final chorus. Everything then comes rushing back and climaxes with Seungyoon’s emotional high note.
I think a lot of instrumentals of K-pop songs are somewhat lacking once the melodies get taken out. Don’t get me wrong, the vocals and melody are a big part of “Fool.” In fact, my favorite part is Mino and Seunghoon’s harmony in the bridge. But when I listen to the instrumental version, I can still feel the mood and story of the song. And given the simplicity of the instrumentals, this is very impressive. It’s the sign of a very well-crafted song where the creators have very carefully thought of each and every element.
SCORE: “Really Really,” 19/20 |||| “Fool,” 20/20
Lyrics by: Seungyoon, Mino, Seunghoon
“Really Really” is pretty straightforward. The basic premise is: “I (really really like you, and I hope you like me too.” That’s pretty much it. Three out of four of the members participated in writing the lyrics, and it shows because all of the verses seem kind of tailor-made for the person singing them. The best example is Mino. I obviously don’t know him personally, but his words seem honest and pretty true to the face that he shows the public (cool on the outside, soft on the inside):
“Scoring a goal, proposal like a ceremony
Let’s choose nicknames for each other, Honey? No. Dear or Darling?
I’m embarrassed just by thinking it
I’m nervous I need a lot of alcohol
I might be big and tall but when in front of you I feel small”
It can get a little smarmy at times (“Even goddesses get jealous of your beauty / Your lethal charms are killing me”), but I don’t think it’s too over the top. I’ve spoken several times about the irony of hot guys singing these kinds of lines. We may find the lyrics cheesy, but we’d change our minds if [insert hot K-pop star here] was singing it to us personally. This actually isn’t a much of an issue with “Really Really.” I think that it has a pretty down-to-earth feel, and it seems like a genuine confession. It’s well-written with some great lines, but it’s the perfect amount of low-key for a fun pop song.
Lyrics by: Seungyoon
“Really Really” is light and airy, but “Fool” is heavy and raw. It’s about the men regretting how terrible they were to their ex, and looking back on their bad actions. (“‘Get lost from my sight,’ those cruel words I spat out without hesitation / anyone can see I was a fool”) There is a risk with this kind of song, because the subject matter can produce a wide variety of reactions. It could come across as overly sappy, or it could conversely fail to garner any sympathy at all. Some might even say that it could be romanticizing monstrous behavior. I think that Seungyoon toed the line perfectly and created a very realistic and sobering situation:
“Fool, stupid, I know now it’s all my fault
Dummy, idiot, I know it’s all my fault
I was a fool, Baby I was a fool”
The members recognize that they have been many horrible things: harsh, cruel, selfish. And yes, there is a little bit of begging the ex to come back (“I long for you every day, Yes I know I’m late late / please come back as if nothing happened baby”). But in the larger context of the song, it’s more about a person realizing their atrocious behavior rather than pleading for forgiveness (although it seems that would be the next step). It doesn’t seem like they’re standing at the ex’s window making a statement. Instead, it feels like they’re reflecting on their own and verbalizing their regret. (“Even if I’m sorry now, nothing changes, I know”) The subject of the song is working out their guilty feelings.
It’s not necessarily a song that asks you for sympathy, but it does allow you to feel bad for the singer. These kinds of situations aren’t always black and white, and it often depends. Past behavior does not have to mark you for life if you are remorseful and resolve to change yourself. And it’s possible to feel bad for someone who is trying to do so without completely forgiving them. It’s nice that the lyrics reflect these mixed sentiments.
SCORE: “Really Really,” 9/10 |||| “Fool,” 10/10
It’s clear that Taehyun had a very big role in Winner, and I’m sure that Inner Circles miss his presence greatly. At the same time, I feel like the remaining members have been able to fill in the hole that he left in terms of vocals. It’s understandable that Seungyoon would pick up most of the slack – not only is he the main vocal role in both songs, but his lines kind of provide the backbone. Jinwoo was the one who had to step up a lot, and it really paid off. I think that he did a really good job. Mino and Seunghoon also do pretty well, with at least one verse in each song. A group with two singers and two rappers is a well-balanced, and it shows here. What happened with Taehyun is definitely sad, but I think that Winner functions really well as a foursome.
SCORE: “Really Really,” 9/10||||| “Fool,” 9/10
I try not to deduct points from more simplistic dances, but it’s really hard not to when the members aren’t actually dancing most of the time. I get that there are groups that do more “hype” dancing to liven up the audience, and I get that most of Winner’s music doesn’t really go well with complicated choreography. But the members of Winner are good dancers. If any of their songs needed a cool and catchy dance, “Really Really” was it. It didn’t even have to be hard or fancy, just something we could all groove along to! I will concede, however, that this is probably my own personal grievance. And the choreography for the backup dancers is really nice.
Despite my sadness that Winner isn’t dancing more, when they actually do dance it’s great. The chorus and key moves are so catchy and fit the song so perfectly. It really captures that laid back feel. One of the reasons I like K-pop is because there are dances I can learn. American pop is different because whole dances don’t really catch on (although specific moves do). The last time I saw everyone dancing along to an entire song was in 2008 for “Single Ladies.” “Really Really” feels like a dance that would catch on in the US. I can just imagine everyone in the club doing that cool step touch.
I actually wasn’t expecting there to be a dance for “Fool,” so it’s a nice surprise. There’s an increased amount of K-pop routines that draw from modern dance, which I love because that’s my background. I actually got really excited when I saw them making basic modern shapes. The movements are very linear and clean. It’s not a full-on performance like BTS did with “Spring Day,” but this kind of bare-bones routine works really well with a pared-down song like “Fool.”
There’s a lightness to their movements that’s very beautiful to watch. It’s very soft and fluid, with a lot of rising and falling motions. These kind of dances focuses on the emotion just as much as the movement (if not more). So even if the movements are small, they’re filled with intention and meaning. Although the dancing eventually dies out halfway through song, there’s a beauty in the simplicity when it’s there.
SCORE: “Really Really,” 16/20 ||||| “Fool,” 17/20
CENTER AND FORMATIONS:
The dancing is clearly not the focus for either of the two songs, so there isn’t really a traditional center. The biggest element in both performances is the use of backup dancers, so I’ll focus on that. For “Really Really,” the use of female backup dancers is a smart choice. The performance heavily benefits from having guys and girls live it up and dance together, and it gives it a party atmosphere.
“Fool” focuses more on formations, movement, and direction. They definitely travel and move around a lot more. I don’t think that the female dancer wasn’t needed here, because it didn’t really add anything. It would have been different if she and Seunghoon had some kind of dance interlude. But she just kind of sauntered in and hugged him, then did some pointed walking and hip swaying before just exiting. I understand why they put her in, but would have been better to just have it as the four of them.
SCORE: “Really Really,” 8/10 ||||| “Fool,” 7/10
I get the impression that YG artists are heavily influenced by the West (read: the US). So it doesn’t surprise me that “Really Really” was shot in the US and directed by renowned American music video director Dave Meyers. I looked him up, and it turns out he’s behind some pop classics like Katy Perry’s “Firework” and Rihanna’s “Where Have You Been.” He also did CL’s “Lifted.” Maybe it’s because of having an American director for a Korean group, but I feel like this music video is as close to being American as it can get without actually being American.
I recently decided to see what’s new in Top 40 pop music these days. Videos filled with scantily clad people twerking and gyrating all over each other reminded me why I moved to K-pop in the first place. (Nothing wrong with any of that – it’s just a bit overkill for me) So admittedly, “Really Really” is a very watered down version and much more palatable for me. But it’s got a lot of common things that are pretty typical: It’s shot in L.A., it’s got hot girls sexy dancing, and it even has those bouncing cars. This isn’t a negative thing for me at all; it’s simply an observation. It’s just kind of funny how this is usually perceived as typical American life. I know not everyone thinks this way, but living abroad I have been asked a lot of questions about my partying habits. So this kind of thing just makes me smile.
In terms of the more technological aspects, it’s beautifully shot. About half of the shots are moving shots that zoom in and zoom out and keep us entertained. The static shots are also interesting because they’re often shot from above, which is not usually a common angle (or at least not one consistently used. And the black and white gives the fun a chic and cool edge. The cinematography actually elevates the quality of the music video immensely. Without these choices, it wouldn’t be half as interesting.
“Fool” is quite dark for a K-pop music video. I do stay pretty mainstream, but I haven’t seen anything this emotionally heavy since BTS and “I Need U.” While the lyrics for “Fool,” are kind of open-ended and have many options, the music video takes a much harder line. It paints a picture of the most extreme situation. And while it’s beautiful to watch, it’s also a wild ride.
We see that the members of Winner are troubled by their past. Mino is haunted by a woman in a chain mail mask who destroys art, which is presumably precious to him. Seunghoon witnessed his girlfriend die in a motorcycle accident. Jinwoo searches security footage for whoever burned his beloved’s wedding dress. (We’ll get to Seungyoon later, because his storyline is a little different.) As things come to a head, we learn the twist. As Mino chases down the woman and tears through the painting she’s holding, he sees a mirror image of himself. The same thing happens to Seunghoon when he lifts his girlfriend’s helmet. And Jinwoo is confronted with footage of him pouring gasoline on the dress.
I don’t think the members actually did any of these things in the story. Like many music videos, it’s symbolic. These actions represent the qualities that caused the end of their relationships. Motorcycles and accidents can symbolize self-destructive and reckless behavior. Watching and scrutinizing security tapes is a parallel for jealousy, stalking, and perhaps possessiveness. I’m not as sure what Mino’s is – maybe selfishness or egoism, or perhaps violent tendencies given the way he chases the woman. But these were the reasons for their relationships’s demises, and making the men end up literally staring themselves down is a powerful way of visually portraying that. It could have been a little more clearly edited – you might miss some crucial shots if you blink – but it’s easy enough to connect the dots.
Seungyoon’s is slightly different because he doesn’t see himself. We mostly spend time watching him play around and take photos with a woman. Everything’s in white, which obviously stands for innocence, purity, etc. Unlike the other members, what he is doing with the girl is not a visual metaphor for how he ruined the relationship. Instead, we come to understand that the camera hides nothing. Through the lens, we see black marks around the woman’s neck. Eventually, he sees his own hands covered in black and breaks down – meaning he’s the one responsible for this terrible abuse. Again, it’s not clear if he actually did it or if it’s symbolic. But what’s true is that he’s guilty, and he cannot take his actions back. While the other members see they’re the monstrous ones, Seungyoon has to go a step further and acknowledge it.
There’s a lot of powerful imagery in this music video: the images outside and within the church, the contrast of white versus red and black (and what it means), the various burning items, etc. However, it’s the story that really packs the punch. The music video focuses in on a specific moment: when the members realize the horrible things that they have done. When I watch it, I just feel profoundly sad. The images are so nice but depict such ugly things, which adds to the sadness even more. I complain a lot about story music videos not actually having enough story, or keeping it too cryptic. “Fool” is a perfect example a music video that can do both. It has a dramatic, engaging, and emotional story and stunning images.
SCORE: “Really Really,” 18/20 ||||| “Fool,” 20/20
Style is very important in “Really Really.” For the first half, they wear chic and sharp suits that make them look handsome. Then in the second half, they switch to more casual wear that’s typical of young male Korean style. They’re basically personifying the “work hard play hard” vibe. And of course, they all look pretty damn good.
In “Fool,” the actual clothing is less important (although it’s just as stylish, to be honest). The color of what they’re wearing is actually pretty meaningful. The four members are shown wearing white (all members, but primarily Seungyoon), red (Jinwoo and Mino), and black (Seunghoon). The white represents their “innocent” state, when they either don’t realize the gravity of their actions or are just in firm denial. The red and black shows what they really are, tainted by what they’ve done. Black might even represent the truly horrible things that they can’t take back, like the marks of Seungyoon’s abuse. Maybe Seunghoon actually did accidentally kill his girlfriend through recklessness. Color meanings are a basic yet essential way to make visual hints, and I think that it’s well done here.
STYLING MVP: Seunghoon, for his hairstyle and his chic motorcycling clothes
SCORE: “Really Really,” 9/10 ||||| “Fool,” 10/10
CONCLUSION: I debated a long time about writing a review for Winner. As I said, I haven’t spent a lot of time following them. And I must admit that their previous songs were not always my cup of tea. But I’m really glad I decided to go through with it and give them a chance, because I’ve really come to like these songs and appreciate there music more. After such long hiatuses, this comeback was definitely what Winner needed to prove they’re capable of representing the newer generation of YG. I worry about them going back into the “dungeon” – let’s be honest, YG is unpredictable – but I really hope that this comeback showed the higher ups that they need to promote regularly.
Sources: Youtube, YG Entertainment, Wikipedia, Dave Meyers professional website