“GOING UP” – Meet WINNER, KPOP’s next big thing.
It’s been eight years since hip-hop royalty BIGBANG debuted, and now YG Entertainement is finally ready to unleash a new boy group into the K-POP scene. Enter WINNER, YG’s five-member boy band, the product of survival program WIN: Who Is Next, which had two groups of trainees battling it out for their chance to debut. At the end of a series of musical challenges that tested the boys’ mettle and pushed their creativity to the limits,Team A emerged victorious and claimed the name WINNER.
Even without an official debut, the boys quickly gained a massive following, especially after showing their quirky sides on reality show WINNER TV. Each member has his own charms. Leader Kang Seungyoon, a former contestant of audition program Superstar K2, allures the audience with his husky rocker voice. Meanwhile, Lee Seunghoon, an early favorite on reality show K-POP Star, leaves fans in awe of his dance moves. Song Minho,WINNER‘s main rapper, is already famous for his work in the underground rap scene, while Kim Jinwoo graduated from BIGBANG‘s Seungri’s music academy. Maknae Nam Taehyun is not someone to scoff at either, with his lethal combination of flower boy looks and unique voice quality. Together, the five boys are ready to take the world by storm. Find out more about them in this Sparkling exclusive.
Please introduce yourselves and your roles in the group.
Seungyoon: Hello, I am Kang Seungyoon, the well-rounded leader of WINNER. I am mostly in charge of lead vocals, producing, lyrics, and nagging our team members,
Seunghoon: Hi, I am Seunghoon, team WINNER’s monkey. I am in charge of rap and choreography.
Jinwoo: Hello. This is Kim Jinwoo. I am the oldest and regarded as the cutest member of WINNER. I am a vocalist.
Minho: Hi, I am WINNER’s rapper, Minho. For our group, I am in charge of not only the rap and hip-hop vibe and style, but I also keep the mood positive amongst our group members.
Taehyun: My name is Name Taehyun. I was born in 1994 and am the youngest member of the team. My position includes songwriting, lyrics, and vocals.
Can you tell us about each member’s background before becoming a trainee at YG Entertainment?
Seungyoon: I was in the Top 4 of Superstar K2, an audition program on the M.net channel.
Seunghoon: I joined YG Entertainment through a survival audition program called K-POP Star, which was produced and televised with YG, SM, and JYP Entertainment companies.
Jinwoo: Before I joined YG, I was a hardworking singer and an aspiring actor.
Minho: I originally started as a trainee group with the K-POP group BLOCK B when I was in my first year in high school. However, after that I started training with yet another group, but things didn’t go so well and that’s when I applied at YG and became part of WINNER.
Taehyun: Since I was a child, I had passion for music and liked to play a lot. I usually spent time with friends and I also had a girlfriend. However, I always wondered what I would do when I grew up. This led me to dream of becoming a singer and I started auditioning. Which company I entered was secondary. When I start something, I always have to see it through. So I auditioned three or four songs for different companies and also filmed a video of myself to send out. Eventually, I ended up at ‘N’ as their first hopeful artist and began my first two years as trainee. After two years, I said my goodbyes to the company and came to be a part of the YG family. Although I auditioned many times in the past, I had never auditioned for YG. I had always thought that YG would be an impossible company to get into.
What were the most challenging and most rewarding moments of your lives as trainees?
Seungyoon: Since I was not originally a dancer, learning how to dance was the most challenging thing for me.
Seunghoon: The time when I filmed a choreography video in front of the YG building, which I prepared as my audition tape for YG Entertainment. I was 19 years old at that time and visited Seoul for the shoot. A foreign fan came to me and gave a present wishing that my dreams come true.
Jinwoo: I haven’t faced many challenges in my life until now, so I don’t really know. I am planning on challenging myself, so please have high expectations!
Minho: Even though every moment of training is challenging, I think competing on the WIN program was by far the most difficult. In terms of the most rewarding experience, it would have to be the moment we won the competition. I still remember the moment like it was yesterday.
Taehyun: I think my most turbulent time was when I was in middle school. I look back most fondly on the times when I sought out different record labels, and auditioned without a care in the world, unprepared, and with a “use me if you like what you see” attitude.
Can you tell us about your experiences doing the reality show WIN: Who Is Next? What did you find memorable?
Seungyoon: The final battle was very memorable, of course. And the second battle was also very memorable. It was an unbelievable experience during a short time period of my life. I have never been that emotional and excited. The second battle was memorable, of course. It was our first time winning against Team B in many battles.
Seunghoon: The day that was really moving and memorable was when we got a higher score than Team B for the song “Smile Again.”
Jinwoo: I would have to say it was the second battle of the WIN program. The date of the battle was September 26th, which happens to be my birthday. I got the most special gift that day.
Minho: “Wow, it has already been almost a year since the WIN program ended. At that time, every day felt like it was extremely tiring and hard to get through, but if I think about it now, I remember every day as a great experience. Throughout my time on the show, I think the day I can never forget is when I injured my leg and lost my spot as the team leader. Besides the day we won the final battle, it was the most I have ever cried in my life.
Taehyun: Living my life as a trainee, I didn’t really get the chance to out of Seoul or go on a family trip, but through the show WIN, I got to get on a boat, I got training, and so on. It was a challenge for me, but the most memorable time that I had was teamwork training. I remember eating ramyun after one of our hardcore training sessions.
How did you feel when you won the show and found out you were debuting as WINNER?
Seungyoon: Even if I someday become the wealthiest person in the world, I will not be as happy as I was at that moment. The fact that all the hard work the members and I put together was not wasted really made me happy.
Seunghoon: Unbelievable. I cried because I recollected all the memories we had with Team B and how hard we worked for this moment.
Jinwoo: When the judge said that Team A won, I couldn’t see anything and thought of all the difficult times that we had gone through. Actually, I felt very sorry for Team B as well, so there were mixed emotions. Even though our team won, it was not easy for us to completely happy because of these reasons.
Minho: It felt like the dream I had dreamt for a couple of years finally came true, especially since all of the difficult battles finally came to an end from the victory. Though the dream was happy and satisfying, there was still a part of me that felt bad and sorry for Team B.
Taehyun: Just in case any of you haven’t seen the show when we got the final result, you should pay attention to our reactions. It felt like we were hit in our hearts. It felt like we got repaid for our difficult times. Finally, we are coming out of the trainee life. On the other hand, I was sorry for Team B. They worked so hard too. I felt a burden as well.
Let’s talk about WINNER’s music. Please describe your music style.
Seungyoon: We don’t fit into a certain genre, but because we produce our own music and write our own lyrics, people tend to relate with us better. Some listeners relate to us and get consolation by listening to sad songs, and some listeners are encouraged by listening to songs of hope–to become a winner, this kind of music is WINNER’s style.
Jinwoo: WINNER’s music is mainstream and something that everyone can easily listen to. We tell anyone’s story and put real life experiences into our lyrics, so I think our music is something everyone can relate to. We also incorporate hip-hop and R&B with mainstream pop influences.
Minho: Our music aims to target the masses. We are working on making music that people of all ages can enjoy and relate to. We incorporate a variety of genres throughout our music.
Taehyun: We write our own music and lyrics, so we have a variety of styles to show. Personally, WINNER’s music is more about “taste” than “swag”. Of course it is important to be cool onstage, but we want people to relate to our music. When we write our songs we write based on our personal experiences.
What can fans expect from your debut album?
Seungyoon: Because all members participated in songwriting and writing lyrics for the album, you will be able to feel each member’s own style in the tracks.
Seunghoon: A whole new style and appearance that you’ve never seen before–not only from YG but from Korea in general.
Jinwoo: Hope you expect growth from the time you’ve seen us appear on the WIN program.
Minho: After completing WIN and WINNERTV, our fans can expect to see how we have developed and matured.
Taehyun: Our first album comprised mostly of songs that we personally produced. There are my songs, Seungyoon’s songs, Minho’s songs with the addition of other member’s lyrics. Each of us has his own style, so our album will be very enjoyable to listen to. You will be able to tell like, “Oh this is this member’s song.”
How do you through the processo of composing a song as group? Who’s in charge of the lyrics, the melody, and the arrangement?
Seungyoon: Each member can produce and write lyrics, and the rappers Minho and Seunghoon write their own rap lyrics.
Seunghoon: I write lyrics, especially rap parts.
Jinwoo: Minho, Seungyoon, and Taehyun write most of the songs. The three of them have their own styles that are all very different but when you mix them together the end result is a beautiful blend that works well together.
Minho: Typically, Seungyoon, Taehyun, or I compose our music, but more so than who is responsible, everyone uses their capabilities and all participate in a different way to create our music and performances. For example, if I make the melody or top line for a track, another member might go in and turn that into lyrics ans so on. In order to produce the best results, we all try contributing to the development process.
Taehyun: Seungyoon and I write songs together, and the others usually write the rap lyrics.
Minho, you are close with a lot of well-known underground rappers in the industry, such as Zico from BLOCK B and SIMS from MIB. Did you have a hard time transitioning from doing underground rap shows to being part of an idol group?
Minho: Honestly, even until now there are a lot of difficulties. Since WINNER is a little less hip-hop than Block B and MIB, it has been very difficult for me to transform myself from a hardcore hip-hop artist to a more mainstream artist.
How is it like being the leader of the group, Seungyoon?
Seungyoon: I have to be the first one that navigates for the future. So I try my best not to get complacent.
Jinwoo, you were the longest trainee out of all the members. What was the biggest challenge that you face during your training days?
Jinwoo: Three-and-a-half years was such a short time. Whenever we had our monthly assessment, I tried to show something new by challenging myself.
WIN aired your YG audition clip back in 2011, Taehyun. Your style back then was s o different from WINNER and YG’s style. How was the experience like aligning your entire style as a singer to match the group’s image?
Taehyun: My initial image in the past was created by my previous company. They made me very feminine. My style now is more like my actual self.
Seunghoon, you were always vocal about wanting to be a YG artist even way back pre-debut. What made you want to join YG?
Seunghoon: When I was young, I made up my mind to become a singer after seeing Se7en’s performance. I danced, and of course, was very interested in hip-hop. Thereafter, BIGBANG and 2NE1 debuted from YG and I started becoming hopeful of joining the company.
WINNER was the opening act for BIGBANG’s Dome Tour last year. How was the experience performing on such a grand stage?
Seungyoon: The dome tour stages were unbelievably huge. I felt honored to be on such a big stage even before our official debut and was very thankful to BIGBANG and our boss, Mr. Yang Hyunsuk.
Seunghoon: I have never been to the universe, but it felt like I was singing in the middle of the galaxy. That was too awesome to describe in words.
Jinwoo: I was very thankful towards BIGBANG seniors and our boss. I felt very happy and had goosebumps when we saw 30,000-50,000 fans screaming in front of us. And on every stage we go on, I feel like we improve our performance each time. We thank you all very much.
Minho: It is impossible to describe it to anyone who hasn’t experienced it first-hand. My heart nearly exploded standing in front of more than 50,000 fans in that packed arena.
Taehyun: I felt that it wasn’t the reality, going on stage to perform and not as an audience member.
What were your first impressions of each other?
Seungyoon: I thought Jinwoo hyung was handsome and pretty. He looked very kind. When I first saw Taehyun, I thought he had feminine characteristics, but actually he is very manly. Seunghoon was surprisingly a very nice person. When I first met Minho, I could tell he was a true hip-hopper.
Seunghoon: Seungyoon-”Wow, the audition star ‘Seungyoon.’” (laughs). Minho – “He looks very strong. I think I should treat him well even though he is younger than me.” Jinwoo – It was not comfortable as he is very gentle. Taehyun – I heard that YG doesn’t care about trainees’ appearance, but he was so good-looking.
Jinwoo: Seunghoon – He’s a friend that gives me energy for dancing, and we have good synergy together. Minho – I was scared of him at first, but once you get to know him, he is the battery of our team. Seungyoon – He always says the right things and is the mother of our team. Taehyun – I thought he was “so weird.” His style was like that at first, but he became much more masculine after he changed up his style.
Minho: I thought of Jinwoo as a kind hyung. Taehyun seemed somewhat sad and lonely-looking. Seungyoon was kinder than I had expected. Seunghoon hyung was more serious and not as fun as I expected.
Taehyun: Seungyoon – unemployed, Jinwoo – the youngest, Minho – soldier, Seunghoon – liberal arts student.
What characteristics set you apart from other rookie groups?
Seungyoon: First of all, all of our members are able to produce at a high level. For our album preparation, all members have been participating in producing and writing lyrics, and even choreography.
Seunghoon: We have gained experience by performing on big stages.
Minho: I would say our unique personality and height.
Taehyun: Tall and friendly.
If given a chance, what name would you like to give your fan club?
Seungyoon: Queen. This has two meanings. One means treating fans like queens, and the other one means if we are supposed to be Kings, our fans are Queens.
Minho: I thought about this a million times, but it’s difficult. Maybe Queen?
Taehyun: Queen? I personally am a big fan of the band Queen and the fans are our Queens? Anyway, not a very good fanclub name for male fans.
Who are your musical influences? Which foreign and Korean artists do you enjoy listening to?
Seungyoon: I get inspiration everywhere. It could be artists’ music and it could also be the feelings I have right now. Recently, I am into the band Daughtry.
Seunghoon: I enjoy watching other artists’ performances, but I also love comic books. They give me imagination.
Jinwoo: I listen to both, but I listen to a lot of folk songs. I also listen to CCM.
Minho: What influences me changes from time to time. Usually, I just listen to music and don’t specify whose album a track was released from, but recently Schoolboy Q’s album is fun to listen to.
Taehyun: I usually like foreign songs, and I have been listening to Daft Punk’s official 4th album, Random Access Memories. I love how it’s analog and classy. I get inspired by their music.
Which artist would you love to collaborate with?
Seungyoon: One republic
Seunghoon: A member of Team B, Go Junhwe; Kang Seungyoon; Lee Hi; AKMU; and one of our trainees, Bang Yedam!
Minho: I would love to collaborate with top MCs like Jay Z or Kanye West. There is a foreign group called Die Antwoord that has a female rapper named Yolandi whom I would really like to make a track with.
Taehyun: I would love to write melodies for Daft Punk’s tracks. I would also be thrilled to collaborate with them also. I love Pharrell Williams’ beats as well.
You already have a huge international fanbase. Any message for your fans?
Seungyoon: We will repay all of our fans with a good image and good music as much as you continue to give us love. We will try our best to be with you forever. Let’s meet soon! Thank you always and love you!
Seunghoon: We are trying hard to debut in the near future and also study a couple of languages to communicate with all of our fans, so please give your support to us. Thank you!
Jinwoo: Thank you so much for the attention we have been receiving even before our official debut. WINNER will try our best to be close to all of our fans. We will be back with the title of WINNER! Please continue to follow us and support us. Love you. Thank you.
Minho: I want to thank all of our fans that have continued to stay by us through the long wait as we have been preparing for our debut. We promise it will be worth the wait, so hang in there a bit longer. I LOVE y’all!!
Taehyun: I always keep this thought in mind that our group WINNER couldn’t have existed without your love. We will come back with good music to replay your expectations and love. Thank you for your love.
Scans by: @daramond
Transcribed by: @With_WINNER