“When I was first writing the song ‘Fool’…I may have been inspired to write lyrics of longing while missing Nam Taehyun. ‘Fool’ does actually contain those emotions. I did start writing the song with the motif of missing Taehyun.” - Kang Seungyoon
“I still dream about Nam Taehyun. Whenever I dream, WINNER is still five members. I think that my unconscious still thinks that we’re five members. It can’t be helped.” - Lee Seunghoon
[MAGAZINE INTERVIEW] 170420 WINNER for HIGH CUT May Issue
WINNER’s beginning was different from the start as they were born through a reality program, “WIN: Who Is Next”. In the first week of their debut, they won three #1 crowns on music shows with their title track “Empty” and swept up all the rookie awards that year. The public fixed their eyes on the monster rookie that had skills, visuals, and the star quality and WINNER always put out results that met expectations. But a long hiatus followed which was unprecedented for a rookie group. A sudden piece of news that fans received during the hiatus was not about their comeback but about a member leaving the group. They became 4 members from 5 and they changed the formation of their choreographies and they adjusted the vocalist parts and they had to work hard to fill up the one empty spot. The result of this came in the form of their single album “FATE NUMBER FOR”, which was released on April 4th, 1 year and 2 months after their previous comeback. The moment the album was released, it recorded first place on iTunes Charts in 21 different countries and was featured in Apple Music’s “Best of the Week”. The fact that the public’s response to “REALLY REALLY” and “FOOL”, which are total opposites of each other, are addicting is just a bonus. WINNER is at their peak.
The response for “REALLY REALLY” is very hot. Do you feel how popular it is?
I’ve been told by people but I can’t really feel it myself. Just like it has always been, we just perform onstage and meet our fans and move according to our schedules.
During WINNER’s hiatus, with Nam Taehyun’s leave, the group became 4 from the original 5. Didn’t you feel like your responsibility as the leader was heavier with this comeback?
Of course I felt responsible. But I didn’t think things like, “I need to lead WINNER better so we can go to a higher place.” (laughs) I felt like I needed to do things instead of staying still.
I heard that you weren’t able to properly rest or travel for leisure during the hiatus.
Yes. When I didn’t have plans on making music, I was at home. Home and company. That was it. It was because I didn’t want to just rest. Even when I didn’t have any songs to work on, I went to the company. I felt more comfortable staying at the company, eating with my composer hyungs, and talking to them.
I heard you made “REALLY REALLY” and “FOOL” very quickly.
Composing for both songs came easy to me. For “REALLY REALLY”, I finished composing the melody and writing the lyrics while lying in bed in 4 hours. But I couldn’t figure out the best melody progression for the bridge part so I asked Mino to help me.
As a member who composed the songs, which member do you want to praise the most?
Jinwoo-hyung. I don’t force directions to the rappers. They have always done well with their individual styles and they know how to show off their own colors. But I was really surprised at how much Jinwoo-hyung’s singing improved while recording for this single album. The time it took to record decreased greatly. It took 30 minutes when it usually takes 2 hours.
Jinwoo told me earlier that the songs suited him so well that he was very comfortable with them.
Whenever I make WINNER songs, I compose so that it suits the members. It’s only possible since I’ve known them for almost 10 years now, ever since we were trainees. This means I probably can’t make songs for other singers.
I feel like you received a lot of stress to achieve such good results.
I feel like I don’t get stressed much but my body keeps hurting in places. (laughs) I still get migraines.
How do you relieve stress?
These days I reform clothes with Mino as a hobby. I usually relieve stress by going outside and walking under the sunlight. But I need to wear a face mask and a hoodie so people don’t recognize me. I wear black clothes to not draw attention to myself at night. (laughs)
How do you reform clothes?
I just fold them and stick them together and sew things together and cut things. I’m bad at sewing. When I have things I need to sew, I put them aside and when my mother comes to Seoul, I make her do it… (laughs) She enjoys it though! I’m usually really blunt around her so when I ask her to do things like this for me she thinks we’re playing together.
In the end, all the clothes you’re reforming are made by your mother.
No, that’s not it. I design the clothes and my mother sews the clothes. Designers don’t sew clothes themselves. Their assistants do it. (laughs)
You’re receiving good results after a long hiatus. Is there something you want to challenge yourself in in the future?
I want to hear people say, “This is what WINNER-like music is” even when we make music we want to make and not bother with trends. To make that happen, we need to become more known and further develop our careers. I think it’s possible with time. Personally, once WINNER becomes properly stabilized as a group, I want to release a solo album but I want to include all genres of music into that one album. When people think about the music Kang Seungyoon makes, they assume it’s only folk or rock music. I want to break that preconceived notion and put in dance, hip-hop, R&B, and even trot songs into the album. I’m just sharing my thoughts. (laughs)
You’ve succeeded in the variety scene. You received your nickname “Song Dumb” through “New Journey to the West” and you’ve become famous enough among the older generation that they ask for your autograph. Was it your wish to appear on a variety show?
Yes, I wanted to. Other than music shows, we weren’t able to have complete promotions and as time passed, the image of the group WINNER solidified into being a group that is hard to approach and classy. (laughs) I don’t mind that kind of image and vibe but I wanted us to promote more and become more known. In that timing, I received the offer from “New Journey to the West” and I had lots of fun filming it but I didn’t expect to be shown like that… (laughs)
You’re honestly worried as a rapper, right?
At first I was worried that my image would cover my music activities. But when I thought about it, what was shown on TV is my true self and it’s separate from the music I make so there is no need to forcefully hide myself. I’ll show myself as I am and I can show my music as it is.
In a separate interview you said that you worked hard to show rapping that overflows with energy without covering the melody. Maybe because of this I feel like your vocalization changed.
My vocalization changed during “Show Me The Money”. It’s actually a change that all singers and rappers go through. It’s how we find the voice we’re most comfortable with. When I first started rapping, I made up a voice and rapped in that voice. When I listen to the songs I made when I was in high school, my voice sounds like I swallowed stones. (laughs) Back then, I thought that was cool. But gradually, I’m finding the voice I’m comfortable with.
When you promote as WINNER, rapping is a component that makes up the vibe of the song. You must want to work on your own music since you don’t rap as much compared to when you promote individually.
Yes. The rapping I do as WINNER is one part of the song so the importance lies in the overall concept. But my rap style is made up of word plays and I pour in a lot of fun elements and enjoy my music so when I get the opportunity to work on my solo music, I’m going to do whatever I want. I want to go hard in my rapping.
Do you perhaps remember the first rap you made?
I don’t remember the lyrics but I remember what happened. The first ever music I made was when I was in my 6th year of elementary school. I went to my friend’s house and wrote my first lyrics and recorded myself on a cassette tape with my friend. I didn’t know anything when I was writing those lyrics. I just scribbled something and said, “Hey, but let’s still record it” and I recorded it on a cassette tape. I wonder where that cassette tape is now.
Out of all the raps you’ve made, which one gave you the hardest time?
The song that I had the hardest time making was “Shoot” for “Infinite Challenge: Great Legacy”. The overall concept was already set in place. The larger theme was history and the smaller theme was General Lee Soonshin. And the project was about becoming aware by looking back into the past and looking at the present. It was difficult to express myself within a fixed boundary. Fortunately, the end result turned out well.
You’ve had the name WINNER for 4 years now. Is there a time when you think you have some spare time now?
I don’t think we’re at that level yet. But the chemistry between us members is really good. We’ve been living together for a long time now so I think we know pretty much everything about each other. I know what my members are thinking just by looking at their faces. The member who is in the best mood today is… Seunghoon-hyung. That hyung has severe mood swings but I think he’s pretty happy today. (laughs)
Is there a specific key point you want listeners to focus on for “REALLY REALLY”?
Um… What a difficult question. (Song Mino mulled over the question for a long time. Lee Seunghoon, who had finished earlier came and suggested, “Didn’t you say you worked hard to change your tone? Tell her about that.”) The change in my tone can just be heard. I don’t need to specifically tell that to people… I just want people to listen to it comfortably. Comfortably. (laughs)
I heard CEO Yang praised you for making the choreography for “FOOL” in 5 hours.
I was able to make it quickly because I thought about the flow of movements. “FOOL” didn’t need complicated dancing. It’s a song that is close to the ballad genre so it wasn’t necessary to dance powerfully and put in a key point dance. The first thing I thought about was how I could make us look cool.
I’m curious about your process in making choreographies.
First, I close my eyes while listening to the song and draw a picture in my head. I imagine an overall picture while thinking about the mood of the performance that people would find cool watching us. After I imagine that, I make a large outline of how the members should move. After that, I make the detailed dance movements. “FOOL” didn’t need lots of movements but the formation had to change because we became 4 members from 5.
You’ve started promoting after a long hiatus. I heard you thought a lot about what kind of fanservice you would do for the fans.
The ground-breaking invention of Naver V App is helping many people other than ourselves, I think. I really want to tell Naver that I love them. (laughs) I’ve always liked making and planning ideas and content. I’ve had interest in making videos from when I was young. So I have fun and I like communicating with our fans through V App.
I feel like you’ve been overflowing with ideas from when you were on “K-Pop Star”. I guess you’re not nicknamed “Deputy Lee of YG Planning Team” for nothing.
I enjoy producing ideas. When I get told they’re fun, I get really excited. Usually, other artists go to the YG office building to work out or go to the recording studio on the 3rd floor and they don’t really go to where the staff members work. But I always go to those staff members’ offices. So when they see me on TV, they say that I look unfamiliar and that it feels strange. They say things like, “Why is our Deputy who’s always scruffy appearing on TV like that”. (laughs)
You have good fashion sense. You’ve collaborated with fashion brands too.
Let me just tell you that good-looking people like Jinwoo-hyung never get interested in fashion. That’s because they look good no matter what they wear. (laughs) I enjoyed going around used-goods markets and looking for clothes with my friends. Since I debuted and am earning money, I can buy expensive clothes now, right? I used to not have money so I couldn’t buy expensive clothes but I suddenly realised that the ultimate end to fashion was to personally create a style of clothes I like. So later on, when I have the opportunity, I want to create my own clothing brand, like Tyler, the Creator who made “Golf Wang”.
You’re a jack-of-all-trades. I was surprised when I saw your poem called “Flower Boat” that you wrote for your fans.
I just imitated something like a poem. I feel like my fans like it so much because what I feel for my fans can be felt from that poem. I’m not good at writing and I’m not talented.
What are you talking about? Your fans say that the lyrics you write are the best parts of the songs. Were you proud when you listened to the completed recordings of the new songs?
Yes, I liked them. Seungyoon is the type to listen to the music he makes a thousand times before the release but I don’t listen to our songs often. I say things like, “Why listen to them already when we’re going to keep listening to them after they’re released?” (laughs) But I was satisfied. I worked hard to make a rap that middle school girls could imitate easily.
How did you do that?
I made sure my enunciation wasn’t hard to imitate and the speed wasn’t too fast. And most importantly, I put in many breaks between the beats where you can rest. I imagined how people would sing and rap along. (laughs)
You’re famous among your fans for being very diligent. What kind of effort did you put in for this single album?
I kept receiving lessons while we recorded. I also learned contemporary dancing and thanks to that I became very confident. I used to sing quietly when we recorded but now I actively try singing this way and that. My singing hasn’t changed but my attitude has.
As the group became 4 members, your singing parts increased too. Were you not burdened?
I just recorded the songs comfortably. When Seungyoon makes a song, he thinks about our tones and the rappers’ tendencies. We record many songs and there are times when there are good results and there are times when there are bad results but when Seungyoon is the one who made the song, I never struggle. I didn’t put in any extra effort. I don’t need to because he makes songs that suit me perfectly.
When were you most excited while recording the songs?
I was just happy the entire time we were recording. I feel like learning how to physically express myself in a given situation through contemporary dancing made me change a lot internally. If I have the time, I want to continue learning contemporary dance.
Fans know that you’re a homebody. Do you still always stay home?
I don’t spend my spare time outdoors. I watch TV at home or I lie in bed and play with my phone. I used to play lots of phone games but I’ve stopped that now. Playing so many phone games made me spend too much money. (laughs) I stopped because I realised that if I kept it up, I would go broke. (laughs)
You must’ve watched a lot of TV during the hiatus.
I’ve watched many dramas recently. I especially enjoyed watching “Defendant”.
Who is your favorite actor?
Kimura Takuya. I love it when people tell me I look like how Kimura Takuya looked like when he was young. (laughs)
Who is your favorite Korean actor?
Jisung-sunbaenim who acted in “Defendant”. Did you watch that drama? You didn’t? You really should. I really love Choi Jinsil-sunbaenim. I didn’t know that I would fall in love with another actor besides her. Jisung-sunbaenim acted his character who would never let go of his deep sadness even in a happy situation and… Wow… Seriously…
You’ve acted in a webdrama before, right? I can feel that you’re greedy for acting.
Yes, I’m always interested in acting. I’ve acted in a couple of webdramas but I think they didn’t really suit me. I want to try acting a deep and heavy character instead of a light character. Of course, I am still very lacking.
But you’re the icon of effort. All the other members picked you as the member who improved the most.
Not just me, all of us worked really hard in making this single album. If you ask me what people should focus on when listening to our song, I want to say “all of it”. There is really no part that didn’t require hard work.
Then when is the best timing to listen to “REALLY REALLY”?
When you’re in a flirting relationship with someone. Or at the beginning of a romantic relationship, when the love is fresh. If I were to compare that feeling to a season, it would be Spring, which is right now.
When do you think Spring will start in your love life? I heard what your ideal type is on the radio. You said that you want to date someone who looks like you, right? A women with big eyes, a slender face, and is 165cm tall. Do these characteristics still hold?
Firstly, I don’t mind what kind of hairstyle she has now. But I would like it if she is shorter than me. Other than that, the general descriptions haven’t changed. But right now I will concentrate on WINNER promotions. (laughs)