K-Town

WINNER on Touring Stateside, Artistic Growth & Aging Backwards

WINNER
Courtesy of YG Entertainment 

WINNER

It’s not yet halfway through February, but numerous Korean artists have already descended on the Stateside touring circuit to bring their music to local audiences. One such group, WINNER, held their first ever North American performances in January during the local leg of their Everywhere World Tour.

With a lineup that features vocalists Jinu (Kim Jinwoo) and Yoon (Kang Seungyoon) and rappers Mino (Song Minho) and Hoony (Lee Seunghoon), the quartet traveled throughout the U.S. and Canada, singing their addictive brand of tropical house dance and alt hip-hop hits, including 2017’s “Really Really” and “Island” and December’s “Millions," as well as many other songs, like Yoon's pre-WINNER songs and Mino's more recent solo efforts.

Ahead of the final stop of the tour at the Hulu Theater in Madison Square Garden on Jan. 29, Billboard sat down with WINNER to discuss the tour, their recent releases and more.

You ended 2018 strong with the release of “Millions” and now you’re starting the year with a North American tour for the first time. How are you feeling about moving into 2019? What would you like to achieve this year?

Mino: We started off this year with our first ever North American tour so we’re very excited about that. We’re feeling very positive energy from that, and we believe we’ve received a lot of love from our fans.

Yoon: After this tour we want to get ready for a new album, whether it will be a single or a full album. I want to focus on my solo album as well, and the other members feel the same. Even if it takes until the end of the year for us to come back with new music as WINNER, we want good synergy with that as well.  

You’re all involved with your songwriting. What’s your creative process like?

Yoon: When an idea based on our daily lives pops into our heads, we’ll take notes. Even if it’s a sentence or a word, we keep that in mind. When we think of a track or melody that fits with that idea, that’s when we start producing our music.

Mino: Since we’re busy traveling and performing, we have to make time and manage working on our album at the same time. I brought my tools from Korea and started working on songs but we’ve been really busy so I haven’t used it much.

Yoon: Recently, I received a lot of inspiration from our fans, and I think that’s where the message all starts from. As to our song “Millions,” I felt that the fans liked little, specific portions of me, so I thought to make the lyrics reflect that there are millions of reasons as to why we each should be loved. So that’s the message I wanted to put into the song. Based on that sort of everyday inspiration.

How has your approach to making music changed over the years?

Yoon: When we first made our debut, we were really young. At the time we wanted to be like adults, so our music was a bit heavier thematically. But these days, we just want to make music that suits us in this time, at this age. The songs that we produce right now are much more youthful than what we originally were doing. We show our identities, who we are right now.

Since your start in 2014, have the members changed?

Yoon: Apart from my teeth, nothing is the same. Everything has changed.

Mino: We’ve matured a lot in the past years, whether it’s the relationship between ourselves, the members, and our fans, or having a lot more stage experience. These things have reflected us in a positive way and we feel that we’ve developed in a good way.

Yoon: I think our visual [image] is much younger seeming now than during our debut [era with World Albums chart-topper 2014 S/S]. I think when we debuted, we were suited up. It was very heavy hair styling. And then now, all our clothes are very colorful, a youth vibe.

Do you think that suits you better?

Yoon: I don’t know.

Mino: We like suits, but if we hadn’t tried to look older back then… Starting with a mature look, we are now reversing and getting more youthful look.

So if you’re aging your style backwards, will we see school uniforms soon?

Yoon: No. Not ever.

WINNER started out on the competition reality series WIN: Who Is Next?, and nowadays there are many survival shows creating K-pop acts, including your own company’s recent Treasure Box, which you appeared on. How do you guys feel about this trend?

Yoon: Recently, there are programs like Produce 101 that have a lot of contestants participating, and then they pick several members for a team, right? I think that’s a positive because after competition everyone develops. When I see specific participants, it inspires me to work harder. I feel like there’s positive synergy coming out of it.  

Have you watched any?

Yoon: Treasure Box. 

This is the end of your North American tour. How has your perception of the local K-pop audiences and your fans, Inner Circle, here changed, if at all?

Yoon: We didn’t know that there were this many K-pop and Inner Circle fans throughout the U.S. We thought, “Would a lot of fans come to see our show?” We are so grateful that a lot of people showed up to our tour. Fans in the U.S., they really come to have fun. When we were on stage, we saw fans dancing. It’s a little bit different than the fans in Korea. Korean fans just follow the fan chants and listen and sing to the songs.  

You’re several years into your career, but this is your first time performing in North America, and you’re doing so with a sizable tour. Why was now the right moment within WINNER’s career to come to the States?

Yoon: We were really busy in the past, focusing on Korea and honing our skills. We didn’t have a lot of time as we were developing our career. We thought, “Why not now?” because if not now, the opportunity and time may not be available in the future. We couldn’t delay that. We feel that this is the perfect time.