E opens with Taehyun crooning “Baby baby, I don’t like this night / I don’t wanna be alone.” And that feeling, that intense loneliness that begets an equally intense need, is an accurate description of the entire project. “Baby Baby,” one of two lead-singles written and produced by Taehyun (the other being “Sentimental”) sets the tone for the album as one of pleading. Pleading with the listener, with YG Entertainment, with themselves.
The music video matches the song, reminding the viewer that the life of an idol isn’t fulfilled by fame and fleeting relationships. The members of Winner, just like you and I, need love. And Winner’s seventeen-month exile seems to have affected them immensely. As Mino raps after the first refrain, “I’m curled up in a ball, I’m feeling smaller / The silence is louder than any noise in the world.”
At midnight on February 1 (KMT), Winner dropped E, their first mini album of four anticipated in 2016. (Don’t tell, but we managed to snag the album before its official release!) After a seventeen-month hiatus, a veritable lifetime in the world of Kpop, Winner’s return to the scene guarantees them some much-needed spotlight.
The footage we see at the beginning of the MV (Winner presenting the 2015 MAMA Award for Best New Artist after having produced no music in 2015), then, becomes a subtle critique, maybe, of the extended period they spent out of the spotlight. It’s no wonder they claimed to have written this new batch of songs “to help people release their stress and worries.” It seems obvious they had quite a lot to worry about on their own this past year. But hardship, more often than not, produces amazing art. And for my money, “Baby Baby” is the song that will have me coming back to this album again and again.
The other obvious storyline with E is the release cycle that mimics and builds upon (if that’s even possible) the pioneering 2015 release cycle of fellow labelmates BIGBANG. There’s an easy parallel between each group releasing four mini albums that collectively spell a word. Where Winner goes further than BIGBANG, at least so far, is in the inclusion of even more music videos (three compared to BIGBANG’s two). This appears to be a YG strategy, as indicated on their website: “Unlike other music labels which usually produce one music video for an album title track, YG Entertainment expresses multiple songs in an album through music videos.” Is this YG’s own way of countering SM’s recent news? Potentially. It will be interesting to see who comes out on top at the end of the year.
“I’m Young,” the fourth song on the album, picks up where the MV for “Baby Baby” left off, with Taehyun traveling to visit his French-Canadian boo. It’s an emotionally overwrought music video, and one that completely overshadows the song. More important should be Nam Taehyun’s solo. The song is gorgeous, and Taehyun’s silky-smooth voice pairs easily with the soft keyboards. To the question of whether future X, I, and T albums will feature other members more heavily, Taehyun’s performance here suggests to me that he might be the consistent leader. It’s almost a shame that most of us will be talking about the music video which, aside from a funny line about ridiculous hair, was over-acted. Coupled with his duet with Mino on “I’m Pricked,” the pre-release single, it’s hard to deny that Taehyun has something special to offer. Let’s hope YG continues to explore his talents.
“Sentimental” is obviously the most playful song of the bunch on E. The loneliness is still present of course, in lyrics like “My tiny room is so wide today / For me to lie alone in.” But whereas “Baby Baby” and “I’m Young” were hopelessly bleak, “Sentimental” manages to have some fun. The MV is emo, but kind of hilariously so. There’s an awareness in the ridiculous nature of teen angst, here, which makes it palatable and even enticing. The art direction and cinematography (especially those top-down views) make this the best MV of the album by far.
As for the song, it has a refreshing pop-rock feel. You can tell it was composed with actual instruments in mind, a trait I find all too rarely in Kpop these days. The same can maybe be said for “Baby Baby” and even “Immature” to a slightly lesser extent. Overall, Winner might be the first Kpop group in a long time to understand and utilize the structure and instrumentation of a basic rock song. And I dig it.