When Winner first debuted in 2014, they seemed poised to become YG Entertainment’s answer to K-pop’s more “grown up” side – not exclusively ballad-centered, but not striving to compete with teenage hip-hop either. A lot has changed since then, and ever since 2017’s mega-hit Really Really it seems like the group has been stuck in a cycle of either following trends or trying to usher in new ones. Obviously, trendiness is the name of the game for an industry as fast-moving as K-pop, but I hate to see Winner succumb to style over substance.
The group’s 2018 material didn’t do much for me. Even the tropical Millions proved to be a quick fader. New single Ah Yeah (아예) doesn’t get everything right, but its reliance on sticky, sing-song hooks feels less try-hard than a trend-bating song like Everyday. I’m not completely sold on the chorus, which rides on a melody that feels too juvenile and one-note for a group like Winner, but I’m all about the shout-it-out punctuations of “ah yeah!” at its end. Yay for more upbeat musical trends in 2019’s boy group releases!
Ah Yeah’s biggest and best moment is its rousing pre-chorus. The percussion pops like fireworks here, supporting a galvanizing refrain that builds anticipation before crashing into the ho-hum hook that follows. As usual, Seungyoon’s gritty vocals are an absolute pleasure, bringing a rock-tinged edge to a song that’s otherwise pretty generic. The rest of the members’ delivery is a little too affected — an issue that’s plagued much of Winner’s work over the past two years. A song like Ah Yeah shouldn’t feel like it’s trying too hard to seem cool, and I’d much prefer that the group perform in cadences that sounded more natural. Even so, Ah Yeah should age well as the summer heats up. It’s an earworm for sure, and bounces on enough good energy to keep it aloft.