It isn’t easy being a girl group in Korea. Besides the rigorous rehearsals, performances, media appearances, and unrealistic beauty standards that all successful K-pop artists must ace with smiles and aplomb, the women also have to fit a certain mold if they want to keep the guy crowd around. The kind of style that might mint a highly desirable star in America—confident, sexy, and independent—often meets with blank stares and mockery.
Formed in 2009, 4Minute have always been known for their high energy and hard hitting take on pop, but they spent most of last year trying their best to please everybody. Now, in 2015, the quintet don’t give a damn. They've admitted to in Korea—a move few girl groups would dare risk—and the result is their new mini-album Crazy. It finds the troupe exploring fresh territory and kicking ass while doing so. Highlights include the trap versus Europop double-kill “Cut It Out” and the cocksure funk strut of “Tickle Tickle Tickle,” but the singles are the tunes that really strike a resonant chord. The morose masterstroke of “Cold Rain” manages to work Tin Pan Alley songwriting chops and a continually surprising piano improvisation into a contemporary pop framework, meanwhile the title track “Crazy” pushes hot genres like trap and EDM harder and farther than pretty much anybody in global mainstream music.
Then there’s the presentation, which stands out even by K-pop’s heightened standards. “Crazy” benefits from an inspired choreography by the internationally renowned Parris Goebel (which has been racking up worldwide; watch the video above), as well as exceptionally on-trend styling by 4Minute member Gayoon herself. (Health goth: check.)
We sat down with the group to discuss their new music, the success it’s been having at home and abroad, and being angry—whether the boys are with it or not.
Noisey: You "revamped" yourselves for this album. For readers just getting to know you, how would you describe classic 4Minute, and what makes Crazy a fresh direction for you?
Gayoon: For the past two releases, we came out with songs that were easy to listen to, and focused on the general public with easy-to-follow concepts. Matter of fact, we actually went back to the “classic” 4Minute vibe with “Crazy,” but with a bolder spin on it.
The energy in the title track and its music video is relentless—what do you all do to get pumped and keep the momentum going, be it in the studio or on set?
Sohyun: Our secret is we're angry all the time, because we don’t express our anger off the stage. We keep it all in and release our anger onstage so we are able to kick off at a very high level of energy. No need to get pumped up.
Jihyun: If you watch our performance, you can see that there is no room for rest. Towards the end of the song, it may seem like we are angry.
Jiyoon: No no—that’s real anger you see.
“Crazy" features my favorite pop choreography in a long time. Do you have any favorite moments? How hard was it to learn?
Hyuna: This was our first time working with Parris Goebel. We went back and forth a lot to get exactly what was fitting for the song. She was very conscious of our song, and what we had in mind. Thanks to her, we were able to come up with the choreography. I think the growing number of the cover dance videos on YouTube speak volumes on the choreography.
Sohyun: The choreography was far more difficult to get down compared to our previous ones. For our other choreographies, we used to go through the song 3 times before taking a rest. For this particular choreography, we had to take a break in between one run-through.
The album features your most adventurous music yet—and, in my opinion, your best. Tell me a little bit about some of your favorite tracks, and anything you remember from recording them.
All (together): “Crazy.”
Hyuna: Because it’s our title track. The song reveals our true colors. The views on YouTube are already over seven million.
Jihyun: We can tell that it’s getting love in Korea as well as abroad.
Gayoon: We all helped with the production of the song, whether it be writing lyrics or giving ideas that brought the song to life. It’s also the most memorable track for us because we spent the longest time prepping for it.
Sohyun: “Tickle Tickle Tickle” actually might be my fave, because I wrote the lyrics.
Jiyoon: Then I guess I’ll choose the song I produced, “ICatch.” [Video embed: ] My favorite is probably “Cold Rain”—a really beautiful, unconventional ballad. It sounds distinct not just from all your other songs, but from contemporary pop in general.
What was it like working on that one?
Gayoon: “Cold Rain” was our first attempt at releasing a ballad as one of the lead singles. We headed down a different path, maybe even unexpected, since we’ve always done hip-hop or electronic-driven tracks.
Jihyun: “Cold Rain” may be the only song that does justice to Gayoon’s beautiful voice. I hope listeners will appreciate such bold attempts like this ballad.
Hyuna: The song and the winter season were a perfect match, which helped make it what it is.
Sohyun: “Cold Rain” is particularly popular in China. It’s a chart topper.
Sohyun, Hyuna, and Jiyoon, you wrote lyrics for several of the songs on the record. What is lyric-writing like for each of you? Do you find it stressful, or is it more of a fun and instinctual?
Sohyun: It’s a fun process. It isn’t just jotting down words along to a song, you need to find and give a voice to the song. I listen to the track first, then I give it some time until a certain theme or motif pops into my head.
Jiyoon: Writing is as important as producing. I jot down lyrics or record impromptu melodies. I get these little epiphanies while watching movies or TV shows.
Hyuna: Writing comes to me at different times. Sometimes I write after listening to the track and sometimes I write the lyrics first. Most of the time, I listen to the track, then think of a few key words that are fitting. Writing comes naturally after that.
Every K-pop group has a close relationship with their manager, but I’ve never heard of one actually being featured on a song before. What made you feel like doing that for “눈에 듸네” [a.k.a. “ICatch”]? And what are you guys talking about? I heard it has to do with a joke about a Korean candy bar that was famous in the 90s?
Jiyoon: “ICatch” was originally written for a member of [4Minute’s labelmates] BTOB. Call it serendipity, but our manager came into the booth while we were recording the demo. My conversation with him fit in perfectly with the song so we decided to tag it to the track. Matter of fact, our manager who is on the track is actually getting ready to be on the fourth season of Show Me the Money [a rap battle show in Korea]. “누네 띄네” is a cookie that’s still around today—we now get boxes of them in the mail from our fans because of the song. While we were touring Europe last year, I actually met a fan who got to know a little bit of the culture of Korea. I think it is great that K-pop helps listeners to know more about Korean culture today.
Visual presentation is an especially developed part of K-pop, and your aesthetic for this album is your strongest to date. Gayoon, you contributed heavily to the styling this time around, right? What were some of your influences?
Gayoon: Thank you for the compliment. My influences came from all my members, and our stylists. Bucket hats, headbands, and gold chains are all pretty prominent in the hip-hop scene, and I take ideas from collections that could mesh well with 4minute’s existing wardrobe.
Performances in Korea are usually very regulated, either on the weekly TV shows or at a formal concert with lots of security. How did it feel getting out of that safety net and performing at Ellui [a hip Gangnam nightclub] the other night, just a few feet away from a giant mob of fans?
Sohyun: Our recent tours in Europe were all at club venues. That’s when we realized how attractive a concert at a club could be. We actually prefer interacting with fans up close and being able to see their faces.
Gayoon: We had a blast. Our European tour really changed our outlook on concerts. Before we thought performing at a big venue was life-changing. But after performing at club venues around Europe, we learned to appreciate the up-close and personal interaction we get from performing at clubs.
Jiyoon: We premiered “Crazy” for the first time [before the song was out], and it was neat to see people sing along with us during the chorus. The energy at the club was indescribable. We look forward to performing more at similar venues.
Was it anything like performing at SXSW last year, Hyuna? SXSW is a really American industry thing, very different from what typically goes on in Korea—what were your impressions of it?
Hyuna: I had fun onstage with so many people there, not to mention Lady Gaga. I was surprised to hear people sing along to What was most remarkable to me was just witnessing the presence of K-pop in Texas. I also went to LA during that trip to shoot a Funny or Die skit with Rita Ora. Very memorable.
K-pop is incredibly competitive, and even most successful groups don't make it past five years. 2015 marks your sixth year since debut. How does it feel to reach this stage in your careers?
Sohyun: I think we are able to be where we are right now because our popularity was not a roller coaster ride. No peak or low point in our career. Smoothing sailing. [Laughs.]
Hyuna: We always had the tenacity to attempt something new every time out, and I think listeners appreciate that. We are not afraid to try something new, no matter how risky it may seem. People see the effort that we put in, and that’s what brought us to where we are now.
Jiyoon: Our motto, “Not the best, but the only,” is the driving force and the motivation behind our success as a group.
Korean groups are incredibly active, constantly releasing new singles and records, focusing also on solo releases, and 4minute is no exception, with your own releases and also Hyuna’s, 2Yoon’s, the Trouble Maker project, and more. What makes the "Crazy" comeback important or significant to you?
Hyuna: Each and every one of us put a lot of energy and effort into producing this one album. We wanted to really hit home, to our fans and to the general public, the true colors of 4Minute.
Solo and unit projects are only a by-product of 4minute—a brand extension, you could say. What do each of you hope to do with your future music, as 4minute or otherwise?
Jiyoon: We want to earn the “triple crown.” [This is when a group places first on the big three terrestrial channel music shows for a single song. After our interview, they did so with “Crazy.”] After that, we would like to hold concerts overseas, especially in the States. A personal goal for me, a longterm goal, is to own and manage my own hotel business.
Gayoon: Billboard Top 100? We want to chart on the Top 100. Performing in the States, either at a concert or even appearing on a TV show, is definitely a goal of mine. Personally, I want to run a food truck selling Korean desserts in the States.
Hyuna: I don’t think too much about the future. I like to focus on the now.
Jihyun: Giving it your best starting from small things will naturally bring bigger and better opportunities.
International fans have been asking if they might get any chance to see 4minute again. Is there anything they can look forward to?
Sohyun: First, thank you so much for listening to our music. We hope to see you soon in person. Until then, please wait patiently as we will continue to prepare for opportunities to bring concerts to your home countries.
Gayoon: Thank you for waiting for us.
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