Girl power fuels 4minute
5-member act makes bold sounds, sexiness their own
By Kwaak Je-yup
Even from the first note of their debut single, it is easy to tell: 4minute is not just another girl group.
The sounds and words are wild and free — uninhibited — a rarity in an industry that prefers to keep all material fine-tuned for maximum listener friendliness.
Since their debut in June 2009, the five member group has conspicuously gone against the grain, keeping their distance from the sweet, girlish or cutesy formula that works so well for the competition.
Off-stage and in their studio for an interview, these stars looked and acted more like other girls in their age range, 17 to 22, refreshingly carefree and contagiously youthful.
Bubbling with excitement, the five talked simultaneously, cutting each other off or bursting out laughing in unison when someone was still speaking. More often than not, it is hard to keep track.
“We’re a girl group, but we have this hard, edgy image ...” said Kim Hyun-a, 19, the best-known member who is also established as a solo performer.
“I love that, though,” said Heo Ga-yoon, 22, lead vocals, interrupting. Without make-up, she looked considerably younger than her onstage self.
“Yeah, we really love it,” said Jeon Ji-yoon, 22, legs crossed, barefoot and arranging her thoughts. “We don’t want to obsess over awards... or being No. 1. Obviously we can’t switch the thought off completely, but we don’t want to be swept away by trends. If skinny jeans (snug-fit denim) are in, we are definitely not wearing them.
“Sinsadong Tiger (a Korean hitmaker who has produced all of the group’s singles since their debut) once told us that now new groups come to him asking to imitate the ‘4minute sound.’ Isn’t that cool?”
The reason behind their success is more than just music, though, according to the members. The group have that girl power attitude, eye-catching and often kitschy costumes, dexterous dance moves and over-the-top music videos as the icing on the cake.
Furthermore, when it comes to sex appeal, the group is in your face. The members have proudly displayed their sex-appeal, even though two are still in their teens. This has raised the eyebrows of many parents, but fans, both male and female, cannot get enough of the freewheeling 4minute formula.
Performances in places like London and Sao Paulo have flooded the organizers with requests for additional dates, some members of the audience in the latter even fainted.
“We’re surprised to see so many people come to our shows overseas,” said Kwon So-hyun, 17, the youngest of the group.
“We’re truly amazed,” said Nam Ji-hyun, 22, the eldest.
“The people (in the audience) were so loud that we couldn’t even hear ourselves well,” said Jeon.
But as they mused over the many hand gestures they use in their performances that had to be modified to fit local customs, it felt as if things did not add up. How do they take to stardom without a hint of worry? How is it that they are glowing with energy on three hours of sleep every night and a non-stop schedule around the clock?
“It’s just that great,” said Kim, referring to her non-stop career, “to ignore them all (the negative aspects). When we were trainees, including monthly checks, there were three to four in-house performances (at their agency Cube Entertainment). You get just three minutes to sing in front of a group of 30 agency employees unafraid to criticize. You have to sing well, dance well, exercise — even swim well these days to be a star.
“Then you are on stage; and you forget all that.”
Their work ethic shows in their consistent monitoring of fan reactions: “We look at every comment,” said the members, in unison.
“Their eyes are glued to the smartphone screens,” said Heo. “And it hurt a lot, too, (to read them),” Kwon added. “We’re way over that phase, though,” said Nam, firmly.
“You tell yourself ‘There are opinions like this,’ and move on to the next stage,” said Kim.
“They’re saying it’s not that great. Then we can try a different style,” said Heo. “And you know what? Then they actually give their compliments. We like that interaction.”
“But we’ve got to turn off the computer once in a while,” said Kim.
Like it or not, they have made a mark already. Their stylists have come to them grumbling about the knockoff costumes — “4minute dresses” and “4minute skirts” — found around Seoul’s central textile market Dongdaemun. A little-known Italian pop singer Alex Palmieri was caught with a copycat track of “Muzik,” 4minute’s second single when fans watched his live performance on YouTube. Their global footprint is growing.
They still look blissfully ignorant. The girls would rather talk about their excitement before an upcoming U.S. tour and a possible two-day vacation at the end of it. The details of the U.S. tour are still being prepared. Kim, frequently voted the sexiest idol in Korea, jumped in professing her love for Victoria’s Secret lingerie, perfumes and body sprays. Nam was excited over the increased participation in creative meetings, and Jeon shyly mentioned her dabbling in songwriting. (“Please be patient: we’ll have a self-penned song, soon,” she said.)
Perhaps that is why they remain a formidable force after three years in this cut-throat industry.
They do what they want to do.
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