History of K-Pop: 4Minute
Undoubtedly one of the defining acts of the second generation of K-Pop, 4Minute aged like fine wine—only getting better until their bittersweet end. This June will mark two years since their disbandment and the nine-year anniversary for the boundary-pushing girl group. Let’s take a look back at their vivid timeline!
4Minute debuted under CUBE Entertainment on June 15, 2009 with “Hot Issue,” and indeed they were a hot issue as former Wonder Girls member HyunA was the first member to be announced on May 14. All of the other members—Sohyun, Gayoon, Jiyoon, and Jihyun—were announced between then and the debut date. Despite the iconic nature of their debut due to its outright colorful video and sassy delivery, the group actually gained their first music show win with “Muzik” on SBS Inkigayo. “Muzik” also capitalized off of the crazy style and heavy electronic beats that were popular in the late 2000s. They released one more single, “What A Girl Wants,” in 2009, which gave us a peek at a more feminine concept.
In 2010, 4Minute released “HUH (Hit Your Heart),” which became one of their most career- and sound-defining tracks. It peaked at number three on the Gaon Singles Chart and was the group’s most downloaded single ever, according to the chart. It was written by Shinsadong Tiger and BEAST’s Junhyung. They also released a music video for “I My Me Mine,” their second single off of the Hit Your Heart mini-album. As this was happening, the group began slowly infiltrating the Japanese music scene, holding their first concert in the country on May 8 and releasing their first Japanese album Diamond on December 15, which debuted at number 18 on the Oricon chart.
The following year saw grand accomplishments from the girls. In 2011, they received their first Bonsang Award at the 20th Seoul Music Awards and the 2010 “K-Pop New Artist Award” at the Billboard Japan Music Awards. They continued to release Japanese tracks to capitalize on their popularity, including the hits “Why,” “Without U” with Japanese singer Thelma Aoyama, and the Japanese version of “Heart to Heart,” the Korean version of which was released five months prior. HyunA also released her debut hit single, “Change,” which reached almost two and a half million downloads by the end of the year.
By this point, 4Minute had become synonymous with bright colors, hard-hitting electronic beats, and crazy hairstyles, much like all other groups in 2011. However, 4Minute had the underdog approach going for them, having not come from one of the big three companies (SM, JYP, or YG Entertainment), which made them a breath of fresh air. One of their more underrated tracks, “Mirror Mirror,” was cast in the shadows of “Heart to Heart.” Although the more hard-hitting of the two, the choreography had to be modified in order for them to perform on music shows due to its provocative leg-splitting choreography (which seems innocent compared to what we’ve seen from K-Pop since then).
It’s hard not to mention the arguable highlight of Hyuna’s solo career: “Bubble Pop!” Nearly all of HyunA’s title tracks can be labeled as career-defining, but “Bubble Pop!” is a hard one to put up an argument against. It’s one of the most iconic songs in the genre (another arguable statement for most of HyunA’s discography)! In the earlier days of K-Pop, the track was a viral hit, garnering around one million views in two days and becoming the first K-Pop music video to reach 100 million views. HyunA also participated in the co-ed unit Troublemaker with BEAST’s Hyunseung, releasing the saucy title track of the same name. She became one of the industry’s largest female figures, and that was only solidified in 2012, but we’ll talk about that in a bit.
Their next single, “Volume Up!,” made a grand appearance in 2012, becoming one of the group’s most recognizable hits. It showcased a darker maturity, displaying a sexier, more passionate side of the girls. It quickly rose to number one on M! Countdown. They also released a Japanese version of the song with their seventh Japanese single, “Love Tension.” That same year, they also had the opportunity to perform at KCON 2012 in Irvine, California—their first performance in the United States. The year was a big one for K-Pop, succinctly personified through the global hit “Gangnam Style” by PSY. HyunA’s already high popularity shot to soaring heights with her feature in the music video as well as the follow up remix “오빤 딱 내 스타일 (Oppa Is Just My Style)” where she actually raps. She also released another huge hit, “Ice Cream,” which was the fastest K-Pop music video to reach 20 million views at the time. It was a big year for the group to say the least.
The next two years were undoubtedly the biggest of 4Minute’s career as they continuously released a string of their best hits. It started off with a bang as the group’s first subunit 2YOON, with Gayoon and Jiyoon, released their album Harvest Moon along with their title track “24/7” in early 2013. The United Cube concert tour followed just weeks after, and only a few weeks after that the group released the single “What’s Your Name?” The song reached number one on the Gaon Singles Chart, making it the group’s first number one on the chart. It also reached number one on the Billboard K-Pop Hot 100 chart. “What’s Your Name?” felt like a slight homage to the funkier beats and looks of the sound they’d established with “Hot Issue,” which is most likely why the track was a hit. It was followed by the second part of their question series, “Is It Poppin’?” This was definitely one of 4Minute’s tamer title tracks, but it delivered the chill summer vibes that were lacking in the K-Pop scene as other groups tackled stronger summer concepts. The track still charted highly, coming in at number nine and number six on the aforementioned charts, respectively.
The trilogy was concluded with “Whatcha’ Doin’ Today?,” released in early 2014. It became the group’s first single to debut at number one in Korea and garnered them a music show win on SBS’s Inkigayo, notably beating out 2NE1 and Girls’ Generation, demonstrating just how huge the group had come to be. The music video’s blatant sexuality and shiny style is still positively shocking, even by today’s standards. Along the same line, HyunA came out with her single “Red,” which made a lasting impression, landing at number five on American publication Rolling Stone’s list of Top 10 music videos of 2014. We also saw the second and latest comeback of Troublemaker with “Now.” Undoubtedly, this track was also positively received in Korea, reaching number one on 10 different Korean music charts.
In 2015, 4Minute released the track of their career, but before that, they initiated their comeback with their first ever ballad single, “Cold Rain.” With this, the group was able to show their musical and conceptual versatility. Though ballads are not usually as widely received as more upbeat title tracks, “Cold Rain” fulfilled fans’ fantasies of the group embracing a slower, sadder concept. The group left a strong impression of a group full of grown women. It also set us up for a complete flip of concept with, debatably, the biggest song of the entire year.
“Crazy” was, indeed, a crazy track. The song launched the accompanying EP to number one on Billboard’s World Albums Chart and ranked number six on the publication’s list of top 20 K-Pop songs of 2015—number one for girl groups. All details of this comeback were immaculate—from the choreography to the monochromatic music video to the outfits prepared for each music show performance. It’s one of the most recognizable K-Pop songs ever and it skyrocketed 4Minute to the level of frenzy that was deserved years ago.
Additionally, HyunA also released one of the best songs of the year with “Because I’m The Best” featuring BTOB’s Jung Ilhoon. CUBE really nailed the concepts for this group and its members this year, the group’s popularity boosting the company’s credibility as a contender for top idol company.
However, “Crazy” also marked the beginning of the end for the group. Rumors began circulating that the group’s fate depended on the performance of their following release, despite “Crazy”’s popularity. Disregarding the pressure and anticipation surrounding it, “Hate” came out in early 2016 to mixed reactions. The track proved to be more popular to international audiences, most likely due to its Western influence as the beat was produced by American producer Skrillex. There’s no doubt that “Hate” is one of the most epic tracks in the genre, with the chorus abruptly flipping the switch on the more dubstep ballad-like verses; it’s blaring and angry and demands your attention. Sadly, that did not prove to be very appealing to Korean audiences, causing the song to chart fairly low compared to their previous releases. Since then, the track has aged well and has become more tolerable, if not appealing, for some.
Although likely due to other external factors, Act.7’s lackluster performance on the charts solidified the group’s decision to disband just days short of their seven-year anniversary. With other prominent groups of the same generation disbanding or losing members, 4Minute’s demise was disappointing, but not surprising. That being said, the ex-members are looking happy and healthy. HyunA and Jiyoon (now known as JENYER) continue to release solo music, while Gayoon, Sohyun, and Jihyun have ventured into acting. The iconic girl group gave us a plethora of timeless hits, and thus we should be thankful for the years they gave us. We hope that we continue to see the ex-members achieve great things. Whenever we hear a 4Minute song, we can’t help but to pump up the volume!
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