That South Korean girl group 4Minute started 2015 with a self-conscious “revamp” of their brand isn’t surprising; this kind of maneuver is seen often in the landscape of K-pop. Just as the recent evolutionary timeline of the region’s popular music represents a condensed version of that of its western influence, the artists who populate this scene tend to progress their narratives quickly, launching “mini-album” campaigns several times a year that emphasize an awareness of whatever the current trend. For 4Minute especially, this tact has always seemed arbitrary: ever since their most high profile member, HyunA, started to find success as a solo artist (and with her 2011 single “Bubble Pop” and its sex-bomb music video, become something of an ambassador to the K-pop world at large), the quintet has struggled to find a compelling identity, rarely sounding as cutting edge as their high profile would suggest and often faring worse than groups with virtually none of their name recognition. But with this latest campaign, 4Minute instantly garnered attention by leading off with a ballad, a rather unusual move for them. And while Crazy, their sixth mini-album, doesn’t ultimately represent a huge departure, it does remain true to that initial impression of being a release with the potential to reshape opinions on the group. Unsurprisingly, it accomplishes this by co-opting two of the most progressive aesthetics in K-pop right now, which aren’t all that different from each other anyway: The hip-hop swagger of recent HyunA singles like last year’s “Red,” and the genre mix-and-match facility of 2014’s most talked-about K-pop full-length, 2NE1’s Crush. 4Minute may lack the diversity of vocal talent that can be claimed by K-pop’s reigning girl groups, but their latest effort steals from all the right people and compliments its expertly curated sound with whip-smart craft.
4Minute may lack the diversity of vocal talent that can be claimed by K-pop’s reigning girl groups, but their latest effort steals from all the right people and compliments its expertly curated sound with whip-smart craft.
Dive-bombing opener “Crazy” hurtles itself through boom-bap verses, club-ready EDM flourishes and the strange snake-charmer affect of its chorus . It’s perhaps the first real banger, K-pop or otherwise, of 2015. 4Minute’s label, Cube Entertainment, is promoting the song as a show of pointed disinterest in pandering to male, idol-obsessive fans (a feat they think can be accomplished, I guess, by making trap music). Even more successful is “Stop at the First Verse,” which does accommodate 4Minute’s pop audience some by pairing its all-rapped verses with an angelic, hopscotching chorus that sounds like “Superbass” sung by a five-strong phalanx of elated divas. This kind of managed schizophrenia generally dominates Crazy, but the more conventional, aforementioned ballad, “Cold Rain,” remains the set’s highlight. Saved for the end of this concise six-song package, its soft-rock plushness provides a perfect come-down from the preceding spiky hybridized electro-pop, and still finds room for a rap verse and a busy piano melody. The girls’ vocals are braided together but leant just enough individual character by the track’s deft mix to keep from sounding too homogenized, an effect similar to that deployed all over Fifth Harmony’s just-released Reflection. Tag-teaming vocals have always been 4Minute’s secret weapon, but they haven’t been deployed this well in ages, and more even than Crazy’s daring genre experimentation, it’s the group’s ability to reclaim their distinctive voice on this mini-album that makes it an early standout for 2015.