This month sees the comeback of one of K-pop’s more overlooked girl groups, 4Minute! After releasing a slew of gothic inspired teaser photos, 4Minute dropped their comeback EP Volume Up. Volume Up sees 4Minute deliver a cleaner sound, with the production being some of the best by Cube since BEAST‘s ‘Fiction’. But, does this new subdued style work for 4Minute? Michelle and I look at their comeback EP from two different points of view, the opinion of someone who admittedly hasn’t been too hot for 4Minute’s past material, and the view of a 4Minute stan (yes, they exist apparently).
Ree: I’m sure, you guys are very… special. Then again, I’m the one who likes the twins from Boyfriend, so maybe I shouldn’t be talking. In all seriousness though, I’ll admit to not being the biggest fan of 4Minute’s music beforehand. To be honest, they were sort of my K-pop girl group butt-monkey (next to f(x)). What really turned me off was how their music seemed to be a cluttered mess, all flash and no substance. I mean, I admit to loving ‘HuH’, ‘Mirror Mirror’, and begrudgingly liking ‘I My Me Mine’, but as a whole they never clicked for me. You know how some songs just get to you because they’re stunning yet unassuming? Well, 4Minute was the opposite.
Michelle: The things is, I can understand that. 4Minute started off with that flashy (and superficially so) kind of style and musically, they really haven’t done a lot to leave that — until now, that is. The change from “Hot Issue” to “Muzik” wasn’t really apparent, save for some refinement showing through. “Huh” was different, but the rest of that EP didn’t do a lot apart from grow a lot heavier (which was quite apparent in the composition — except for maybe “Bababa”). However, I enjoyed their music partially because it was so blatantly flashy and really not much else. They had a musical style that I enjoyed and also stayed relatively consistent. It was only natural that I’d cling onto them. That, and there’s that classic nostalgic loyalty that comes with them being the first K-Pop girl group I bothered to look deeply into.
Ree: Actually, that consistency is something I kinda (sorta) appreciated, and I think that clutter and ‘edge’, I guess you could call it, is somewhat staple for the 4Minute sound. And that might be what’s bothering me about this EP, but I’ll get into that later. First up is the intro track ‘Get On the Floor‘. I think it was a good idea to keep it short, because it seems like the type of song that’d end up not going anywhere if left to its devices for more than two minutes. However, since it’s short and sweet it gives us a good idea of what the rest of the EP will be like and flows nicely into the title track ‘Volume Up’. It’s a short and sassy track, Jiyoon does her staple shouting during the chorus, and it works pretty well for this song really, since it’s so heavy to begin with.
Michelle: It’s interesting that you’d choose to describe ‘Get On the Floor’ that way. What casual listeners (or don’t-listen-at-all) happen to miss is that the short opening track is pretty much a 4Minute thing. Every album they’ve put out so far has had an ‘introductory track’ which does exactly that — gives us an idea of what the rest of EP may consist of. I’d also say that it’s part of what why I like 4Minute. Cube seems to make an effort to put together 4Minute’s albums as if they are meant to be listened from the beginning to the end — as if they are a full work instead of a random compilation. I know that most people don’t do that, they generally choose one track and put it on replay if they like it. Back on track though, I’ve always liked 4Minute’s intro tracks (sometimes more than the full-length songs) and ‘Get On the Floor’ is no different.
Ree: Okay, and now we have the title track ‘Volume Up’, and this is the song that’s making me scratch my head. It has great production, the vocals are clean and gentle, and the instrumental is really pretty, yet the song goes straight through me and it’s really weak. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think the reason why is that it’s too clean. They’ve cleaned up and smoothed out every bit of this song to the point where there’s no ‘edge’. There’s no 4Minute flavour, it’s completely linear. I appreciate the fact they sound good on the song, but it’s as if you’ve taken all the cookies out of cookies and cream. Nothing about this song commands your attention, and I’ve found myself replaying it over and over simply to remember what it sounds like. The verses delivered by Gayoon are smooth and build suspense, but the bridge and pre-chorus just seem so basic and anti-climatic. That’s really all I have to say, that and the fact I will give my love to anyone who manages to edit Hyuna’s annoying rap out of the song.
Michelle: To be honest, I can understand that. 4Minute does well with compositions that are filled with heavy synths and strong beats and ‘Volume Up’ tones it down and adds an overlay of saxophone. Any acoustic instrument is really a stranger to 4Minute, but I think in this instance, it was plenty to give them a new twist. Whether or not ‘Volume Up’ is as weak as you say though, I have to disagree. I think the thought of it being weaker can be attributed to that somewhat minimalistic sound it’s channelling, especially in the instrumental break in the bridge, however, the fact that the appeal is subtle also makes it strong. What ‘Volume Up’ does really well though, I think, is give Gayoon and Jiyoon’s vocals a proper spotlight. They’ve been subjected to vocoder and autotune like in ‘I MY ME MINE’ where Gayoon’s extended note was ended a tad messily with distortion. Despite this significantly cleaner sound though, I still feel that 4Minute still manages to channel their original style through this track.
Ree: Next we have the mini-album’s ballad ‘I’m Okay’. Once again, the instrumental is very pretty, and the girls actually sound good on it. For what it is, it’s a nice song, a slow R&B ballad to show to people that 4Minute do have some voices worthy of a nod. I’m giving great props to the production team for this song, because the vocals are treated with a gentle finesse. Gayoon especially actually sounds decent, despite being my favourite member of 4Minute, I will readily admit that Gayoon’s voice does become a bit too big and grating for me at times, especially on ballads. However, when she’s just singing without pushing too hard, she does have a decent timbre.
Michelle: I think ‘I’m Okay’ is a ballad which finally does 4Minute justice. 4Minute has tackled ballads in the past and they really haven’t produced something groundbreaking in terms of quality, especially since they’ve come off as rather weak and thin. ‘I’m Okay’ has a richer arrangement which really works in the girls’ favour. Gayoon is really a gem here too, I have to agree. Hyuna’s singing though, I will always question a little. She’s not bad really, but she comes off a little more nasal than I would prefer — especially in a song like this, which needs smoother vocals.
Ree: Next up we have ‘Say My Name’, and this is the only song on the album that actually made me stop what I was doing so I could replay it. It still has the traces of that 4Minute edge that I was sort of craving for, and it has a dark and almost exotic flavour to it. On top of that, the cleanness which I was previously complaining about works to it’s advantage here, it’s like the guys over at Cube finally found a balance between that 4Minute edge and keeping their songs clean with actual direction. I’ll dub this one of my favourite 4Minute songs ever, it really has everything going for it — high energy, catchy, clean, but still edgy. Fingers crossed that Cube decide to cross-promote it, because it would make a great lead single.
Michelle: I think that you’ve pretty much expressed it perfectly, although I’d also say that ‘Say My Name’ has a kind of more distinctly oriental feel to it, both in the melody and the underlying arrangement which would be why it has an exotic feel to it. The part of it that is most ‘4Minute’-esque for me though, would be that steady drumbeat throughout. It’s something that 4Minute has never lost and with it so strong in this track, it really does bring back ‘Huh’ vibes, which are of course, ever welcome.
Ree: Next up is ‘Femme Fatale‘. The name connotes a mature and subtly dangerous sensuality, but the song is anything but . It has a good-enough chorus, but the whole song itself just seems to be walking around in circles and never really goes anywhere. The percussion is strong and it has conviction, but the arrangement is sloppy and just isn’t balanced.
Michelle: ‘Femme Fatale’ feels like 4Minute tried bringing fierce but ended up prolonging it in a bad way. I feel it’s really the result of the arrangement being more loaded. There are sections which tone down the intensity of the synths and switch around the chaotic mood – most notably the bridge after Hyuna’s somewhat pointless rap. The change is indeed a breath of fresh air, but it also ruins atmosphere of the song and that clash really doesn’t make ‘Femme Fatale’ as good a song as it could have been.
Ree: ‘Dream Racer‘ is another one of those songs that’s fine but never goes anywhere. The verses don’t interest me in the bit, and that talk-singing thing is something that I really dislike about songs. But the chorus is preppy and upbeat, and saves the song from falling through completely. Maybe if they kept that theme throughout the whole song I could have liked it more, unfortunately as soon as I kind of get into it Hyuna, Sohyun, and Jihyun come in with their incessant ‘sing-talk’. The song has potential to be a fun and playful jam, but falls a tad bit short.
Michelle: The talk-singing is something I’ve come to terms with, especially after I’ve subjected myself to f(x) employing it fairly frequently. What’s more, 4Minute hasn’t used it in copious amounts so ‘Dream Racer’ doesn’t come off as a recycled ear-sore.That aside, I think ‘Dream Racer’ brings along an appropriate 4Minute sass that has been notably missing in the previous tracks. It’s flashy and borders on messy, with a good chorus to anchor it all down. It’s definitely not the best song around, but it holds its own quite well, I believe.
Ree: ‘Black Cat‘ is a very dark but quirky song, and the girls sing their lines with an inherent cheekiness. It has a lot of character and 4Minute deliver very well. the chorus gets a bit redundant, but the verses and pre-chorus really are a gem and as a whole ‘Black Cat’ is a fun little ditty.
Michelle: This is track is quite new for 4Minute, especially since it has strong gothic influences. The composition is rather eerie but is also plenty playful, as would be expected when you consider the connotations of a cat. How necessary the rap-talk was can be debated in this instance. I guess we could pass it off as unnecessary, but it does contribute to the quirky and ominous atmosphere that is running through ‘Black Cat’. That aside, the vocals for ‘Black Cat’ are a perfect fit. We have more feminine tones from Jihyun and Gayoon working alongside Jiyoon’s richer vocals. Contrast has the potential of adding to a song but is also prone to working wrong. In ‘Black Cat’ though, even Hyuna’s almost-childish voice is a great fit. I don’t believe ‘Black Cat’ will be widely appealing, but it’s quirky and a little bit gothic and 4Minute delivers wonderfully well.
Ree: As a whole, the album honestly isn’t bad. But that being said, I didn’t find it great either. I’m glad 4Minute is going with the cleaner sound, and as shown by ‘Say My Name’ they can go with that sound yet still keeping the 4Minute edge, but certain songs *ahem*TITLE TRACK*ahem* fall victim to simply being a smooth run without any punch. This EP shows growth for 4Minute, and I appreciate it for that, however most of the songs went through me and only two really made me stop what I was doing. Nonetheless, the production for this album is really top notch, as is the vocal treatment, and I sincerely hope Cube continues that for their future material. I understand what 4Minute were trying to do with the album, and I like it for that, but whilst some songs are some of the best to come out of 4Minute’s womb, others go around in circles, and way too many simply leave me with ‘it’s okay’ as an opinion. This mini-album gets a 3/5 from me.
Michelle: For me, what I liked most about the album was the cohesion it had. I see too many an album, be it full-length or an EP with tracks which stick out like sore thumbs and no distinctive sound which ties everything together. ‘Volume Up’ might not be the same 4Minute people were hoping for, but the girls came back with noticeable musical growth and I certainly wouldn’t be disappointed to see them continue down the track. I’d give them a solid 4/5. And judge all you want, you’re talking to a stan, one who’s trying very hard to be unbiased.
Ree: It’s okay Michelle, I won’t judge you. Completely. I sort of already did all my judging when you tumbled out of the closet as a 4Minute stan.
Michelle: That must have been a shock. First person on the SB team who actually likes 4Minute.
Ree: Yo, I don’t hate them. I just think they’re capable of doing a lot better, sort of.