140319_seoulbeats_4minuteComing back with their seventh mini-album, Act. 7, 4Minute marks their seventh year since debut, when they burst into the industry back in 2009. Having stayed true to the ‘tough girl’ concept that they debuted with, 4Minute has been able to kind of establish themselves in the K-pop industry.

First debuting with their hit single “Hot Issue,” 4Minute was awarded the Newcomers Award at the 2009 Golden Disk Awards. With this relatively successful debut, they then went on to release several mini-albums in the following years, each with singles that gained some moderate attention and recognition – HuH, Volume Up and What’s Your Name, just to name a few. But this seemed to be the trend for 4Minute – they were always just kind of getting up there but then falling just short of being spectacular.

With their last two comebacks, Whatcha Doin’ Today and Crazy, it looked like things were finally looking up for 4Minute. Whatcha Doin’ Today topped charts in South Korea for the first time, and Crazy debuted at the top of Billboard’s World Albums Chart. But with Act. 7, instead of striking while the metal was hot, it feels like 4Minute has plateaued rather than continue on their upward trajectory, once again fizzling out before they could properly ignite.

So what exactly has gone wrong with 4Minute’s career? They seem to have been stuck in a stage of perpetual limbo – better than B-list groups, but never quite being able to firmly establish themselves as a top female group in K-pop.

20150731_seoulbeats_4minute_hyuna2Firstly, there is the problem of Hyuna. This is by no fault of Hyuna’s nor any of the girls, but Cube Entertainment’s instead. By launching Hyuna’s solo career so closely on the tails of 4Minute’s debut, this resulted in the focus of public’s attention on Hyuna rather than on 4Minute as a group.

Consequently, 4Minute has, for the longest time, felt very much like ‘Hyuna and the Girls’ rather than a group with five members of equal standing. Before 4Minute had had a chance to settle into their own skin, Cube Entertainment was already foisting new identities on them in the form of Hyuna’s solo career.

This situation was only aggravated as Hyuna continued on with her solo career that became progressively more successful than 4Minute’s, especially after her involvement in Psy’s 2012 hit, “Gangnam Style.” Perhaps realizing that the other members of 4Minute also needed some kind of exposure, Cube Entertainment came up with the sub-unit 2Yoon, consisting of Ji-yoon and Ga-yoon. Although this seemed like a step in the right direction, 2Yoon only managed to enjoy moderate success, similar to that of 4Minute’s rather than on the scale of Hyuna’s solo career.

This brings us back, once again, to the importance of Crazy’s success. When it had seemed like 4Minute’s golden hour was past, Crazy put 4Minute back in the running, giving them the chance to finally seal their position as an A-lister. It is clear that Act. 7, particularly with “Hate,” is  keen on mirroring the style of “Crazy,” with its EDM influences. But somehow, it fell flat, with the music coming across confused.

20160205_seoulbeats_4minute_hate_4As a company, Cube Entertainment seems to have had less than stellar performances in term of management. Cube’s groups all seem to have been hovering in the limbo stage of almost A-listers, with the exception of BEAST; the label’s other groups such as APink, BtoB and CLC all seem to have had rather inconsistent successes in their music. With BtoB, it seems like the group’s youngest member Yook Sung-jae is receiving way more attention than his other members, having been on multiple popular programs including King of Masked Singer and We Got Married. Is BtoB headed down the same path as 4Minute and is this an indication of a trend in Cube Entertainment’s artist management?

With all these questions in mind, this then begs the greater question of what exactly is Cube Entertainment doing? It does not seem to be the case in which the company is neglecting 4Minute in favor of its other groups – if anything, none of the groups seem to be getting sufficient attention. Is Cube Entertainment stretching itself too thin? In any case, with so many groups that have already debuted, Cube Entertainment has no choice but to continue plodding along. But perhaps the company should consider some kind of restructuring, or at least a re-look at how it is currently managing its artists.

Going back to 4Minute, we must ask, then, where is the group headed now? Given their current status, disbandment is most likely out of question. Even with Act. 7 receiving mixed reactions, 4Minute has a strong enough fan-base to support them no matter what.

With that out of the way, I would say, sadly, that it seems likely that 4Minute is going to continue on its streak of almost-there-ness. Perhaps their next album could be a hit again like how Crazy was, but unless Cube is able to keep up with consistency in producing hits as well as improve its management of the group, it seems unlikely that 4Minute will ever be able to soar.

(Cube Entertainment, OsenBillboard)