To celebrate the launch of our new Korean sister site which went live this weekend, today we're investigating the cultural influence and innovation of the country's most exciting creatives. Explore the world of K-pop with new interviews with B.A.P, Taeyang and 4minute, meet Snowpiercer actress Ko Ah-sung and take a look at North Korea's life online. Check back here for more throughout the day.
It's almost hard to believe that girl group 4Minute debuted way back in 2009 with “Hot Issue”, which, arguably, has to be top ten in the list of formidable first releases in K-pop. Six years later and they're still one of Korea’s most beloved girl groups with 2013's "What's Your Name?" landing them in the bestsellers of the year. The band’s most recognisable member HyunA also happens to feature in the most viewed YouTube video of all time – “Gangnam Style”. PSY returned the favour with an appearance in her saucy solo video “Ice Cream”.
As a five-piece, 4minute have maintained a girl power edge over their contemporaries with consistently hooky dancepop that pairs a winking strut with sweet aggressiveness, with image changes from the colourful to the bad girl, the glorious vamps of “Volume Up” and glittery cheekiness in “Whatcha Doin' Today?” 4Minute's risqué image has proved divisive for their home audiences, resulting in their songs banned from music shows on two occasions, and HyunA’s monster hit “Bubble Pop” slapped with a 19+ rating. Meanwhile, the group has spawned 2YOON – the Gayoon/Jiyoon sub-unit – whose single "24/7" and mini-album Harvest Moon experimented with synth rock and country & western, and both Sohyun (with her first film Hwangu) and Jihyun have dipped further into acting.
We speak to the women just after their first European showcases in Sweden and Spain in May, as they’re about to vanish into a whirlwind of solo projects, and they take us to a fantasy place where they're getting 12 hours all to themselves, scripting their own reality show, and have turned into ice creams.
There were so many crazy scenes in your most recent video “Whatcha Doin' Today” – from from spanking twerking maids to boy-on-boy kisses. Which was your favourite?
Jihyun: The sunglasses scene. We were able to make more exaggerated expressions because our lips were the focus.
Gayoon: It was the sunglasses scene for me also. It was the first time 4Minute could add comical elements in a music video. It was fun shooting it and I laughed so hard when I watched it back.
Sohyun: The insane dancing scene. It was so much fun to shoot and it's still fun to watch.
HyunA: We blended comical elements into the song and music video, so it was all fun. Definitely something fresh.
“Whatcha Doin' Today” is about taking a break to have some fun. What would you do with 12 hours to do it in?
Jihyun: Hiking, cooking, stroll along the Han river, getting a Thai massage, to play with my pet. I really want to cycle along the beach!
Gayoon: I want to plan out everything ahead of time and do ordinary stuff like shopping or dining with no rush.
Sohyun: Taking lessons, and watching all the movies and TV shows I missed.
Jiyoon: I want to travel around.
HyunA: Mmm... maybe get a full rest at home or go out for delicious food.
4minute achieved music show wins from “Whatcha Doin' Today” but how do you celebrate?
HyunA: Since we all like to eat, we had a good meal together.
Jihyun: We usually go for Korean BBQ with our staff and dancers.
Gayoon: And play fun games! Sohyun can party till late and is full of energy.
Jihyun: The party girl is Sohyun!
Sohyun: We're all party girls!
What was the biggest challenge you faced personally in making you most recent mini-album 4minute World?
Jihyun: There was a time I had to record by myself because of the schedule in movie shooting. That was one lonely recording session.
Gayoon: Among all the challenges, it was the wardrobe as I was styling the group. The 2014 S/S pieces were hard to get in and out of Korea.
Sohyun: It was fun making the album but it was a bit upsetting that we couldn’t appear on many TV shows.
Jiyoon: I think there was some difficulty along the line of self-development.
HyunA: For me there was no big challenge since we had a meeting every day, which helped.
Jiyoon, your song for (Thai actor/singer) James Jirayu came out earlier this year. What do you want to achieve from writing?
Jiyoon: It was a great opportunity and an honour to work with him. I want to continue to write songs and would really like to produce an album.
Earlier this year you released the single “Only Gained Weight” – an upbeat song but with frank lyrics about eating and drinking to get through the pain of a breakup. Have you been through this before?
Jihyun: Yes! Of course.
Gayoon: The lyrics are realistic, so whoever listens to it will make them stop (eating and drinking too much). I’ve felt this way before, but it was a long time ago.
Sohyun: If you are a woman, they will get the song right away. I have an experience of only gaining weight.
Jiyoon: I always feel like I’m gaining weight!
HyunA: I found the lyrics interesting. But it was quite different from who I am.
HyunA, you did recently a skit for Funny Or Die with Rita Ora. What was that like?
HyunA: Rita has been one of my favourite singers and I was very excited to see her. After meeting her I like her even more! She took care of me by making me comfortable.
You've said you're not that close to other groups outside of your label. Who would you like to get to know better?
Jihyun: I'd want to get to know someone who is older or is the same age as me.
Gayoon: I want to get to know all of them. All the artists go up on a stage at the end of a (music) show and if I am close with everyone, it won’t be awkward anymore.
Sohyun: I want to get close with people who want to get to know me.
A 4Minute reality show would be great. What kind of show could you see yourselves doing?
HyunA: We want to do it! We'd love to show the natural side of 4Minute.
Jihyun: I'd like to do a travel show where every member can show her charms!
Gayoon: I want to travel different countries with the girls where we can create memories and meet our fans.
Sohyun: Something around travelling or gourmet food.
Jiyoon: I'd like a travelling show as well.
"We have each other’s back and what we enjoy multiplies when we are together" – Sohyun
Since you only do one comeback a year how much do you see each other when you're not doing 4minute?
Jihyun: We have frequent get togethers.
Gayoon: We often see each other but we also have time on our own where we get lessons and rest, but I think when it comes to delicious foods, we tend to go together.
Sohyun: We get together a lot because it’s comfortable and we like that.
HyunA: I think it feels like we see each other every day. (laughs)
Your Stockholm and Barcelona showcases are done, so what's planned next? Will there be more shows this year? Or a 2YOON comeback?
Gayoon: Nothing’s set. But we have a dream to hold concerts in various countries. Nothing is set for 2YOON as of yet, but I am sure there will be a time in the future where fans can see us once again.
Sohyun: I hope to hold a headlining concert in Korea.
Jiyoon: I'm also hoping for a 2YOON comeback!
You are a group in its sixth year – apart from the music, why have 4Minute have been able to continue with such strength?
Gayoon: Definitely teamwork. We have love for every album we make and the drive behind it all is our dream and passion.
Sohyun: We have each other’s back and what we enjoy multiplies when we are together.
HyunA: Plus we consolidated the style of 4Minute by experimenting with different sounds throughout the years.
Finally a random question: if you were a flavour of ice-cream, what flavour would you be, and why?
Gayoon: Mint Chocolate. It's the favour people have the strongest love/hate for. I think I'm like that as well. I'm very clear on what I like and what I don’t like. So I have a lot of passion and interests in something that I like but I am negligent in something that I don’t like.
Sohyun: Strawberry. Tangy, yet sweet and also I don’t know when I will get the bite of a strawberry chunk. I want to define myself as a person with surprise and expectation.
Jiyoon: Chocolate. Just because it’s my favourite flavour!
HyunA: I don’t want to define myself with one flavour. I love variety like the 31 flavours from Baskin Robbins.
Follow Taylor Glasby on Twitter here @_xtgx