The group formerly known as 4TEN are back with three new members, one new single, and a brand new outlook.
In a world where girl groups are put into one of two boxes as being “cute” or “sexy,” POTEN’s new song, “Go Easy” (“SalSalHae”) is difficult to categorize. In the [translated] words of group leader Hyeji:
“Our song isn’t exactly sexy. The lyrics don’t really suggest that. We ask our lover (in the song) to not rush so we can have a sincere love. Since debut, I’ve wanted to try out different concepts. And ‘SalSalHae’ emphasizes our feminine charm rather than being a sexy concept.”
This diversity in conceptual interest is reflected in the new track, which is at once sensual and charming, jazzy and pop-oriented, sultry and sprightly. Some girl groups have become known for having a particular sound or look – whether that’s f(x)’s EDM or Apink’s cutesy charm – and the benefit of starting fresh, particularly as a nugu, is that you get to experiment a bit.
The music video features the five girls in love with a man from whom they’re stealing jewelry, gadgets, and money. It ends with a “Thelma and Louise” style dash through the city streets, towards the stolen car they’ve stashed away on the outskirts of town. Some plot points may be difficult to miss between close-up shots of the girls looking seductively at the camera, but you’ll be forgiven if your priority isn’t in following the storyline.
Now, I’ve been a fan of POTEN since they first debuted last August; the Western pop-oriented “Tornado” (which, as a sidebar, was recorded at the same location as some scenes in “Go Easy”) was extremely accessible to my American ears, becoming one of my most-played KPop songs of 2014. Their January 2015 follow-up, “Why,” was far more chipper – almost saccharine – but followed the same general musical formula as its predecessor. That comeback, in my opinion, helped solidify rapper Tem as one of the quickest-tongued rappers in the KPop game and properly showcased leader and main vocalist Hyeji’s powerful vocals. But both songs failed to gain much traction with the Korean public, and as it turns out, led to a rift in the group.
According to group member Hyejin (not to be confused with leader Hyeji), the girls have really been through the gauntlet since then. After the group’s two rappers, Tem and Eujin, left the group due to creative differences, Hyejin says “I thought POTEN would disband. The company also thought that the situation wasn’t good. I suffered a lot mentally. I saw other girl groups which debuted at the same time as us, but appeared more often on TV And I wondered, what am I doing?”
We all know how difficult it is for a new group (particularly without the backing of one of the big companies) to make an impression in the KPop scene; to hear about the trials directly from one of the girls is almost heartbreaking, particularly when the group is one you’ve been invested in from the start.
A joyous occasion, then, when they announced this third single. Now known as POTEN (4Ten was always a play on the word “potential,” but without exactly four members the pun no longer made sense), the group has a somewhat different sound – I would almost say more respectful of Korea’s particular style of pop music – but relies still on the same formula: a low-key introduction builds into a catchy first chorus, followed by a rap section, then back into the second chorus.
The similarity begs for comparison, and unfortunately “Go Easy” doesn’t stand up well against “Tornado” and “Why.” The chorus is catchy, yes, but isn’t the ear-worm of “you’re just like a tornado” repeated ad nauseam. New rapper Heeo is good, but she just doesn’t demonstrate the same chops as Tem had (to Heeo’s credit, she had gigantic shoes to fill). And the choreography – which, in fairness, has never been the group’s strong point – is lacking here in that it doesn’t fit the upbeat nature of the song.
Ultimately, I wouldn’t rank “Go Easy” as highly as I would “Tornado” – one of my favorite songs of 2014 – or “Why,” one of my favorites from the first half of 2015. But when you stan for a nugu, you can’t let perfect be the enemy of the good – and in POTEN’s case, you just have to be happy they came back at all. It seems POTEN has been through a lot over the past six months, and “Go Easy” is the culmination of that adversity. My hope is that this single will do well enough to carry the group into a new era so they may continue building their new brand.
Please join me in cheering for POTEN, who have demonstrated a capacity for overcoming hardship as they try to make it big!