The Learned Fangirl Discusses 2NE1

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We, your Learned Fangirls, are trying out something a bit different with this post, our first The Learned Fangirl discusses — post.

2ne1 is an Korean pop group that recently had their first concerts in the U.S. Considering our interest in Kpop, and the recent global interest in the viral video Gangnam Style, we will be discussing 2ne1 and the hallyu wave — Korean pop culture as a spreadable phenomenon.

2ne1’s concert last week was noticed by mainstream media, including the New York Times, but we will be taking a way more fandom perspective — as our readers expect!

KDC: First, R, I want to say thank you for getting me into K-Pop. One of the things that I like about team TLF is that collectively we are open to things outside of our comfort zone, and while I have long been a sucker for pop music on different levels, it was your knowledge of K-Pop that prompted me to take a closer look musically. One of the things I have enjoyed seeing in the past year or so is the slow movement of K Pop towards the mainstream; now with Gangnam Style/Psy making waves over the internets, we’re really seeing the Hallyu Wave take hold here on some level.

2NE1 in particular fascinates me, because of all of the K-Pop girl groups, they seem the most familiar to me. They seem to have more in common with an old school U.S. 90’s group like TLC, with their R & B and hip-hop tinged pop than a group like SNSD. I think they have the most potential break here because, and I hate to say it, they seem more “American” in their style and presentation. As I’ve mentioned before to you, CL in particular has the kind of swag and star quality that could potentially make her a big crossover hit here, and I honestly think some of the racial/ethnic barriers that may have made that harder for an artist like her several years ago aren’t quite there now.

R: Just like you’ve influenced my musical taste, I’m glad to have the opportunity to do the same for you! And 2ne1 definitely has a chance to make in big in the U.S. and other English speaking countries — their sound is much more world-focused and less structured towards Korean ears only. Your shout out to TLC is very apt, like the crazy (Left Eye), sexy (Chilli), cool (T-Boz) of days of yore, each member of 2ne1 has an overall role within the group — CL as the leader/rapper, Dara as cool, Minzy as the dancing tomboy, and Bom as the sexy around the way girl.

And that was something I wanted to discuss — how the U.S. music press, like the NY Times article linked above has been doing something very similar to the crazy Japan thing with much of the coverage of this monumental tour. While Wondergirls tried to break the U.S. market two years ago and Big Bang (with T.O.P.’s Yogi Bear style rapping) will also be doing two U.S. tour dates, the music of 2ne1 isn’t that different from much mainstream U.S. pop music — and is partially in English and sometimes entirely in English!

I can’t remember if it was a review of Corrosion of Conformity, or Boris, or Dillinger Escape Plan, but about two years ago there was a mainstream music article by a writer that just did not get it — and you stopped reading mainstream reviews of bands you like. And I wonder if that will be true for K-pop groups who will be seen as novelty acts, rather than the highly talented artists that they are. Not liking the music is one thing, but completely missing Bom’s aegyo (similar to kawaii in Japanese pop culture) is like going to a drag show and not realizing that it is a stylized performance.

KDC: I am pretty sure it was a Converge review, I but I don’t remember. Yes, I am with you, one of my big problems with mainstream rock journalism these days is that it’s written from such a narrow insular perspective, if it’s not from the traditional rock/punk canon, than its reviewed as “other,” as a curiosity, rather than a subgenre with its own canon. Since the same small pool of “rockist” journalists/music writers are hired to cover music subgenres across the board, the reviews come off as withering or patronizing, rather than informative. That’s why many of the niche blogs (I’m thinking of metal blogs like Invisible Oranges or K-Pop blogs like SeoulBeats to focus on our preferred niches) do SO much of a better job of covering and reviewing these subgenres than mainstream media.

R: The one thing that 2ne1 (or really their management company) needs to be very careful  about is picking the writer of their English language material. This was a big-to-do for both Girls’ Generation and Wondergirls, who never seemed to have struck the right note with their English-language releases. But 2ne1 has had a long-term partnership with Teddy Park, who has written most of their songs. They also have a thing with, so that also may be fruitful.

But the way that BOA’s all English album fell flat, despite having many of the same songwriters/producers of Britney and her ilk gives me pause. Oddly enough, Big Bang’s entirely in English songs that were on their Japanese releases are a great example of how 2ne1 with the right material could make it huge in the English speaking world.

But that also brings me to another reason for concern with the possible success of 2ne1 — or any other K-pop group — an underlying racism that claims that Asian artists can’t sing or dance the right way. Or aren’t sexy, though I think that will be a larger problem for male groups like Big Bang than for 2ne1, considering the differential stereotype-based standards for Asian femininities and masculinities.

KDC: Yes, I think there’s still a very racialized view of pop stardom in the U.S., and I agree that it’s gonna be harder for the music industry to present Big Bang as fantasy fodder for teen girls, the last non-white boy band that really broke was New Edition TWO MILLION YEARS AGO.

We have more of a history of women of color breaking some ground in the pop world, and as Latoya Peterson pointed out on Racialicious a while ago, the over-the-top style and personality of a performer like Nicki Minaj makes what 2NE1 is doing much more familiar to U.S. audiences, and they can use that to their unique advantage. That, and their knack for killer pop songs could be the thing that breaks them. I am really rooting for them, they are the kind of group I would have been OBSESSED with as a preteen, I genuinely like their music. But also, a success for them may open up the pop market to other non U.S. acts, not just from Korea, but elsewhere.

R: I agree that 2ne1 has the potential to make it on a broader stage. But if they don’t make it here, they will at least be like Kylie Minogue, huge everywhere but the U.S..

One final note — my quasi-in-house arbiter of all things pop music of today for the pre-school crowd who loves Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and Katy Perry is newly obsessed with 2ne1, especially I Am the Best, I Hate You, and Lollipop. If she can seek out this music, I’m hopeful that pop fans who are older can do the same!

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