The TLF executive offices have been writing about how much we like 2ne1, the Korean K-pop girl group for some time. For example: The Learned Fangirl Discusses 2NE1; ‘Cause I’m So Bad, Bad, But I’m So Good, Good: Minzy; Guide for the Perplexed: Kpop; and Guide for the Perplexed: The Baddest Female Seoul City Ever Had: The Rise of Korean Rappers. We are rooting for 2ne1 to have the worldwide success that they should have — and would already have, but for their songs being sung in Korean rather than English.*
But finally, finally, 2ne1 seems to be getting their due in the United States. Thanks to a clever new commercial for the Surface Pro, this group of four — CL (singer/rapper/leader), Minzy (triple threat: singer/rapper/dancer), Bom (hook singer); and Dara (singer of the cute parts) has recently had their song, I Am the Best, climb the charts in the U.S. for a song released over three years ago.
A couple of days ago, the song hit #1 in on the Billboard World Digital Songs chart, and their music video for the song hit 100 million views. This past weekend, leader CL joined Twitter, setting off a firestorm of speculation, particularly in her choice of follows (i.e. Psy manager/destroyer of Keidra’s childhood Scooter Braun)
As an example of how well 2ne1 works within a global music scene influenced by hip-hop, punk, the music of the Caribbean, rock, R&B, and pop, Brazilian DJ, DJ Masa’s over four year old mashup of 2ne1 with Santigold sounds like it is a licensed remix for both groups.
That is not to say that 2ne1 hasn’t had missteps. Their recent releases weren’t haven’t been up to par: CL’s solo single was full-on booty, not even worthy of a Nicki Minaj re-re-re-remix and their group releases weren’t bad, but were mid-tempo ballads that could have come from almost any current K-Pop group.
Suggestion #1: Release Hate You in English. Beloved by both of us — and four year olds with expansive musical tastes, Hate You could be the song that makes 2ne1 happen in the English speaking market. It’s got an irresistable hook/chorus and it just drips with ‘tude and it sounds like a U.S. pop hit. (It actually sounds like a Ke$ha song – please don’t hit me! – kdc)
Suggestion #2: Keep their edgy style. One of the things that made 2ne1 stand out from the K-Pop pack is their swagger and their bold hip-hop/club kid influenced style. “Soft” is not why we love them so don’t make them softer for the U.S.
Suggestion #3: Hook them up with a hot U.S. star. The group was featured in an Adidas commercial with the aforementioned Nicki Minaj in 2012, and some kind of featured spot on a remix (with her or someone similar) would only help to cement their appeal in the U.S. (Just please, no Ariana Grande.)
One of the big roadblocks with 2ne1 – or any K-Pop artist, really – is the lazy music journalist’s tendency to lump all Asian pop in the same “weird” category, not giving it real consideration as a legit genre, but mostly look at the music and performers as an odd but colorful curiosity (see Babymetal or SNSD’s fizzled attempt at mainstream U.S. success). We worry about that with 2ne1. They are a legit girl group and they slay live. Their music and performance style would translate well here. But we know it’s not that easy. Not is there issue of fighting people’s cartoonish, big anime-eyed perceptions of Asian pop, but the pop music industry in the U.S. loves to suppress anything that makes a female performer relatively interesting. So… we are excited, but wary.
Good luck 2ne1. We remain your fans either way.
*For fans only: Just so we don’t get any hyped up Blackjacks in the comments, yes, we realize that they have already had a few songs with English versions, but they were still marketed to a non-English speaking audience — like Big Bang’s songs in English released only in Japan.