I woke up yesterday morning with no knowledge that breaking K-Pop news had transpired overnight. Like most millennials, I immediately grabbed my phone upon waking, laying in bed and scrolling through Facebook and Messenger.
“Why is 2NE1 trending?” I thought as I clicked through the mobile Facebook app. I assumed it was news of another CL English release, or could it be something related to Dara? Tragically naive, I continued to believe the news would be minor and only related to one member of the group. That is, until I saw the words “2NE1 Disbandment” come up across my screen. In disbelief, my fingers immediately closed the app. Is it actually happening? I raced to check major K-Pop news outlets for answers.
“YG Announces 2NE1’s Disbandment and Nam Tae Hyun’s Departure from WINNER,” the headlines read, and my heart sunk. Don’t get me wrong. As a Blackjack who felt the heartbreak of Minzy leaving a few months ago, the frustration of Bom’s scandal, and YG consistently delaying comebacks — as well as the sobering dread of consecutive disbandments and member leaves come out of this year — I was aware that 2NE1’s untimely breakup wasn’t too far off. As a result, I think my K-Pop fanboy emotional turmoil has been spread out across this year, so the blow of 2NE1’s disbandment was small in magnitude, but still sharp, painful, and cold.
Unlike many other dedicated K-Pop fans, my story with 2NE1 didn’t begin with their debut. I wasn’t actually made aware of 2NE1 until December of 2011, when I still thought K-Pop was over-autotuned garbage (sorry, I was a bratty middle-schooler). My friend Alice, insistent on proving me wrong, sat me down in front a computer screen at our town’s public library. I watched, skeptical and stubborn, as she pulled up “I Am the Best” and jammed her headphones in my ears. She pressed “play,” and my life was instantly changed.
To say I was absolutely amazed is more than an understatement. From the dazzling lights to the metallic outfits and shiny sets, I saw 2NE1 take music videos to a level that American pop stars rarely have. And the song — full of bombastic confidence, strong vocals, and unparalleled power — redefined my understanding of music. Until then, I was listening to the conventional mainstream American pop artists and, not to say that those artists aren’t talented or deserving of their fame, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with my music options. In my search for a musical identity, 2NE1 filled a large, gaping void with a more refined sound and visual than I believed Western music could offer. From that one, fateful day, I ran forward into the world of K-Pop and I haven’t looked back since.
Yes, I believe I missed out on being a Blackjack during 2NE1’s formative years. That didn’t stop me, however, from watching all of their old music videos and performances, getting to know each member, and watching the entirety of 2NE1TV as an optimistic grade-schooler. And I was not only amazed by their music and performance ability, but also by their style, by their confidence, by their boldness. I was amazed by the stunning music videos, by the colors and designs they wore in their clothes and hair, by the choreography they seamlessly danced through in beautiful, eye-catching sets. 2NE1 was sharp and powerful, but still beautiful and evocative. Something about them was so fresh and refined, like they had completely reinvented pop culture and fashion to support their own extraordinary style and swag.
No, 2NE1 was not K-Pop’s first “edgy” girl group — the most frequently cited counterargument to that claim is simply the existence and legacy of Brown Eyed Girls, another girl group I deeply respect. But 2NE1 had a lot to do with breaking the girl group standard. They mixed hard-hitting sounds with loud personalities and fun performances to make themselves visibly and audibly infectious. I was pulled in by 2NE1 because they gave off an an aura of their own, creating a certain vibe that was entirely unique to them in the competitive world of K-Pop girl groups.
Now, I’m not saying they ignored every rule of the girl group world. For one, they definitely capitalized on the hook song trend — while Girls’ Generation sang the words “gee” and “baby” in rapid repetition and Wonder Girls did the same with “Nobody,” 2NE1 followed a similar formula with their songs “Fire” and “I Don’t Care.” But unlike other K-Pop groups, 2NE1 stood for more than wooing the boy.
They weren’t ‘cute,’ and they didn’t try to be likable or visually charming with their music. Instead, they came to make a statement, something K-Pop groups rarely do. Their refusal to follow the typical girl group formula of the time and ability to set their own trends has, no doubt, contributed to the empowerment of women, both Korean and international and growing confidence among all of their fans around the world. Watching their facial expressions, choreography and vocal color develop throughout various performances, I began to see that 2NE1 had created their own unique sense of femininity, one that wasn’t so focused on being delicate, innocent, and pretty. Even though each of these girls are visually stunning, they weren’t popular for their looks, as many groups are — they were popular for relatable and exciting music, and for carrying themselves with so much prowess and fierceness. Fans found solace in not only their confidence and unapologetic badassery, but also their ability to connect with listeners. I was captivated by every performance — I grew an attachment to their vibrant stages, high-quality music, and colorful visuals over time.
And while they opted not to maintain the conventional charm that other girl groups did, CL, Dara, Bom, and Minzy showed that they were funny, loveable, and caring through 2NE1TV. From shopping trips to MV shoots, it was clear that they were hardcore onstage, but real, down-to-earth people offstage. I learned to admire them for both sides — I wanted to be just as confident, commanding, stylish and refined as they were when they performed, but also as loveable, friendly, and funny as they were when they weren’t on stage.
In terms of the grand scheme of K-Pop success, I think it’s easy to forget just how successful as a group they were due to their lengthy absence and limited discography. The girls are considered digital queens for a reason — with only four major Korean album releases, they’ve had 12 number-one songs and many more within the top five of digital charts. To this day, none of their Korean singles have ever charted below #4 on weekly charts, something that no other Korean girl group has been able to accomplish. With the exception of their final album Crush,, 2NE1’s Korean albums have also sold in excess of 100,000 copies, making them one of the only girl groups in the modern K-Pop era to achieve both digital and physical success. During their most active years, 2009 through 2011, they were the most nominated and most awarded artist at the Mnet Asian Music Awards. Within only three years, 2NE1 had won four MAMA daesang awards, the highest of any artist in history (including legends like Rain, BoA, Girls’ Generation, TVXQ, etc.), until BIGBANG overtook them in 2015. And despite not having been awarded since 2011, 2NE1 is still tied for most awarded artist at MAMA for non-daesang awards. To anyone who watches the charts or award shows closely, 2NE1 is legendary for being able to command such popularity and success in such a short amount of time. Along metrics of public impact and numerical success, along with style and music, there is no other K-Pop artist like them.
But as we all know, that success didn’t last forever. YG’s poor management steered them into a downward spiral, one that started with some delays, saw a drug scandal in between, and ended with a member leave before announcing their disbandment. To this day, I’m sad that I never got to see 2NE1 at their prime, performing daily on music shows or taking awards at MAMA. But the positives definitely outweigh the negatives.
2NE1 effectively changed my life. As an impressionable student watching their videos and performances, I was inspired, and my ambitions shifted. I was now more immersed in the 2NE1 aura that was so beautiful, strong, talent-oriented, and well-presented. I worked to emulate it in my own, not-as-glamorous life — from buying some nicer clothes and working harder at my own singing, to doing better in school and becoming a leader in my school community. 2NE1 had and still does give me motivation to be the best version of myself, and that passion has permeated all aspects of my life. Watching 2NE1 on- and offstage has given me the determination to achieve the same level of quality and success in my life that they brought to every project they worked on.
Not to mention, 2NE1 is what started me on my journey as a K-Pop fan — from them, I hopped over to videos from f(x), Girls’ Generation, BIGBANG, SHINee, 4Minute, KARA, and more, each of whom modified my worldview and intensified my ambition. As an Indian-American, learning more about K-Pop exposed me to aspects of Asian culture I was unaware of as well. I owe all of that to 2NE1, and I’m eternally grateful. As they became less and less active, I watched their videos with love and a heavy heart, embracing the lighthearted nature of “Can’t Nobody” and “Fire,” and admiring the fierceness of “I Am the Best” and “Come Back Home.” I’ve fallen in love with all of their songs over the years, and I’ll never stop listening to them. That’s right, the New Evolution of the 21st Century (the core meaning of 2NE1’s name) does not end here. Whether it’s in Blackjacks’ hearts or ears, 2NE1 lives on.
In many ways, this disbandment could mean we might actually see more of them, now that the members are no longer under the group’s constraining framework that, given logistical problems and YG’s subpar management, just wasn’t working. CL is still working on English music, and while succeeding in the American music market is hard, it isn’t impossible, and I have faith in CL to give us some good music over the next few months. Dara is still signed to YG, and I’m excited to see her as an actress soon in her upcoming movie One Step. Minzy is now under Music Works, and her solo debut is hopefully only months away. And that leaves Bom, whose future is currently being called into question after it was announced that her contract with YG was not renewed. But I have faith — her recent Instagram post shows her “working on a song to sing” for us all soon. We can only wait, and hope that, in due time, Bom will regain the strength to come back and give us something new. While we probably won’t see them together anytime soon, the fact that each of them may have a future available to them in the entertainment industry says a lot about each member’s power, talent, and versatility. And as a Blackjack, that’s something I’m proud of.
Thank you, 2NE1, for inspiring me to remain open-minded and receptive to different types of entertainment and music. Thank you, 2NE1, for giving a voice to the “Lonely” and “Ugly”, those of us who needed to be told that we are, in fact, more than what we see in the mirror. Thank you, 2NE1, for having such a transformative impact on my life. Thank you, 2NE1, for defining so much of my livelihood growing up.
Thank you for everything. Nolza forever!
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