BlackPink & 2NE1: Unexpectedly Different

On Aug. 8, 2016, YG Entertainment’s long-anticipated girl group BlackPink debuted with their first digital single album Square One with title tracks “Whistle” and “Boombayah.” Now a household name in the larger K-pop fandom, BlackPink was the label’s first girl group since 2NE1’s debut in 2009, a fact that immediately warranted comparisons to their predecessors thanks to their similar musicality and four-member lineup. As 2NE1 inched closer towards disbandment in late 2016, Blackjacks saw BlackPink’s debut as a nail to the 2NE1 coffin, and remained especially hesitant to support the new group.

Alongside an introduction post about the new group, I constructed only weeks after their debut an in-depth comparison of the two groups and arrived at the conclusion that the groups were uncomfortably similar. To summarize, both groups had four members , an edgy electropop/hip-hop infused sound, and members that grew up both within and outside of Korea among other similarities. The only small differences were in the ages of the members, visuals of each group, and the lack of an assigned leader in BlackPink.

At the time, this analysis was valuable in forming an informed opinion about BlackPink’s individuality (or lack thereof) as a group. But they have now reached their one-year anniversary, and have three more tracks, variety appearances, and other developmental factors from which a collective group character is beginning to emerge, one that was not very visible only weeks into their debut. Upon reevaluation, BlackPink and 2NE1 seem more different than we originally thought they were.

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Since their summer debut last year, BlackPink has since released three more tracks — the EDM-influenced “Playing with Fire,” campfire bop “Stay,” and bubbly electropop “As If It’s Your Last.” The group has also begun to perform on more music shows than just SBS Inkigayo (YG Entertainment’s relations with other Korean broadcasting stations has been notably cold in recent years), and has appeared on Weekly Idol, Radio Star, and Knowing Bros in addition to various CFs. For comparison, 2NE1’s activity in the same time period includes disbandment in November 2016 and the release of their last song “Goodbye” as three members before entirely parting ways in January of this year.

Despite 2NE1’s disbandment, the question remains: How does BlackPink, now a sustained and trending K-pop artist in their own right, compare to 2NE1 at its peak years ago?

At the time of the group’s debut, “Whistle” and “Boombayah” wielded a powerful impact, but failed to show onlookers that the group was very different or new. With electropop, EDM influence, rap, and some attitude, BlackPink debuted with largely the same sound as that of their YG predecessors (albeit updated to match more current music trends). Had BlackPink continued entirely on those lines, the group’s musical color would be nowhere near as unique as it is now.

But through the promotion of their more recent releases, we have seen greater variety in their discography, performance, and aesthetics. Their next release, “Playing With Fire,” utilized structural changes rarely present in 2NE1’s music and employed noticeable differences in performance and styling.

BlackPink’s member structure initially seemed almost identical to that of 2NE1, but with the release of new singles, differences slowly became more apparent. Within 2NE1, CL both rapped and sang, while Minzy debuted mostly as a rapper and transitioned into singing more over time. At debut, Jennie’s role in the group largely took after CL as a rapper and singer, but her role seems to have at least slightly changed over time — she only sings in “Playing With Fire,” “Stay,” and “As If It’s Your Last.” Main dancer Lisa, unlike her 2NE1 counterpart Minzy, handles mostly rapping in BlackPink’s three latest tracks. These differences may seem minute at first, but they clear up one of my biggest assumptions from a year ago: that each BlackPink member would take after a specific 2NE1 member. While this is still at least somewhat true — Jisoo still largely takes after Dara, and the same can be said of Rosé and Bom — any differentiation here is valued, and it becomes even more important when examining the larger structure of BlackPink’s songs.

Most of Lisa’s lines in “Playing With Fire” are found in the rap section after the first chorus, similar to her part in accompanying A-side track “Stay.” 2NE1’s songs, on the other hand, took on two structures, either a back-and-forth between rapping and singing in verses — “Fire,” “Go Away,” “Falling in Love,” “Gotta Be You,” and more — or consisted entirely of singing — “Ugly,” Lonely,” “I Love You.” BlackPink songs have developed a largely different structure, delegating singing parts to three members who do not (usually) rap, and instead having one member handle one rap section along with occasional singing lines here and there.

This structure segregates rap and singing more aggressively than YG releases have in the past, conforming more closely to other K-pop releases from groups like f(x), SHINee, 9MUSES, and others in which only one rap section is included after either the first or second chorus of the song, handled by a rapper who doesn’t appear much outside of those lines. This structure was almost entirely absent in 2NE1’s music, and demonstrates a large shift away from 2NE1’s sound that, in many ways, did not conform with that of the rest of K-pop. Here, we see BlackPink deviating from YG’s sound on the whole to be more typically mainstream K-pop.

“Stay” is also an interesting departure from the YG sound. By all means, the label excels at releasing reflective and evocative ballad-oriented music, with 2NE1’s “Missing You” and “It Hurts (Slow)” as great examples. But the incorporation of a folk-inspired sing-along chorus in “Stay” differentiates it entirely from any 2NE1 or BIGBANG song. While we have yet to see BlackPink’s somber side develop, the instrumental and melodic construction of “Stay” tells us that the group’s overall sound may be different than that of their YG predecessors.

Beginning with “Playing With Fire,” the performance and styling elements have contributed most significantly to BlackPink’s emerging individual identity. While 2NE1 opted for crazy stage costumes with bright colors, crazy shapes, and outrageous yet trendy hairstyles (see: Dara’s palm tree hair), BlackPink has opted for a style that is more traditionally pretty in the world of K-pop, wearing school outfits and elegant red carpet outfits instead of crazy Jeremy Scott designs (see: CL’s unicorn dress) and bright, feathery jackets and dresses. BlackPink’s style, which is also reflected in their choreography, facial expressions, and other performative nuances, is slightly more delicate and feminine. And despite the fact that many girl groups, including TWICE, GFriend, and Red Velvet sport more feminine fashion, BlackPink largely establishes their own trends, as their dress is high-fashion and chic, often coming from luxury brands. While 2NE1’s outfits were less flattering to facial beauty and body curves, BlackPink shows off regality and poise with their fashion, and precipitates into a more chic and feminine performance as well.

2NE1 & BlackPink: Comparing Fashion & Styling

2NE1 Black Pink
2NE1 Black Pink Teaser
2NE1 Black Pink Playing With Fire
2NE1 Black Pink As If It's Your Last
2NE1 Black Pink Boombayah
Black Pink

Many of these differences are once again visible, if not amplified, in the release of their recent “As if It’s Your Last.” While many fans felt this track was reminiscent of 2NE1, the BlackPink members explained that this song captures the group’s “Pink” side, which differentiates from previous releases that were more “Black.” And the dichotomy is clear — this song has the members smiling, making cutesy expressions on stage, and wearing school uniform-inspired outfits even in the music video.

The major difference here is, while 2NE1 had a cuter side as demonstrated by songs like “Falling in Love” and “Do You Love Me,” none of their music ever fit into a “Black” or “Pink” dichotomy, as their music was usually along a smaller spectrum within what we could consider on the “Black” side. 2NE1 was undoubtedly edgier and more hard-hitting, while BlackPink fuses some of that style with more delicate visuals and musical elements in their discography. This difference, like many of the others, leans again towards current mainstream K-pop genre, as the majority of girl groups at the moment are very, if not entirely, focused on cute concepts and feminine delivery.

Surprisingly, BlackPink’s deviation from the characteristic YG style in favor of the stylings and strategies of other K-pop groups contradicts with what the group has said in response to comparisons with 2NE1. When asked about the similarities, the members say that they “do not purposely try to be different from 2NE1,” and remain focused on maintaining the YG sound. However, as the group continues to diverge from YG’s sound and style, their response becomes less consistent with their performance and music. Rather than maintaining the YG sound, it seems BlackPink is more focused on expanding and diversifying it with contemporary K-pop colors.

Clearly, BlackPink has largely distinguished itself from 2NE1, and for that reason, Blackjacks and older K-pop fans in general may feel more comfortable supporting the group and its members going forward. As BlackPink deviates, however, it does conform more strongly to the K-pop mainstream, and for that reason among others, the group seems to lack some of the impact that 2NE1 had on the larger industry.

2NE1 were known as Korea’s top digital sellers for a while because of the sheer power of their songs — “Fire” and “I Don’t Care” exist among the top-selling songs in South Korea’s history, while almost all of their following singles have charted within the top four of weekly Korean song charts, including a total of eleven number-one singles (excluding their post-disbandment release “Goodbye”). At their peak, 2NE1 had the ability to entirely take over music charts and flatten competition, and much of their music won daesangs (major awards) at end-of-year shows. The group existed among few girl groups to amass a large fandom, allowing them to sell albums in huge quantities in Korea as well. It is for these reasons that 2NE1 was immediately considered the definitive number two next to Girls’ Generation, and the now 10year-old group’s strongest competition at each group’s respective peak.

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While BlackPink has sold considerably well and seen the development of its own fandom, the group has failed to excite the public to the same extent as their predecessors did. Obviously, BlackPink is an incredibly successful girl group, but their only single that has really taken over charts to date is “Whistle,” and some of BlackPink’s singles like “Boombayah” and “Stay” have already charted lower than pretty much any of 2NE1’s singles. BlackPink has failed to clear out competition the same way 2NE1 could, as “As if It’s Your Last” had some difficulty competing with MAMAMOO on the charts upon release. The group has also yet to win many major awards, and has not distinguished themselves as the definitive competitor next to the generation’s top-performing girl group, which is, at this point, TWICE. Instead, that title would likely go to Red Velvet or GFriend at the moment, likely because these groups have promoted more and debuted earlier, and have already captured the public attention.

It seems that, along with confounding factors like the oversaturation of the girl group market (especially with post-I.O.I debuts and comebacks), BlackPink’s blend into the mainstream has hurt its competitive viability. While the group will enjoy success, BlackPink’s music, style, and promotion strategy might need to be reconsidered if YG wants to replicate the explosive responses 2NE1 received.

Contrary to initial (and still popular) belief, BlackPink truly is different from their predecessors 2NE1, but from the standpoint of success and achievement as musicians, that may or may not be a good thing.

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The new evolution lives on: 2NE1’s disbandment through a Blackjack’s eyes

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.

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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.

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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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