I was all about Rain when he released “Rainism,” a genuinely great, classically Korean pop song: flavors of hip-hop, smoothed over with plenty of techno gloss and synth spackle. Until I saw him perform it live. All the charm of the faux arrogance, and the wet delivery of lyrics like “I’m gonna be a bad, bad boy” suddenly seemed so…manufactured. It would be stupid not to expect that in pop music, but the sheer translucence of live performances always makes me stop and wonder why they don’t even bother trying anymore.
Korean quartet 2NE1 released their (digital) debut single at the beginning of May with all the similar basic elements (the good, but not great dancing; the appropriate, but tacky costumes; the catchy, but limited single “Fire,”) to what seems like positive reception. Though they’re relative nobodies, they’ve got the right people behind them who have even solicited a collaboration with massively huge impopsters BigBang on a song appropriately titled “Lollipop“: it’s colorful, sweet, and gone in a couple dozen licks. The music video is stunningly bright, like every ’09 pop cliche amplified: laser lemon and electric lime clothes of various designs, patterns, and fabrics that only match the equally pizzazzed backdrop, psychedelic haircuts, and outrageous sunglasses propped on garishly painted faces; this is the first group that has made me feel both so young and so old. Much like the Jonas Brothers, whose demographic is catered to a completely new set of teens, 2NE1 is targeted to the same audience, albeit in what is both elements of current acts and a fostering of a brand new set of principles that will one day signify culture of the 2010’s (see also: Japanese group w-inds.’s “Rain Is Fallin'”).
2NE1’s musical choices have been very smart so far. Though they only have two songs available (and one being a duet), “Fire” itself, is a great single, and even “Lollipop” is ultimately fun and likable. The group as a whole presents an in-your-face attempt at girl power while catering to the youthful fantasy of living beyond one’s age (I’m no native Korean speaker, but the English shouts of “I gotta drop it like it’s hot” are pretty clear). It’s a sort of rebellion to the unsullied Korean pop acts of yore, like Koyote, and even Baby V.O.X., that already seem kind of trite, though strategically so; there’s a new youth culture on the loose and it begins here.