K-pop Royalty Gets A New Crown
The meteoric rise of 2NE1 could be a fable, foretold by the epic video for their recent single, “I Am The Best.” Dark gives way to light, as a mysterious hooded creature appears in the distance. As the camera swoops in, flashbulbs pop, synths and beats explode, and BOOM! the ladies of 2NE1 take the stage, twirling in tight black pantsuits and sensual abandon. “I am the best!” they sing, and you can almost hear their millions of fans around the world screaming in concurrence, reveling in the awesome, almost otherworldly presence of this dazzling and fierce foursome. If they aren’t the best, then they are certainly something approaching perfection.
Herein MTV Iggy introduces America to the Best New Band in the World: 2NE1.
2NE1 represents a new type of global music star: one that inspires passion not with the language they speak or their cultural heritage, but with talent and sheer ambition. This — and a lot more — is why you voted 2NE1 into the vaunted role of MTV Iggy’s Best New Band in the World: When it comes to 2NE1, every last spike, sparkle, dance move and lyric counts. And it’s this level of dedication to perfection, coupled with 2NE1′s deep love of their fans, that got them where they are today. MTV Iggy welcomes you to the annals of US pop history, ladies of 2NE1. You’ve earned it.
Four million of you voted, representing 168 countries around the world. Little wonder that 2NE1 is arguably the biggest group in K-pop right now, and we are proud to secure their status in the American cultural lexicon. With the help of producer-wiz Teddy Park, 2NE1 turns the idea of popular music as formulaic pabulum on its head, blending hip hop, reggae and electronic dance beats into a truly international melange of dazzling and anthemic pop. They boast unique styles all their own, sometimes pairing a pastel-punk vibe with sneakers (in their “Fire (Street)” video); other times black leather pantsuits with outlandish hairdos and spiky bodices (“I Am the Best”): unlike other female K-pop groups, they eschew cutesy girlish fashion for a strong and independent look, in keeping with the empowering message of their music.
2NE1: How They Became the Best
2NE1 — shorthand for “New Evolution of the 21st Century,” and pronounced either “To Anyone” or “Twenty One” — are all originally from South Korea, although most of them have spent time abroad. They dance and sing and even act — triple threats in the model of classic Hollywood stars. CL (nee Lee Chae-rin), 20, is the group leader and resident rapper; Dara (Sandara Park), 26, was a star in the Philippines before joining 2NE1 and has a huge Filipino fanbase; Bom (Park Bom), 27, studied at the renowned Berklee College of Music in the States and is the group’s main vocalist; and Minzy (Gong Minji), 17, is the group’s youngest member and its most talented dancer. (Minzy’s grandmother, Gong Okjin, is a famous folk dancer.) All four girls trained for years under their label and management group, YG Entertainment. 2NE1 officially formed in 2009, joining other YG acts like Se7en and the all-male sensation Big Bang. And they were literally an overnight success: In ’09, they released their first song, “Lollipop,” recorded with Big Bang — a vibrant concoction inspired by the original 1958 barbershop song, but here with a rap-synth edge. 2NE1′s real debut, “Fire,” followed shortly thereafter, peaking at number one on the Gaon weekly music sales chart, setting a template for nearly every 2NE1 single thereafter. (“Fire”’s iconic air-raid-siren intro and old-school electro vibe inspires freak-outs among fans, who routinely cite “Fire” as their favorite 2NE1 track.) To date, the group has released one full-length album, To Anyone (2010), three EPs, and a mind-boggling 21 singles and videos. Not to mention, they also have their own reality TV show. In our video interview with 2NE1, CL reveals that the group is working on a brand new album to be released next year.
On the fan side, “Blackjacks,” as 2NE1 fans are known, are one of the major global musical communities in the world of K-pop. While talent and many years of intense training underscore the seemingly flawless results when 2NE1 hit the stage, it’s the intensely devoted Blackjack community that helps other fans find a sense of purpose in the music, and bring the joy in that feeling to the rest of the world. Blackjacks from all over the globe, connected only by the internet and a shared passion for the band, have organized what is in effect a powerful grassroots movement to spread 2NE1′s music and their positive, grrl-powered message. It doesn’t matter if you speak Tagalog or Telugu — there are groups that will “sub” (or translate) every last 2NE1 song, video, email, and tweet for you.
What makes all this even more interesting is that the majority of 2NE1′s fans live outside Korea, and many of them are adults, not teenage girls (though there is hardly a shortage of teenage girls who adore the band). As superfan Zorayda, AKA Rice, the head admin of @ohdara and @welovedara and the fansite Oh-Dara.com, attests, “Their music is all about girl empowerment. They are not just idols to us. It’s who they are as people. They [represent] the modern woman — women of the 21st Century.”
While Blackjacks are fiercely devoted to the band they adore, their loyalty is also reserved for fellow fans. Tazanya, a Las Vegas-based lawyer who co-runs the 2NE1 fansite YGLadies, says she loves the band for its individuality and oft-cited spunkiness. “They are superstars,” she says, “yet they are also relatable and empowering.” Tazanya, 35, routinely gets up at 4 AM to work on YGLadies, devoting five or more hours every day to the site, and has twice flown to Korea to see them perform, once sleeping in a parking lot outside Inkigayo (the Korean TRL) for the privilege of seeing them perform at 4 PM the next day. “Sometimes I stay up all night long to work on the site,” she laughs. But to her, the goal of YGLadies — in her words, “to get the 90% of fans whose experience [of 2NE1] will only be virtual, as close as they can get to the band” — is worth it.
Benny, a 19-year-old student in London, is a proud member of YGLadies and a shining example of MTV Iggy’s millenial future. “I don’t speak Korean,” he says, “but that doesn’t bother me because I can always find translations online.” Adds Tazanya, “We [Blackjacks] are like a family — I’ve helped fans with college applications and gotten others jobs. This is the kind of community that we foster.”
This past fall, 2NE1′s three-city, six-date tour in Japan drew upwards of 40,000 fans, according to YG Entertainment. Young fans screamed, rending various items of clothing, while thousands of unlucky others were shut out, camping outside each venue in the hopes of a glimpse of their idols. It’s much like fan frenzy at the height of Beatlemania, but this time it’s Korean superstars in the spotlight instead of the Liverpool Lads.
America, Meet the Best New Band in the World
Here at MTV Iggy, we’re breaking 2NE1 in America, one of the few places where K-pop is still relatively unknown. The band has had some noteworthy stateside exposure — in 2010, 2NE1 flew to Los Angeles to work on music with the Black Eyed Peas’ Will.I.Am; this past October, a K-pop blitz took over New York City’s largest music venue, Madison Square Garden, with stars like SHINee, Super Junior, and Girls’ Generation. Bloggers like Perez Hilton have also shown love to 2NE1. But never has a mainstream media outlet covered this luminary group so in-depth.
It’s little wonder that their biggest fansite, the 40,000-member strong YGLadies, devoted every waking minute to the cause. “We [had] stay-up-all-night-and-vote parties,” Tazanya says, to ensure that 2NE1 got the vote for Best New Band in the World.
YGLadies’ efforts paid off, landing 2NE1 in first place — and, finally, in the public eye in the US. Armed with talent, rabid, empowered fans, and our Best New Band in the World crown, their future as a breakthrough act is only skyward. And if that’s not enough, on December 12th, you’ll get a chance to witness 2NE1′s magic firsthand, as they take over New York City’s Times Square in a spectacular once-in-a-lifetime live performance. Witness the future of music, and participate in the creation of the 2NE1 revolution.
For a behind the scenes peek at MTV Iggy’s Best New Band In The World, click here!