[Review] 2NE1 – 2nd Mini Album (****)

4 Aug

  1. Lonely
  2. I Am The Best
  3. Hate You
  4. Ugly
  5. Don’t Cry (Park Bom solo)
  6. Don’t Stop The Music

2NE1 returns to the top of the K-pop music scene with their second mini album after last year’s album “To Anyone”. This is particularly special for me because I’m a huge fan of 2NE1; I love every single thing about these girls! CL is fierce and fabulous, Bom reminds me of Mariah Carey, Minzy can dance her ass off, and Sandara is the most adorable girl in the world. So more than anything, this comeback meant something special to me: it’s a chance to enjoy some new music from one of my all time favorite groups. However, can they live up to my, admittedly, high expectations?   The answer is yes, with some reservations.

The best part about 2NE1 is their ability to change their musical styles while staying true to their original concept of tough, fierce chicks. This mini-album displays that ability on full-force. Thanks to some incredible production and songwriting from Teddy (a genius, I have to say), I can confidently say that this album has some of the best songs that 2NE1 has ever made.

The most noticeable change in this album is the lack of “auto-tuning” that makes the girls sound like robots, which was the case in their last album. Although it works wonders when balanced with unaltered vocals (like in “Go Away”), it often distracts from the talents of these girls. Thus, it’s a breath of fresh air to hear “Lonely”, the opener of the album. The simplicity of the song—just a guitar and some violin for the most part—highlights the girls’ vocal prowess. For me, CL sounds the best in this song. The tinges of loneliness and heartbreak hinted in her voice excite and move me. This is probably her best vocal work since last year’s “It Hurts”.

The next song, “I Am The Best”, reminds us that 2NE1 is still the girl group with the most swagger in the game. The addicting beat and the repetitive chorus get the song stuck in your head immediately and it’s irresistible to sing along to. No one can top 2NE1 at bringing ferocity and toughness in a song because unlike so many groups that followed after, it just comes natural to them. Trying to imagine another girl group to sing this song is impossible.

Despite the two awesome songs at the beginning, the reservations I mentioned earlier begin to show up. “Hate You” is infectious and catchy like “I Am The Best” but it has two main faults: it’s not fierce enough like “I Am the Best” nor does it display great vocals from any of the girls. Not that they don’t sound good in the song—my complaint rests in the lack of fireworks that the other songs in the album possess. In other words, it’s good but not good enough compared to the rest of the album. It’s not alone in bringing down the album overall for me; the recycled “Don’t Stop the Music”, with its extremely annoying and lazy use of auto-tune, distracts from the overall freshness of the album.

My favorite 2NE1 songs have always placed the girls’ vocals in the forefront with the production an afterthought. Hence, my undying affection for “It Hurts,” which to date, is their best song. “Ugly” rivals that song’s awesomeness with its impeccable vocals and unique (I say unique because KPOP barely ever talks about “ugliness” or “imperfections” in songs) lyrics. Like in “Lonely”, the song’s simple production shows how talented each singer really is. I say simple because the production doesn’t try to hide the girls’ voices nor is it overloaded with 15 different instruments or beats. In addition, the song shows both Minzy’s and Dara’s best vocals. Minzy never sounded more mature and soulful as she does in the second verse while Dara’s bridge makes the best use of her limited but high range in the whole album, proving that she can sound incredible when given the right material. Bom is as dependable as ever in bringing the full emotions of her lyrics while CL’s completely English chorus is both catchy and moving.

Bom Park’s solo song “Don’t Cry” shows us why she deserves, more than anyone in the group, her own solo material. Although this song seems like a follow up to “You and I” with its beautiful piano melody and dance-y beat, Bom Park nevertheless moves you with her unique voice.

With this new album, the girls reach a new high in terms of vocals (Lonely and Ugly) while proving that they are still the fiercest girl group in Korea (I Am the Best). Although there are still some occasional bumps (Don’t Stop the Music), 2NE1 maintains their status as one of the—if not the—most original and exciting girl groups in Korea.

by Clarence


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