seoulbeats_20140122_2NE12NE1 is finally making a full-on comeback with an album, world tour, and all the required pomp and circumstance. The group will finally return to form, picking up where they left off over two years ago. However, not everyone is convinced. The group’s sub-par releases combined with YG‘s lackluster promotional strategies in recent years has led some to believe that the group’s finest days are behind them. Either way, this will be a very telling comeback in terms of gauging where 2NE1 still stands in the K-pop landscape. What are your thoughts on 2NE1’s comeback? What should we expect from the group going forward?

Gaya: If 2NE1 and YG manage to meet expectations (which are already sky-high) with this album, I will be very happy for them. But I get the feeling that needs a miracle to happen, and we’ve already passed Christmas.

Laverne: I fell out of love with 2NE1 years ago. What initially attracted me to them was their fierce image and songs like “Fire,” “In the Club,” “Let’s Go Party,” and “I Am the Best.” I even remember jamming out to “I Am the Best” in a car full of friends on the way to a football game. But after a long disappearance, I grew bored. It didn’t help that last year’s releases were unimpressive. I think my problem with 2NE1 is that they no longer seem to embody the image they debuted with — the image I loved. Instead, they seem as if they’re trying to be fierce instead of just being it. I really miss that spark of girl power that they used to bring and I honestly don’t expect anything of them going forward. The honeymoon period is over and they have completely failed to keep my attention.

Shweta: I’ve been side eyeing 2NE1’s “fierce” concepts and the YG “artistic vehicle” ever since I was introduced to them. Only now, it’s worse, because they’ve progressively become increasingly try-hard as the years go by. This particular promotional series was epically terrible (for 2NE1) because it seemed like Exo‘s tree of life extraterrestrial craziness/Sentimental-BS rehashed and made both better and worse with 2NE1’s funky style.

20100908_2ne12_seoulbeatsIn the end though, the concept is just a concept–the music is key. Music is what got me to like the group, and that’s what’s going to make me stay. If 2NE1 can bring back the charm they had in “Clap Your Hands” and “Fire” rather than their recent releases, I’d be one happy camper, and a fan until the bitter end. If not, oh well.

Unfortunately for us, whether or not 2NE1 does well with “AON,” they’re hitting their expiration date. Dara and Bom are past thirty, and the two of them aren’t getting any younger or better at their craft. Honestly, I have no qualms in saying that the two of them are getting worse at what they do. There is just no way 2NE1 can be at the forefront of idol-dom at Dara and Bom’s age no matter how young and hip they look. In fact, it might be selfish of us to hope they put their lives on the back burner just so we can have our entertainment.

Anyway, it’s high time for 2NE1 to start planning for their futures beyond K-pop. I can only hope that they can also leave with a bright legacy worthy of the bang they brought to K-pop when they started.

20140129_seoulbeats_2ne1_dara_bomMark: Let me stop you right there with the whole age angle. There are so many ways one can critique an idol but to do so based on her age is reinforcing the notion that K-pop is an industry which thrives only on youth, and exclusive of any idol past the age of 30. Though it may seem like K-pop is flooded with performers in their late teens and early twenties, the industry has been expanding to include more aged performers. Look at all the comebacks we’ve been getting from veterans in their late twenties and early thirties: Rain, Shinhwa, and TVXQ to name a few.

My real concern is whether we’re questioning Dara and Bom’s ability to sustain and perform at a high level because they are aging performers, or because they’re aging females? I’m not hearing much concern over TVXQ or Rain’s vitality and potential longevity. Like the men, female performers are also making comebacks at a more advanced age: see Hyori, Kahi, and Ga-in. For that reason, I see no reason why Dara and Bom can’t still perform at the top of their game.

Sorry for the tangent rant. With that said, I do think this is a make or break moment for 2NE1 if they wish to keep pace with the ranks of SNSD. With the disappearance of Kara and Wonder Girls, it’s getting lonely at the top. If 2NE1 doesn’t step up now and reclaim the mantle, Sistar and T-ara will be more than willing to answer the call.

20130223_seoulbeats_2ne1_park bom_2Shweta: I don’t think that age itself is the problem. The issue is that people, fans and the public alike, don’t give idols the room to pursue their lives beyond singing and performing. I think Dara and Bom should have an equal chance as Hyori to have a personal life that isn’t tied to running around as an idol while still making a living through the entertainment scene. 2NE1 isn’t the beginning and end of their careers, and I don’t want them to get the kind of hate Sunye got when she decided to give herself a personal life.

It also must be noted that most of the 30+ “idol” women are not in girl groups. Hyori and Kahi are soloists, which gives them far more flexibility with concepts and comebacks. Both of these women left their groups realizing that they outgrew them. BEG survives as a unit because they aren’t pressured by the public to be “youthful,” and pursue personal activities as they wish. BEG can age with their music, and their niche is completely different from the general K-pop group. 2NE1 can’t really age with their music and concepts as well as BEG can. It certainly could be done, but at the rate which YG is promoting these girls, it doesn’t look like Yang Hyun-suk is going to put in the resources to have the transition be done well.

It would make me incredibly happy if 2NE1 could keep going the way Shinhwa has, but as we all know, being a guy in K-pop is unfortunately a whole different ballgame than being a girl. I’ve become cynical from bad promotion after bad promotion, and I’d rather let them pursue individual activities than force them together on a leaking ship. In fact, I love to see Bom take some vocal re-training to salvage whatever voice she has left and give Dara a chance to not be auto-tuned to death. Both girls have potential–it just looks like 2NE1 may not be the place for it to flourish. As for CL and Minzy, they have potential elsewhere too. CL is clearly YG’s poster girl, so she’ll always get support. In Minzy’s case, she can finally get a chance to shine in the solo that is too many years pending.

2ne1_20090505_seoulbeatsKelsey: I would argue that 2NE1 has actually made noticeable transitions with their sound. They’ve moved on from the “if you ain’t know, now you know” schtick that was all over their first album, and I’m honestly happy about it. Most of it was too gimmicky for me personally, but nonetheless, that album had a lot of catchy, likeable songs on it that blended well together. “I Love You” seemed to ring in a new era for them — we’re getting more mid-tempo songs, music that departs from the over-stylized electro-hip-hop that they used to do. And it’s interesting because many fans want a mega-hit like “I Am the Best,” but 2NE1 is far past the stage of achieving that now, especially with the passive way that YG has been promoting them.

All of the songs after ”I Love You” stick with this more mature sound, but they don’t really command mass appeal. The releases themselves, except for “Missing You,” seemed haphazardly put together, and that really turned me off from the group. I’m not sure that YG knows what to do with a 2NE1 that can’t draw massive popularity and success like they did in their golden age, so the pressure for their comeback is so far beyond most idols coming back into the scene.

The distribution (and degradation) of skill in 2NE1 is also a major setback now. Minzy is just all-around the only saving grace of this group. Bom’s vocal skills have gone way down in recent years, and even CL sounds occasionally strained when she isn’t scream rapping. Shweta’s right that 2NE1 is holding back Minzy from doing something potentially greater, and who knows if she’ll ever have the opportunity to try, especially if 2NE1’s stock goes further south. The four of them don’t seem to gel together well as a unit of four anymore, which isn’t a good sign for a tour. Their performance at the Golden Disk Awards was a really scary warning sign of that, and 2NE1 has been hit-or-miss live for a while now.

It’s just hard to have faith in a group when the company itself hasn’t shown enough faith to promote them confidently. I have a lot of problems with the way YG Entertainment manages 2NE1, but I just hope the album is thoughtfully put together, unlike much of what we saw and heard last year. If I hear good songs, they might just win me back.

20140129_seoulbeats_2ne1_minzy_faultmagazine.Pat: To add to everything that has been said, not even the lives which used to be 2NE1’s saving grace are that much to watch either. Minzy is the only one performing consistently while I am often praying that Bom doesn’t fall on her face while performing, praying that Dara doesn’t go off-tune. This is coming from someone who watched Dara rise in the Philippines. While the eldest two may put on a brave face, each time I see them, they seem more and more bored of what they’re doing.

Now CL, I just want her to sit down and stop that screaming rap thing she does. Just like we can trust G-Dragon to add in a line about being “wild, young and rich,” we can trust CL to scream her rap to its completion. Baddest Female, she is no more.

At this point, I just wish YG would just close his eyes and plug the IV out of the 2NE1 patient already. Give Minzy the solo career she deserves, or maybe a unit with CL to maybe give The Baddest Female some credibility without relying on whoever was responsible for that mess of an MV we call “The Baddest Female.” In fact, I trace that song to the downfall of 2NE1’s consistency in terms of musical releases.

The best thing that could happen is Seungri suddenly producing their album.

Gaya: I sincerely hope Minzy gets the chance to go solo (if that’s what she wants to do, of course), whether it be through someone ambushing YG and knocking some sense into him or by entering another company.

Actually, YG himself could do with an intervention, especially if he’s going to continue working. We owe it to the people stuck under his management.

20130529_seoulbeats_2NE1_CLFannie: I’m excited for this comeback, but I’m a little nervous about it as well. I want it to turn out to be awesome, and I love the teasers so far as well, but I feel like with YG releases of late, it’s really luck of the draw. Some of the things that have come out have been great (like G-Dragon’s “Crooked”) and some have been so disappointing (like CL’s solo).

Musically, 2NE1 actually hasn’t really let me down — although I don’t have them on repeat the same way that I did with “Fire” and “I Don’t Care” back in the day. I thought that “I Love You” and “Missing You” were thoughtfully produced and created a nice progression in the maturation of their sound.

What does get me down about the group at this point, though, is their performance energy level. It’s what blew me away about 2NE1 in the first place when they debuted, and it’s what’s exactly missing lately. Their performances at the year-end gayos were the biggest disappointment to me mainly because I’m so used to the YG acts blowing everyone else out of the water. Lately, I’ve been wondering if it’s just that they’re worse at handling slower songs, but then again, they had no problems with “Lonely” so I’m not sure that is it.

Like some of our fellow writers, I agree that Minzy is really starting to blossom and deserves her solo. I also agree something Seungri-produced would be awesome. And last but not least, YG needs to induct Nam Tae-hyun into their stable of regular producers immediately because the boy has seriously got some good musical sense.

20140129_seoulbeats_2ne1_missingyouMiyoko: I’m definitely thirding the Seungri-produced dream album.

I’m also excited for their comeback (there are dice in the teaser, how can I not be excited?). I’ve liked nearly all of 2NE1’s releases, and enjoyed listening to their change in sound. However, while I like their slower material, I’m admittedly hoping for a big, badass concept this time around. I also still think the girls mesh well together, but I’d agree that their energy of late hasn’t been all that captivating, though I think their performances of “Missing You” have been moving and well done.

I’ve actually attributed the scattershot energy level to the haphazard promotional “strategy” more than anything else. YG’s eyebrow-raising tactics are the only thing making me hesitate about this release. It seems to be a company-wide problem, as you all have said.

This album should’ve came out a long time ago. Random singles don’t do anything good except barely keep them in the public eye. They’re popular enough that singles will do it, but none have been mind-blowingly awesome, nor have they seemed to be ones that got the girls excited. Hopefully, promoting a full album will allow them to build up steam and give them something big to focus on.

Fannie: Agreed, I hope they go for a more upbeat, “badass” concept this time around, too. Honestly, I just want to see the girls having fun while performing on stage again. That’s what always set them apart for me — not just the hip-hop and swag (which isn’t special nowadays after everyone jumped on the bandwagon) but also how much fun they used to have on stage. If they can somehow get that energy back again this time around, I’ll totally be a happy camper.

Shweta: Fannie, you’re absolutely right. If 2NE1 can be genuinely happy onstage again, I think we’ll all be content no matter what happens behind the scenes.

seoulbeats_20140122_2NE1Ambika: Haphazard I think is a really good way to describe 2NE1 overall in 2013. And I think it’s a pity because none of the members have anything to fall back on other than music.

Personally, after watching their interview for this upcoming tour and album, it was disheartening to see the girls treating this comeback with a “do or die” attitude and finality. There are different ways to have determination, and it felt like if they didn’t somehow reclaim popularity, there might not be anything more. If anything, that video lessened both my expectations and hopes for whatever is coming.

I think their image needs an overhaul of some sort. I don’t know what type but if they keep striving towards the same image as before, I don’t think they’ll be as successful, especially since Bom and Dara don’t quite fit that super fierce image on stage. The teasers that are out have me nervous but more because it doesn’t look like anyone tried with those space backgrounds. And I’m normally all for weird, extraterrestrial or supernatural concepts, but I’m not convinced so far. Perhaps that feeling will change once we have more than just teasers.

Comebacks should be exciting, and I want to be excited. But for me, 2NE1’s comeback is looking a bit gloomy.

(Images via: YG Entertainment, Twitter, Allure, Fault)