History of K-Pop: 2NE1
It’s a crime to lead a discussion about K-Pop without mentioning the enormous influence of 2NE1. Despite the controversies and poor management, the girl group is known internationally as one of the fundamental groups that paved the way for the genre’s current popularity. We’re approaching two years without the iconic girl group, and arguably, K-Pop has not been the same since. Let’s take a look back at 2NE1’s role in expanding the reach of Korean music and culture.
The group first started making appearances in the press in late 2008 with the original lineup of CL, Dara, Bom, and Minzy, along with SPICA’s Bohyung, FIESTAR’s Linzy, and actress Gu Hyesun. However, on March 27, 2009, the four members we know today released their first single “Lollipop” in collaboration with YG Entertainment’s other pivotal group BIGBANG. It’s not considered their debut single as it was a promotion for the LG Cyon phone, yet it still charted on various online charts. 2NE1—the name combines “21st Century” and “New Evolution,” officially debuted with “Fire” on May 6 with two music videos and a self-titled EP. Both the “street” and “space” versions of the music videos garnered one million views in the first 24 hours of release, a huge feat for any group during this time.
In July, the group released the follow-up single “I Don’t Care” from their first EP. The track was a huge success in South Korea, and the EP was the third highest-selling album of 2009 according to Hanteo charts, selling over 100,000 copies. It rivaled Girls’ Generation’s “Gee” as one of the biggest songs of the year. They rounded off the year with solo promotions: Dara with the infamous “Kiss” with a music video featuring Lee Minho, Bom with “You & I” which reached number one on the Gaon chart, and CL and Minzy collaborating for “Please Don’t Go.” By the end of the year, 2NE1 was sweeping award shows—even as rookies—left and right. They won “Best New Artist” at the Melon Music Awards and “Song of the Year” at the Mnet Asian Music Awards—their first Daesang only six months after debuting. The girls also endorsed some of the biggest brands in Korea including Baskin Robbins, Etude House, and Fila.
There was no sign of the group slowing down in 2010. After a lengthy time in the United States and the United Kingdom recording English music with producers like The Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am, they released their first full-length album To Anyone in September, which included some of 2NE1’s most recognizable hits like “Try to Follow Me,” “Can’t Nobody,” and “Go Away.” To Anyone peaked at number seven on the Billboard World Albums Chart and received a certified all-kill on the Korean music charts. As the feminine counterpart to BIGBANG, their edgier fashion mixed with their urban pop music made them the cool girls on the block. Their charismatic, unapologetic aura was vastly different from the more clean-cut style of the other girl groups at the time. And that attraction and fascination produced even more stunning results at the end of 2010. Some of the group’s multiple awards included “Best Female Singer” at the 2010 Style Icon Awards, “Artist of the Year” and “Best Music Video of the Year” at the Mnet Asian Music Awards, and “Album of the Year” at both the aforementioned and the Melon Music Awards. The group concluded the year with the single “Don’t Stop the Music” as a gift for Thai fans.
Despite their already enormous popularity, 2011 was arguably 2NE1’s biggest year of their career. For starters, the girls made their Japanese debut with “Go Away” in March, debuting at number 24 on the Oricon charts. However, the girls postponed promotions due to the infamous Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. This sort of worked out for the better as they returned to Korea and dropped their second self-titled album that birthed four of their mega hits. “Lonely,” “I Am the Best,” and “Ugly” reached number one on multiple Korean charts.
“I Am the Best” was the real star of it all, it won “Song of the Year” at the MAMAs, reached over 3.4 million digital downloads and was the fourth best-selling song in the country that year. The accompanying music video was only the eighth K-Pop music video ever to cross 100 million views on YouTube (in 2014). It was also featured in international advertisements like Microsoft and Adidas Japan and featured on the video game Dance Central. That helped the single become one of the most recognizable K-Pop songs worldwide. It gave the group international acclaim, winning MTV’s “Best New Band” and being nominated for “Best New Artist” at the Japan Record Award.
That international focus continued into 2012. But before getting into that, they released “I Love You” back in Korea, becoming their sixth number one hit and first number one single on the Korean Billboard charts. It was also the first Korean song ever aired on BBC Radio 1. The girls went on to release their first full-length Japanese album Collection, which led them to promote in Japan with BIGBANG for a few months. 2NE1 also became the first Korean girl group to go on a solo tour in America, with two stops of their world tour in Los Angeles and Newark, New Jersey. To round off the year, the group was one of two—the other being BIGBANG—Asian artists to be included on MTV’s Best Band Style of 2012 alongside major acts like One Direction and Destiny’s Child.
The group only further expanded their reach in the following year, with two English language singles “Take The World On” and “Gettin’ Dumb” as a product of collaborating with will.i.am once again. Three of their biggest hits that solidified their style were also released in 2013: the reggae infused “Falling In Love” that won MTV Iggy’s “Song of the Summer” award, the emotional ballad “Missing You,” and the electro-pop anthem “Do You Love Me.” Each one expressed a different side of the group’s versatile sound, and also gave us iconic style moments.
2NE1 will probably best be remembered for their 2014 era as it marks both the height and demise of the group’s career. They marked that it would be their year by releasing the critically acclaimed (and their final) album Crush in February. It was an instant hit, headlined by huge singles “Come Back Home,” “Happy,” and “Gotta Be You.” The album peaked at number 61 on the Billboard 200, beating out BIGBANG and Girls’ Generation-TTS to become the highest charting K-Pop album ever at that time. It was listed by both Fuse and Rolling Stone as one of the best albums of the entire year for any artist. “Come Back Home” also became 2NE1’s ninth number one hit, winning “Best Electronica Song” at the Melon Music Awards. “Gotta Be You” was released to celebrate the group’s fifth anniversary debut, and would be the last video featuring Minzy. It also won MTV Iggy’s “Song of the Year” award.
While it did not completely overshadow their success that year, the misunderstandings around Park Bom’s drug scandal contributed to the group’s eventual hiatus status in 2015. To this day, the details of the issue are still disputed, but we can all agree the situation could’ve been handled much better on YG Entertainment's part. That along with solo promotions and overall mismanagement by the company made 2015 a relatively quiet one for the group. CL released the epic “Hello B*tches” featuring the Royal Family Dance Crew, Minzy opened the Millennium Dance Academy, and Dara starred in three web dramas, even winning “Best Actress” at the K-Web Festival for her role in Dr. Ian. The final time we saw the girls together was for their show-stopping MAMA performance. After CL performed “The Baddest Female” and “Hello B*tches,” she surprised the crowd with a reunion with the rest of the girls, performing “Fire” and “I Am the Best.” It is still currently the most-watched girl group MAMA performance on YouTube, and will remain one of the most iconic live performances of all time.
It was a tragic day when Minzy announced her departure from the group on April 5, 2016. Although it was stated that the group would continue as a trio, it was inevitable that they would disband. Park Bom was released from her contract and 2NE1 was officially no longer a group on November 25, 2016.
Dara and CL continue to be solo artists through YG Entertainment, but Minzy has since signed with Music Works and released her solo debut EP, Minzy Work 01 Uno, a year after her departure. She will be going on her first U.S. solo tour titled DANCE BREAK TOUR at the end of this year. At first, Park Bom was signed to YG sub-label The Black Label, but this year she signed an exclusive contract with D-Nation Entertainment. Her rumored solo debut has been pushed back to January of 2019. Dara is now completely focusing on her acting career with various variety shows and dramas both in South Korea and in the Philippines. CL remains in the spotlight, releasing a string of English singles supposedly leading to her big U.S. debut, though the status on that is fairly unknown. However, she went on her first North American tour in 2016, and has worked with various American artists both in film and in music. Most notably, she performed alongside EXO at the 2018 Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony in Pyeongchang.
2NE1 released their last single “Goodbye” on January 20, 2017 as a proper farewell. It’s a hauntingly bittersweet track that remains our last gift from the girls. They fell victim to the seven-year curse that has affected many disbanded K-Pop groups, but at least they sent us off with a proper goodbye. Nowadays, it’s difficult to find a new group with the same charisma and badassery the members exuded throughout the group’s career. As one of the best-selling girl groups of all time, we see many today who have been inspired by what the girls accomplished, and they will continue to inspire generations to come.
Keep up with the 2NE1 members here: