Upon their debut in 2009, 2NE1 blew up South Korean pop charts and, along with a few other choice acts, became so extremely popular that they were instantaneously recognized by eastern and western audiences alike for their edgy style (by comparison to most other more clean-cut k-pop group acts at the time) and musical flair, conjuring up a mixture of hip-hop, reggae, dance, pop and R&B influences and somehow making it all work together for something great. Fronted by extremely influential k-pop label YG Entertainment and comprised of CL, Bom, Dara, and Minzy, the highly-musically trained 2NE1 became an overnight success and kept up that success with single releases such as “I Am the Best”, “Fire”, and “I Don’t Care”, contributing to both the reaping of several awards at various ceremonies and events as well as their inevitable crossover into the American and Japanese markets. Now, they’re back to continue what is sure to be one more monstrous step forward in the world of k-pop with their second album, ‘Crush’, but after such a revolution-setting debut, where could they possibly take their sound from here?
The answer isn’t as simple as it seems it might be, as in their sophomoric effort, 2NE1 take less obvious risks than ‘To Anyone’ did but spend more time refining their sound and exploring more sophisticated avenues in terms of arrangement and overall design. In short, ‘Crush’ is the sleeker and more refined version of its predecessor, offering up a 10-track showcase of what could be the group’s finest efforts to date. Title track and opener “Crush” does an excellent job in terms of setting the tone for their latest evolution, summoning the same feeling “I Am The Best” brought about back in 2011 that set them on the map for true international success in terms of both sound and lyrical content. It’s a self-confident, explosive opener sure to set the scene for many a k-pop lovers’ dance party in the future.
‘Crush’ isn’t all self-promo, though, with some tracks featuring themes that are surprisingly mature and thoroughly explored for the group. Despite its bouncy sonic setting, “Gotta Be You” deals with a particularly glum relationship that the song’s protagonist can’t get out of, even if it isn’t healthy for them, and pulls through in explaining the why behind it all. Meanwhile, “If I Were You” touches on feelings of intense loneliness whereas “Good To You” also has to deal with the bad sides of a tumultuous relationship– this time around covering the aftermath, where the song’s subject character cannot fathom being dumped despite trying her absolute best to cater to the man of her affection. “Happy”, despite its misleading title, is more about hoping an ex-lover is happy than necessarily being happy yourself!
Each of these tracks is significantly different in terms of sound some of their lyrical similarities, effectively telling a varied, yet pleasantly uniform and collected story throughout the majority of the album with some fun breaks in-between. For instance, “Gotta Be You” draws from more from modern electronic and hip-hop influences, whereas “If I Were You” is a powerhouse R&B ballad that directly contrasts musically to the arrangement of “Good To You”, which maintains more of a sensual, slow jam style than anything else. “Happy” is a strummy acoustic guitar-driven number with a sweet, ethereally-produced back-and-forth vocal delivery to really enhance the overall feel.
Even CL’s solo effort here, “MTBD” or “Mental Breakdown” doesn’t feel exactly out of place despite its off-setting the vast majority of the album’s overall theme, and it might be just because of her ferocious delivery on the track that brings it home. It’s a bit of a jaunting change in overall style at first, but feels at home in terms of a 2NE1 record on the overall and represents CL near her A-game, with catchy hook upon catchy hook abound. It’s an impressive number, if not a tad bit initially surprising. “Scream” is a bit of a lazy retread, but something Korean fans should get excited about to hear in their native language. More on the plus side, the album also includes the original and acoustic versions of their latest single, “Come Back Home”, both of which vary greatly in terms of arrangement and vocal delivery. The acoustic version, perhaps even especially, is a treat to be heard and a great closer for ‘Crush’, in that it really highlights the girls’ vocals in a pure and pristine way that hasn’t really been heard much in the past.
It is exponentially hard to fault 2NE1 for anything on ‘Crush’. If anything, it’d be that the album ends at 10 tracks and the experience could’ve lasted longer for just how good it was. Fans of the group will go in expecting something akin to the group’s debut album and won’t be disappointed in that it plays out just like a 2NE1 album should, but just that much more refined all the way around. In terms of k-pop efforts set for release throughout 2014, 2NE1’s new album just might “crush” the competition come endgame. It’s an incredibly strong effort that is great for an in-the-moment listen and is bound to impress 2NE1 and all unbiased individuals alike.
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