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2NE1 “Collection”

by Ian Martin

Special To The Japan Times

With Korean idol groups now saturating the Japanese pop market to the extent that the initial breath of fresh air and rush of slick, electropop energy is passing, it takes a more seasoned kind of fan to differentiate between the legions of immaculately rehearsed Girls’ Generation clones. But with Japan slow to respond with forward-thinking pop of its own, the task falls to another Korean group to blow K-pop apart.

2NE1 have a habit of reminding the listener of the group’s name every three or four seconds during the first half of this first Japanese-language album, and like a Korean TLC composed of four Lisa “Left Eye” Lopeses, every moment buzzes with that most misused word in pop music — attitude. Main rapper CL’s spoken word intros are full of swagger, Park Bom is as fine a singer as they come, Dara is sassy with a touch of ironic self-awareness, and Minzy … well, she’s a good dancer.

In a way, 2NE1′s closest Japanese equivalent is probably idol group Momoiro Clover Z. While they come from radically different musical backgrounds, they share a seamless integration of personality, image and music, with each element mutually complementary. They also share a completely batty, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to songwriting. “I Am the Best,” already familiar from last year on the “Nolza” mini-album, is a particularly striking example with its collision of manic house music bleeps, crunching electro synths, tribal drumming and Indian/Middle Eastern melodies sounding like absolutely nothing else on earth. What do you even call that music? Dutch electro-Bollyhouse? Who even cares?

The inclusion of “I Am the Best” alone would have marked “Collection” out as a contender for album of the year, but it practically machine-guns you with similar moments. Even where they get all serious and emotional, glorious moments shine through the schmalz — CL comparing the end of a relationship with Beyonce leaving Destiny’s Child in “Go Away” can’t help but raise a smile.

Unfortunately, the closing cover of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” is a pointless, deflating end to the album. However, recent single “Scream” shows off the talents of the group’s production team, who are keeping 2NE1 one step ahead of the electropop crowd. Reworked versions of older songs such as “Fire,” “Follow Me” and “Clap Your Hands” retain the scattershot arrangements and chimp-going-crazy-with-the-autotune-knob-style madness that made them so gloriously silly and downright fun in the first place.

K-pop is dead: Long live K-pop.