XXVII. When 2NE1 Debuted with Fire
Then…there was 2NE1…
If you’ve been reading up to this point, then you know that ever since 2006, I’ve been firmly in the camp of YG Entertainment thanks to Big Bang. I witnessed their debut, I saw their adversity and watched as they continued to improve and breakthrough with mainstream success following the release of “Lies” in 2007.
By 2009, it’s safe to say Big Bang was now the top dog in S. Korea’s music scene. DBSK was still around, 2pm was up-and-coming, and Super Junior had just released a monster hit in “Sorry Sorry…” But Big Bang had established themselves as champions when they destroyed the stage in 2008’s year-end showdown.
So when YG announced the debut of an up-and-coming sister group…everyone was on the edge of their seats. YG had other female artists in their retinue like Big Mama, Gummy, and Lexy…but the agency wasn’t known for their female acts. I think everyone was wondering what YG would produce. Not to mention there was already widespread speculation that this group would merely be a female version of Big Bang. But still…would that a bad thing?
On March 27, 2009, the world was introduced to four energetic and wildly charismatic females when YG released “Lollipop”. It was brilliant. It’s like YG heard the rumors of 2NE1 merely being a girl version of Big Bang and was like…“so what are you gonna do about it.”
To be honest though…I wasn’t particularly blown away by their contributions in that song. I liked it because of Big Bang’s vocals. Taeyang, Daesung, and Seungri killed it. Not to mention, we were starting to get a glimpse of the producer, Teddy Park’s signature sound that would ultimately play the biggest role in 2NE1’s success. But despite my lackluster approval…I knew it. I knew 2NE1 would be superstars, not because they were with YG, not because they were following in Big Bang’s wake…but because of their lead vocalists who’s voice could’ve crushed the competition if she appeared on “American Idol” or “The Voice.”
Park Bom was her name. And before I heard of 2NE1, I had already heard of Park Bom. Any Big Bang fan would’ve. It was her voice that sang the chorus of one of Big Bang’s early hits, “We Belong Together.”
I hate to say it…but I think deep down, we all know there’s something mesmerizing and amazing about a person who can do the unexpected based on their appearance. Sure, some people will get mad about this, but it’s undeniable. Like a white rapper in a genre saturated with black rappers. It’s rare, thus, we find it impressive. Or a short basketball player who can dunk better than tall players. Or, in fitting with this time era, Susan Boyle.
Thanks to the music industry becoming so heavily focused on sex and visuals, our generation lost sight on the fact that anyone can sing beautifully. It’s not about looks, it’s about the talent. So when Susan Boyle blew everyone away on Britain’s Got Talent, it wasn’t just because she was an amazing singer…but because she didn’t look like what we expect from a singer of her caliber. It’s the same with Park Bom.
This might be a bit bold, but I think Park Bom has a better voice than Beyonce and Christina Aguilera by far. Powerful, but not too abrasive where it feels like you’re being shouted at. Park Bom has the voice of a black old-school soul singer and everyone knew it. They’d hate. But they couldn’t deny it. I’m jumping ahead a little here, but just to give you an example, even after 2NE1 made their official debut with “Fire” on May 6th 2009, Park Bom would go on to release a solo song “You and I” later that November and it stayed number 1 on the charts.
That song…even though it was released ten years ago, every time I hear it to this day, it never fails to uplift me. I don’t want to get too personal here, but I was 23-years-old and it was a rough time in my life where I felt alone and distant from everyone, and yet, I had this ambitious attitude to never stay down, but to keep pursuing my dream of becoming a writer. Between that, and maintaining the discipline to keep working out, all while starting my new job at a law firm…yeah, Park Bom’s “You and I” made late 2009 one for the books. It was one of the most difficult times of my life, but also one of the best.
So yeah…when I heard “Lollipop” in March of 2009…I thought, cool. Sounds good. Looks like it’s gonna be a female Big Bang. So what? But man…hahaha…when they released “Fire” on May 6th 2009…I almost feel bad for Super Junior because “Sorry Sorry” was nothing to scoff at. But when “Fire” was released, it erupted South Korea in a storm.
Hahaha! It was amazing. Like, I said. “Lollipop” wasn’t that impressive. I think this was probably a strategy on YG’s part to subdue our expectations and it was absolutely brilliant. “I go by the name of CL of 2NE1”….from that line alone..she might as well have told us all to sit down, shut up, and prepare ourselves for the birth of excellence. It’s like, “bow down for something greater than yourself, b**th”
From that moment on…I don’t think anyone saw 2NE1 as a female version of Big Bang. If anything, I think a lot of people probably thought to themselves… “…they might be better than Big Bang.”
Don’t get me wrong, history will show Big Bang was definitely the greatest, but you guys gotta remember, this was 2NE1’s mutha-effing debut! They knocked it out of the park with their very first song and if you think they’re one-hit wonders, forget about it. More than anything though…and this is where I think today’s Korea music scene is lacking…2NE1’s Fire was something entirely new and different from everything else that was out there.
Fire had this reggaeton beat. Every single member stood out with their own character, charisma, like top-dog solo artists who decided to come together and take the top spot as the best girl group in the country. And the competition was stacked against them. SNSD was still going strong. Wonder Girls weren’t going anywhere. You had Davichi and Brown-Eye Girls and they were soon to face challenges from 4-Minute, T-Ara, and F(x) all debuting in the same year.
But what set 2NE1 apart from the rest was, in my opinion, that they were relatable. In 2009, this was before there was a strong feminist movement. Unlike today’s feminism that seems to elevate women at the expense of men, 2NE1 seemed to empower women without depending on men. Meaning, the kind of independence they were instilling in young women was the kind where it didn’t depend on whether or not men accepted them or gave them anything like respect or equality. No matter what, these women were going to be themselves and stop relying on society for their validation. And that kind of feminism…I think anyone, man or woman can definitely respect. Because it’s the same thing men have to deal with as well.
When 2NE1 released, “I Don’t Care” on July 1st 2009, the song opens up with “I had to do this one for the girls you know. Sometimes you gotta act like you don’t care, that’s the only way them boys learn.”
I think the reason why so many respect those lyrics, men and women…it could be because they were written by Teddy Park, a guy. As much as so many people today seem to demonize men as if we’re all out to control and take advantage of women, I think it belies the truth that a majority of men really do care and cherish our women. So when Teddy wrote those words, I was like… “THANK YOU!” Because we’ve all been there. We’ve all had female friends who vent about the guys they like.
2NE1’s lyrics of female empowerment were universal and, I think, helped both genders by instilling strength and encouragement in the gender that needed it the most back then. That’s why you didn’t see the same situation that SNSD had to deal with during their debut. I’m talking about the hate they received from other women because SNSD had friendships with the guys of DBSK and Super Junior. 2NE1 had the same kind of comradery with Big Bang, if not, a closer kinship, but you didn’t see women hating on them. I believe it’s because, from the get-go, they never showed themselves to be different from any other girl out there.
Furthermore, they were able to demonstrate their everyday personalities through a documentary that showcased their debut days, called 2NE1 TV. It was another brilliant marketing strategy that really illustrated to the world that 1) nothing was handed to these women. Everything they achieved, they had to work their asses off and sacrifice for. And 2) they were humble. Despite the massive, almost instant success they had with the debut of “Fire” they still respected their seniors and listened attentively to the advice given by those around them.
Where are my manners. Please. Allow me to introduce them.
As I mentioned, Park Bom was the main vocalist, resident doll-face, and long-time trainee of YG Entertainment. She and bandmate Dara also made waves for their age at the time of their debut in 2009. Most girl groups debut around the age range of 17-21. Park Bom debuted at the age of 25.
Sandara Park, aka Dara, was a darling vocalist and touted as one of 2NE1’s main visuals. She garnered experience, having come up in the Philippines as a contestant on a game show. I also saw some pretty racy photos where she didn’t look bad in lingerie. Like her bandmate, Park Bom, Dara debuted at the age of 25 after years of training. But like fine wine, she only seemed to get better with time. In those early days, Dara was definitely a favorite of the media and other artists as well. Male celebrities certainly had no shyness in expressing their infatuation for her.
While Park Bom and Dare made waves for debuting in their mid-twenties, Minzy raised eyebrows for debuting at the age of 15. And this kid…as history will show, I really feel like she was one of the most underrated female talents in the industry. While she could rap and sing extremely well, almost as if she deserved to go solo from the get-go, she was pushed and promoted mainly for her dancing skills…which was considerable, to say the least. Minzy’s the granddaughter of a legendary folk dancer, so she had a lot of pride in her ability. Hahaha! And with her being this young thing, it really was amazing to see her steal the show when she was put up against the likes of Hyun-A, Nicole, and Ga-In. She appears at 2:09, but I encourage you to watch the whole video to see just how she was just on a whole nother level.
Last but certainly not least…there was CL…
Lee Chae-Rin, aka CL was a fiery upstart who, honestly, epitomize what I see from American girls today (2019), but this was back in 2009. Aggressive. Overflowing with talent, confident, and entitled to be the “One and Only Baddest Female.” Women like CL really can be intimidating to men because there didn’t seem to be an ounce of inferiority in her. Perhaps, that’s why YG made CL the leader of 2NE1 even though she was 18, seven years younger than bandmates Dara and Park Bom.
CL spent time growing up in France and Japan, which would explain why she can speak fluent English. And…not gonna lie, I had a longstanding crush on CL because despite her fiery, sassy attitude…she exuded her own brand of classy femininity.
Hard on the outside, soft on the inside and to the right people. You’d think from her lyrics and performances that she doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks, she’s just gonna do what she wants. But from the 2NE1 TV episodes I watched, there’s definitely another side to her. She really was like a mother to her bandmates.
When YG flew choreographers in to teach them new dances, it was CL who stayed on top of the dance crew to make sure her members got it, all while keeping in mind their schedule and deadlines for upcoming performances. She was responsible. She had a lot on her plate, and she handled it with grace. How can a god-fearing, hardworking man not fall for a woman like that?
2NE1 would go on to be one of the most dominant forces in Kpop history. I’m going to write more chapters devoted to them as I go on…but for 2009…2NE1’s debut and mark on the industry created waves in which everyone took notice. Just like their brother group, Big Bang, it seemed every girl group since 2NE1 started to imitate their fashion and charisma. While Big Bang told the world that not every group needs to be filled with pretty boys to succeed…2NE1 said, “hey…we’re not cute little girls. We’re grown women right here.”