The New Queens: Successors to 2NE1 in the K-pop World

You guys have probably seen that I post about K-pop from time to time; to briefly recount my love affair with this genre, I started listening around 2012, even though I don’t speak Korean, partly because it was way more accessible than J-pop on streaming platforms, and many K-pop groups release Japanese music anyways.  I was immediately drawn to 2NE1 (pronounced more like “21”), a charismatic group of four girls from a label known for hip hop and rappers. Their music and fashion have huge Western influence; their style is neither too cute nor too sexy, but instead a powerful, confident vibe known as “girl crush.” 

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CL, Dara, Minzy, and Bom of 2NE1 in 2012 (Mirza.A.H [CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)])
You can check out some of their music videos in my previous posts about them from my K-pop 101 series:

  1. Surface Pro 3 Says 내가 제일 잘 나가 (I am the Best)
  2. K-pop MVs: 2NE1’s “Clap Your Hands”
  3. K-pop MVs: 2NE1’s “Hate You”
  4. K-pop MVs: 2NE1’s “Do You Love Me”
  5. K-pop MVs (Star Wars Special): 2NE1’s “Follow Me”

Unfortunately, the group disbanded in 2016, and while the members are pursuing solo careers, the loss of 2NE1 has left a hole in the K-pop industry as well as in the hearts of all their fans, called Blackjacks.  In the years since, many new groups have stepped forward, and while no one will ever replace 2NE1, there are three groups in particular I think are doing a great job picking up and carrying their mantle.

1. Blackpink

This group is the most obvious, direct successor to 2NE1.  They were put together by the same label, YG Entertainment, to debut in the same year that 2NE1 disbanded.  The two groups even share a producer, Teddy Park. Blackpink also has a girl crush vibe, with a similar Western influence in their music (both groups have fluent English speakers).  However, they are not quite as avant garde in their fashion and visuals, or as experimental in their music, sticking with more of a straight pop feel.  

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Blackpink performing in 2017 (RAS 99 [CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)])

On stage, both groups have a similar lively energy, but Blackpink focuses more on choreography over live vocals, typically using head mics to allow for more intricate dancing.  They are very polished, consistent performers.

When I started listening to Blackpink, I quickly realized that YG copied the successful group composition formula of 2NE1 by bringing together four girls each with a different specialty.  The vocal/rapper/dancer/visual combo works very well for both groups, allowing each member to shine in her own way.

2. Mamamoo

On paper, Mamamoo and 2NE1 don’t have much in common, except each being composed of 4 women.  Mamamoo consists of three powerhouse vocals and an unconventional rapper, and their most famous songs have a jazzy feel.  However, if you look a little deeper, you’ll see why so many Blackjacks are also “Moomoos:” it’s all in the attitude.

Like 2NE1 before them, Mamamoo is renowned for their stage presence and live performances.  They recently won the girl group reality competition show Queendom (where Park Bom of 2NE1 was also participating).  Their live vocals are the some of the best in K-pop, and like 2NE1 they typically use hand mics. They frequently change little bits of their choreography or lyrics, doing some ad libs or shout outs to fans that make each performance different and compelling.

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Mamamoo in 2019 (NewsInStar [CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)])
Although they don’t come from a hip hop background like 2NE1, Mamamoo can successfully pull off a number of styles, both lyrical ballads and energetic numbers.  Recently they have been switching it up even more, with some straight rap and pop dance songs.

Perhaps most importantly, the girls follow in 2NE1’s footsteps by challenging cultural ideals of beauty and feminine behavior, especially Moonbyul with her androgenous style and Hwasa who has been criticized for her looks and fashion.  From a country like South Korea where idol culture and plastic surgery are ubiquitous, the body positivity in their songs and presentation is very refreshing and affirming.

It also helps that the members of Mamamoo are themselves fans of 2NE1.  Lead vocalist Wheein was very excited to collaborate with Park Bom on her single “4:44,” and you can see some moments of Mamamoo fangirling on Queendom as well.

3. (G)-Idle

This is the youngest group on my list: they were rookies last year but have already taken the K-pop world by storm, and this year really cemented their status as a spiritual successor to 2NE1.

Pronounced “Idle” (the G is silent), this group contains six young women, including members from China and Thailand, which probably enhances their international appeal.  They are from Cube Entertainment, the label that launched Hyuna and her girl crush group 4Minute, though their main singer Miyeon trained at YG with the girls from Blackpink.

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(G)I-dle performing in 2019 (PlayIN [CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)])
I fell in love right away with (G)-Idle’s version of the girl crush concept, and this year they’ve expanded to include Latin influences and American hip hop in their music.  They also participated in Queendom, putting their own spin on 2NE1’s debut song by covering “Fire.” While their style is not avant garde, they are definitely trendy in the same way as Blackpink and use fashion purposefully.

(G)-Idle is led by rapper Soyeon, whose incredible stage presence brings to mind 2NE1’s leader CL, a legendary performer.  Soyeon has the same huge charisma, plus she’s the best female idol rapper of her generation (not to mention she produces the group’s songs).  She’s already been featured in two League of Legends promotional songs with Western artists (once with Miyeon), and I can really see her going far in the industry and even having appeal in the US.  One more cute touch: she uses a bright yellow hand mic in performances, bringing to mind the colored mics still used by 2NE1’s members.

5 Favorite K-pop MVs of 2018

We had lots of videos from some heavy hitters this year, plus one surprise League of Legends crossover.

1. “POP/STARS” by K/DA

This one is a little complicated, but just watch the video and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

K/DA is a virtual band whose members are the League of Legends game characters Ahri, Evelynn, Akali, and Kai’Sa. But the vocals are provided by real singers, including two K-pop idols of the group (G)I-dle, Soyeon (rapper/Akali) and Miyeon (vocalist/Ahri).  Basically, Riot Games wanted to promote some new skins for LoL characters and ended up creating the most awesome music video of the year.

Soyeon is one of the fastest rising stars in K-pop right now; she’s a great rapper, has amazing stage presence, and is a wonderful leader for her rookie group (G)I-dle, which had two hits this year.

See also:

2. “Sober” by Hyo

I’ve been thrilled to see Hyoyeon, the main dancer of Girls Generation, putting out more solo stuff.  This video just makes me want to dance around the house every time I watch it.  Also, I appreciate the diversity and body-positive visuals.

3. “Idol” by BTS

You knew BTS had to be on this list somewhere.  I love this video for its spunk and energy, its Korean cultural influences, and its drawings of leader RM with kitty ears.  This video was so good it got a Bad Lip Reading treatment.

4. “Egotistic” by Mamamoo

K-pop follows US music trends, so it’s no surprise that many singles this year featured Latin music influences; Mamamoo is one group that did it very well and will have you yelling “bicho malo” right along with them.  They are such a wonderful mix of talent and confidence, and their live performances are some of the best in K-pop.

5. “Ddu-du Ddu-du” by BLACKPINK

Another killer hit by one of my favorite girl groups, BLACKPINK.  I don’t know what else to say about this except that it has all the swag you’d expect, including a glittery tank, and that Lisa is about the only person alive who could make those green gloves look cool.  Rapper Jennie also released a solo with a great MV this year.

Live Performances:

I’ve been watching more live performances from music shows and awards shows this year, so here are a few that I thought were really special.

  1. “Woman” by BoA on KBS Music Bank.  The legendary BoA makes her entrance by walking upside-down, then flipping over and performing the whole song live with the energy of idols half her age.
  2. “Latata” by (G)I-dle on SBS Inkigayo.  Can you believe these girls are rookies?? I can’t!  I think I watched every single stage promotion of this, their debut song.
  3. “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” by Key on You Hee-yeol’s Sketchbook. SHINee’s triple threat Key had a solo debut this year, and while promoting his song he also performed this lovely Coldplay cover.