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.

Spring 2019 Reading Wrap-Up

Here are some brief reviews of what I’ve been reading so far this year.

Wayward Children series

Seanan McGuire

25526296The Wayward Children series consists of four novellas, starting with Every Heart a Doorway, which is set in a boarding school for young people who went through various magical doorways to other worlds and then came home again (shades of Narnia and Alice in Wonderland, but with less whimsy and more therapy.)  The other novellas tell a bit more about the adventures of the various characters in the other worlds.  

I tried reading the Hugo-winning Every Heart a Doorway a year ago and had trouble getting into it because I felt it was too dark.  But it’s really not all that dark, considering that the plot revolves around murder and mutilation of corpses (also I was post-partum at the time and reading at odd hours of the night).  It actually has a really nice ending with a theme of being true to yourself. It has a great cast of characters, including several LGBT+ characters, which really adds an extra dimension to the themes about self discovery and belonging.  I’m reading through the rest of them now, and I’ve been enjoying picturing Jack, one of my favorite characters, as looking like Moonbyul of the K-pop group Mamamoo.

Related image
I couldn’t find any pics of Moonbyul wearing gloves. But lots of her in suits!

 

Heartstone

Elle Katharine White

31290944This book is billed as Pride and Prejudice with dragons, and that is exactly what it delivers. In fact, it starts out as a beat-for-beat retelling of P&P (same characters, scenes, conversations, etc.), which was a bit boring, but as it continues it deviates further and gets more interesting.  Its strength is its world building of dragons (and dragonriders) and other creatures. 

I’m waiting for the sequel Dragonshadow on hold at the library now.

The Other Einstein

Marie Benedict

28389305This was a book I wanted to like more than I did.  On the surface, I was thrilled to read the story of a female scientist, Mileva “Mitza” Marić, the first wife of Albert Einstein.  But I struggled with several aspects.

I am a bit uncomfortable with the use of recent historical figures as the focus of a fictional novel.  I applaud the author’s intent to shine light on Mitza, but I personally would have chosen another way to do it. (This is the kind of thing that alternate history fantasy was made for.)

The book wants to treat Mitza like a Madam Curie figure, when in reality she failed her undergraduate final exams, never achieved a degree, and never worked professionally as a scientist. I say this not to disparage Mitza, who was clearly a brilliant woman (also dealt a bad hand by society), but to emphasize that the book is fiction.  Though she undoubtedly collaborated with Einstein on his early works, there is precious little evidence that Mitza had a significant role in formulating the theory of relativity.

It makes for a good story, though.  It very nearly reads like a tragedy, but the book injects some hope right at the end.  There was nothing particularly beautiful about the prose, but it did have a good sense of drama.

I realized partway through that I would rather have just read the letters between Mitza and Einstein; the author helpfully provides the link to them here: https://einsteinpapers.press.princeton.edu/. (You can in fact read all of Einstein’s papers and correspondence.)

Also, have you noticed a trend in historical fiction covers recently?

Vengeful

VE Schwab

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I was very excited to get my hands on this sequel to the supervillain revenge story Vicious, which I loved last year.  However, I hit some roadblocks in that until recently, my library only had the audiobook, not the ebook, thanks to a targeted campaign by the publisher (my library did not happen to have a print copy either).  I have been trying halfheartedly to get into audiobooks, and I did not think this one was great. The narrator sounded perpetually wistful, and I was not impressed with his female voices (though his accents were good).  It is also not a linear story, so I didn’t like that I couldn’t just skim back a few pages to the chapter break to check where in the timeline I was.

The story itself however was nearly as good as the original, just maybe not quite as tight.  It went in a different direction than I expected, and I enjoyed the journey. Victor and Eli’s roles are a bit switched in this one, plus there are some great new female characters including the powerfully ambitious mob wife Marcella Morgan and the mysterious June.  The book once again has a satisfying ending but with enough threads left hanging that there could be another installment (yes, please!). So if you really like grey characters or stories that make you root for sociopaths, I highly recommend this series.

What have you guys been reading recently?

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.

5 Favorite K-pop MVs of 2017

I actually made a playlist of K-pop music on Spotify to take to the hospital with me while I was giving birth.  I suspect that may have been a first for the Labor and Delivery unit.  It’s been another wonderful year of K-pop music videos; here are some of my favorites.

1. “Yes I Am” by Mamamoo

There is so much to love about this song, this video, and this group.  The song is so catchy and has the most body-positive and self-confident lyrics I’ve ever heard in a K-pop song.  The video itself is colorful and cute, and they did the choreography themselves.  But I can’t say enough about these four ladies as performers, because in my opinion they give the best live performances in all of K-pop.  Their vocals are flawless and their stage presence is magnetic.  They are known for changing their lyrics on stage and doing little ad libs.  If you really want to see them at their best, check out some live performances of this song, like this one.

2. “MIC Drop (Steve Aoki Remix)” by BTS

BTS had another huge year, breaking further into the American audience with appearances at the AMAs and on Jimmy Kimmel and Ellen.  I loved their first single “DNA,” but I was really struck by the video for their remix of “MIC Drop,” a song I already liked from the first time I saw it performed live.  The remix version is what they’ve been performing recently, and while I like this new version of the song fine (it has more English lyrics), the video just blew me away with its visuals.

3. “Hobgoblin” by CLC

I love finding new, young groups, and CLC is one that came on my radar this year with their badass video for “Hobgoblin.” Hyuna apparently worked with them on this, and you can really feel the 4Minute vibe, which is very welcome since the disbandment of that group.  Most young girl groups have a cutesy concept, which is not my thing, so it’s great to find a next generation capable of taking on the swag of groups like 4Minute and 2NE1.

4. “Rollin'” by Brave Girls

Here’s another group that came across my radar this year with a catchy song and great choreography.  I normally don’t go for concepts that are “sexy,” but this one is on the classy side (I know the title says “Clean Version,” but all that was removed was a few clips of the girls lying in a pile.  I dunno.)  I absolutely love the use of the stools in the choreography.  And in those high heels, too!  Very impressive.

5. “Peek-a-Boo” by Red Velvet

I’ve been a fan of Red Velvet and their catchy songs for years, and they sure had a great year with two big hits.  This is the most recent video on my list, but I’ve already played it on repeat so many times.  It is such a bizarre concept: a cult of girls who lure pizza delivery guys to their house to kill them.  Wearing shiny rainbow dresses.  Or something.  Somehow involving Jell-O.  But Red Velvet pulls it off just like anything else.

Other Honorable Mentions:

  1. “Shall We Dance” by Block B—Mainly for the adorable little girl showing off her moves with them.  Also P.O wearing Burberry lol.
  2. “Move” by Taemin—The maknae of SHINee once again turns out a killer video–actually three videos, but this one is my favorite.  His style blends so well with Japanese choreographer Koharu Sugawara; they are just poetry in motion together.  It has such an emotional and sensual feel in a very gender neutral way, without being overtly sexy.  Beautiful.
  3. “Ninano” by Minzy—Speaking of great dancing, my bias from my favorite K-pop group 2NE1, made her solo debut, and Minzy is such a good dancer it was fun to see her collaborate with Marquese Scott in this video.  It incorporates some of the original video choreography with freestyling.
  4. “Hola Hola” by KARD—This co-ed group is consistently churning out tropical house-style hits with awesome choreography.  This video adds some beautiful scenery and a chance to display some personality of the members.
  5. “Love” by PSY feat. Taeyang—Though this song is by the K-pop idol most famous here in the US, he doesn’t appear in this video at all.  Instead, we are treated to awesome dancing by Parris Goebel and her ReQuest Dance Crew (you may recognize them from Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” video).