Korean Pop’s Singular Mélange 2NE1

NEWARK — They waited patiently, several thousand of them, outside the Prudential Center here on Friday night. They were mostly young, a combination of futuristic cool and slightly awkward. The more extravagantly attired were beyond mere extravagance: shiny clothes in bold contrasting prints, hair dyed in colors known to no rainbow.

They were K-pop fans, here for the first American performance of 2NE1, the K-pop — that’s Korean pop — stars. And they were being made to wait, unhappily, for unspecified reasons well past the time that doors were supposed to open, then also past the time that 2NE1 (pronounced “twenty-one” or “to anyone”) had been meant to take the stage. There was at least one report of fangirl tears on the street before the arena’s doors finally relented, and the crowd clogging the sidewalks was slowly herded to seats, just dodging the rain that would have compromised those outfits.

The members of 2NE1 awaited them, taking the stage in track jackets with their names — CL, Dara, Minzy, Bom — spray-painted on the back and, for some of the band, their own faces airbrushed onto the front. (The clothes for the tour were by the fantasist designer Jeremy Scott.)

“I’m going to make this show worth the wait,” CL assured the crowd, just as the group began “Clap Your Hands,” which sounded like a carbon copy of mid-2000s up-tempo R&B, and during which the group’s backup dancers were making a scene that could have been from “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.”

They were K-pop fans, here for the first American performance of 2NE1, the K-pop — that’s Korean pop — stars. And they were being made to wait, unhappily, for unspecified reasons well past the time that doors were supposed to open, then also past the time that 2NE1 (pronounced “twenty-one” or “to anyone”) had been meant to take the stage. There was at least one report of fangirl tears on the street before the arena’s doors finally relented, and the crowd clogging the sidewalks was slowly herded to seats, just dodging the rain that would have compromised those outfits.

The members of 2NE1 awaited them, taking the stage in track jackets with their names — CL, Dara, Minzy, Bom — spray-painted on the back and, for some of the band, their own faces airbrushed onto the front. (The clothes for the tour were by the fantasist designer Jeremy Scott.)

“I’m going to make this show worth the wait,” CL assured the crowd, just as the group began “Clap Your Hands,” which sounded like a carbon copy of mid-2000s up-tempo R&B, and during which the group’s backup dancers were making a scene that could have been from “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.”

K-pop moves at a speed faster than late capitalism, hybridizing styles and sounds at will and pivoting quickly. In this universe new groups are rolled out with efficiency by entertainment conglomerates; YG Entertainment is the one behind 2NE1, which in the last three years has become a huge success. (The group recently appeared in a commercial for Adidas Originals alongside Nicki Minaj.)

2NE1 is a girl group in the Destiny’s Child or Spice Girls mold, but it also incorporates plenty of rapping and some reggae for good measure, as well as production that’s indebted to arena-size dance music. Like most contemporary K-pop, the group borrows from plenty of American and European styles but manages not to carry any fingerprints — the mélange is K-pop’s signature aesthetic.

During the two-hour show this fuzzy center held up impressively, hitting a lull only late in the night during an ill-advised ballad run. When the group stuck to its exhortations to party, or boy-craziness, it was convincing.

CL is the spark plug, rapping with attitude and singing with bluster and seeking the spotlight most aggressively. During her solo turn, she mock-D.J.’ed Rihanna’s “We Found Love” on a platform high over the stage, fooling no one though enjoyable to watch all the same.

But Minzy, who had been uneven at the beginning of the night, ended up being the group’s anchor, singing with confidence and a rich tone, and even dancing in a way that kept up with the hyperactive backing troupe. During her solo turn she break-danced to Missy Elliott’s “I’m Really Hot.”

Dara, with half her head shaved, was the most coy of the group. She sings in a thin, velvety tone that’s best as an accent. Bom, for her part, aimed higher, with ambitious vocals that didn’t always hit their marks. She appeared less and less steady as the night progressed. Each time the group left the stage she was the one trailing behind, either legitimately confused or playing the part well.

2NE1 was backed by a mostly female band, which injected flourishes of real skill amid the music’s more direct demands. It shined on the restrained pop-house of “In the Club,” and also the Kylie Minogue-esque disco of “Stay Together” and the winning “I Love You.”

Even smaller songs were presented in huge fashion, thanks to the dozen or more backup dancers and elaborate video-screen projections. During “Pretty Boy,” the male dancers removed their shirts, one after the other, and one of them walked the length of the U-shaped stage in a Flaming Lips-style inflatable ball.

Despite all the pageantry there was still something slightly unfinished about this performance, with its emphasis on scale and spectacle, not on polish and finesse. There were dance moves not quite executed to their finish, sporadic lip-syncing and some vocal parts rendered shakily.

At the encore 2NE1 delivered a second rendition of “I Don’t Care” — this one reggae-less — and closed with its hit single “I Am The Best,” one of its most dynamic songs, all squelchy synths and abusive drums and slithery vocals. At this point they were dressed casually; following a night of glittery basketball jerseys and psychedelic leggings, it was the equivalent of seeing them in their pajamas. After all, it was late.

2NE1 plays on Friday at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles; nokiatheatrealive.com.

Source: NYTimes

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