Billboard has covered in depth how Korean pop princesses Girls' Generation and Kara, among others, have risen to the top of the Japanese market ( Dec 11, 2010, Korea's Hot Export;August 12, 2011, Japan Recovers); but there are new queens in town.
The hip-hop and R&B influenced quartet 2NE1 (pronounced "twenty-one") stormed Japan with a three-city, six-date tour in late September and early October that drew over 70,000 people according to 2NE1's Seoul-based management company YG Entertainment. The final show at Chiba's Makuhari Messe on the outskirts of Tokyo saw 12,000 fans, mainly Japanese girls aged 12-18, avidly pumping their bodies to the sound, which had a backbeat more akin to rap than J-pop, or K-pop.
In fact, we could term this band, and others like it such as Aziatix the start of a new genre, K-hop, the Korean take on a unique mixture of hip-hop and K-pop.
Hundreds of fans unable to enter the sold out venue milled around on the perimeter, staying for the entire show despite having no chance of seeing the performance. While most Japanese fans show a kinetic enthusiasm for their favorite pop bands the atmosphere at Makuhari Messe was closer to Beatlemania. Fans screamed in between songs and exploded with each new number.
2NE1 is made up of leader CL, as well as Minzy, Bom and Dara, four twenty-something Korean women who, apart from Minzy, have international backgrounds. The effort is produced by Teddy Park, who composes all of the tracks, in collaboration with the women. Reached by Skype (Park did not make the trip to Japan for the tour) he told Billboard "CL speaks four languages. She's from a multi-cultural background, she knows how to make it sound right for a global market."
2NE1 released its first mini-album, "Nolza" in Japan (Avex Group/YG Entertainment) on September 21 and according to Soundscan Japan it had moved 18,231 copies as of October 8.
At Makuhari the quartet opened with "Fire", the 2009 track whose video received over one million views on its first day according to the Korean publishing giant Joongang. The track, a signature tune of the band, immediately sent the audience into a frenzy. The energy didn't let up for 10 tracks, including covers of Drake's "Marvin's Room" and Nicky Minaj's "Did It on em". Ironically the powered waned when the band was joined onstage by G-Dragon and Top from the massively popular Korean boy band Big Bang.
In addition to taking his influence from both American R&B and rap as well as Korean pop and ballads, Park has teamed up with Will.i.am to produce some of the tracks. This international thinking has established 2NE1 as Korea's foremost hip hop- oriented band. In the summer of 2010 the group traveled to LA to record the Will.i.am tracks, among them their hit foot-stomper "I Am the Best." Says Park, "Will.i.am has produced 6 or 7 tracks (for us). He'll leave his track and leave it up to us but the standard has to be met in the middle. We have our own standards and so does he, and his standards are global."
On his recording with the Black Eyed Peas star in LA he notes, "It was fascinating when I stepped into his studio and we are using the exact same equipment, identical."
After the Big Bang duo returned the stage to 2NE1 the energy returned to the hall, and the band unleashed "I Am the Best" to a manic reaction. After 22 tracks the exhausted fans streamed out the band greeted a host of music industry executives and tastemakers at a backstage get together.
2NE1 is poised to take the Korean invasion on Japan to a new level.
Boom Boom Pow: In addition to working with The Black Eyed Peas' Will.i.am on several tracks, the group may also have been inspired by his group's sartorial splendor.