A commentary on 2NE1

Image via Coachella

After years of teasing their return to music, South Korean girl group 2NE1 reunited in high energy and dramatics at Coachella 2022, a mind-melting surprise for fans everywhere. Performing their smash 2011 hit “I Am the Best,” CL, Minzy, Dara and Bom are still clear exemplaries of the K-Pop idol machine – talented and individual brand names carefully curated into a group. Though it’s been years since most of the members have operated under the alleged oppression of the YG Entertainment agency, and six years since their last performance at the 2015 Mnet Asian Music Awards, their abrupt disbandment looms as a stinging shadow with the ladies and their fans.

The Asian-focused multimedia creative agency 88rising secured the “Head in the Clouds” showcase for Coachella, the first official sponsored timeslot for a label/agency, featuring a handful of Asian acts like legendary Japanese music artist Utada Hikaru and suave Hong Kong singer Jackson Wang. Throughout her punchy three-song set of “HELLO BITCHES,” “Chuck,” and “Spicy,” CL serves strong Rihanna at Hackney Weekend 2012 vibes, a personal favourite in music festival pop sets. It’s inspiring to see CL command the stage at a globally renowned event like Coachella – crawling her way out of the ashes of her label days, resurrecting as a phoenix. CL speaks gracefully when asked on her time in K-Pop machine, so 2NE1 joining her on stage, though surprising, was not unlikely. After all, the ladies maintain great relationships, evidenced by each other’s (public and leaked private) social media. What is impressive is the amount of administrative wheeling and dealing required to make this reunion happen. Involving TaP Music and/or Konnect Entertainment (CL), MZ Entertainment (Minzy), Abyss Company (Dara), D-Nation Entertainment (Dara), 88rising and Coachella, the liaising for this get together must have been a logistic nightmare. A salute to all marketing coordinators involved.

Video screenshot via X100PRE

Thanks to all this effort, the fandom is gifted a 2NE1 performance untarnished by YG and tempered by time and growth. Minzy is a rollicking force in a sharp black bob, performing like her life depended on it. An accidentally shoeless Dara shows out her stank face, exposed belly (an K-Pop impossibility in their heydays) and iconic Vegeta hair. We even get to see a sweet interaction between CL and Bom. Bom, who is notoriously shy and prone to stage fright, is energized by a well-placed cheer, right in her ear, from CL. It’s moments like this that bring warm-hearted tears to the fandom’s eyes, that above all, 2NE1 are not just group members, but sisters. “Through this moment today, I hope those emotions you felt through us in the past are revived again,” CL shares in Korean, on Instagram; it seems she knew this moment needed to exist. I commend CL, for being a true leader amongst a crowd of industry employees. For newer post-2NE1 fans of CL, I suggest a deep dive into older performances and behind the scenes footage to get a multi-faceted grasp of the real Chaelin Lee and how she became who she is today.

It’s unlikely that 2NE1 will return to the glory days of explosive fame and record-setting success. What is likely is a new CL era, a topic further supported by this surprise Coachella performance. 2NE1 as a group, and individually in their own solo careers, has already made their stamp on the overall structure, sound and politics of K-Pop today. What is more likely is a Destiny’s Child-esque existence – nobody ever really knows if they will reunite, but all the cards could be in the right place (looking at you, Beyonce). Maybe we’ll see another MAMA performance; let CL, Minzy, Dara and Bom show the industry how it’s done, and to their fucking faces at that. But, if all fans are treated to are a handful of one-off singles, performances, behind the scenes reunion footage and the eventual but seemingly archived “Let It” 2NE1 version, may these blessings be treasured by the fandom forever.

Additional reading:

“2NE1 Reunite on Coachella Main Stage” by Kristine Kwak, for Rolling Stone

“CL Opens Up About Why She Wanted to Reunite 2NE1 at Coachella” by Gladys Yeo, for NME.com

“OMG. 2NE1 Wore Their Debut Hairstyles at Coachella and We’re Crying” by Lyn Alumno, for NYLON Manila

“A commentary on CL” for Windhill Journal

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