There hasn’t been anything like 2NE1 in a long time. Since debuting back in 2009, YG Entertainment’s fierce and flashy girl group have risen to the top of the charts with astronomical speed, and amassed a small army of international fans in a way that hasn’t been seen since BoA or Wonder Girls. After laying low for the past couple of months, they made their official return today with a ballad single titled “Lonely” — the first of six singles which will be rolled out over the coming months to promote their next mini-album.
Everything you thought you knew about 2NE1 has been stripped away on “Lonely”. There’s no autotune, no heavy dance beats, and no hip-hop; it’s just the girls, an acoustic guitar, and a few sparse strings here and there. “Lonely” doesn’t even contain a Stargate-esque drum beat — in fact, it’s so stripped back that an unfamiliar ear could easily mistake it for an acoustic version of a more upbeat song. 2NE1 have really pulled the rug out from under music fans, much in the same way that Janet Jackson did back in 1993 by releasing “That’s The Way Love Goes” right after the dance extravaganza that was the Rhythm Nation album.
With such bare production, the real life force of “Lonely” is the vocal and emotional delivery. 2NE1 first proved that they possessed an almost unmatched emotional range with the release of their first proper ballad “It Hurts (Slow)”, so it’s no shock that they really tug on the heartstrings here in a way that many other girl groups could not. “Lonely” requires a more restrained vocal performance from the girls, but it doesn’t hinder them at all — their voices are still rich and throaty, distinct and soulful in both tone and power. Member Sandara often receives a lot of criticism for her weak vocal chops when compared to her bandmates, and rightfully so, but “Lonely” allows her soft ‘n’ sweet voice to really shine, offering a genuine fragile vulnerability to the song that the others would not be able to do in the same way.
Another surprise from “Lonely” is the lyrics. With a chorus of “Baby I’m so lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely“, you’d think that 2NE1 would be playing the role of depressed dumpees who just got the boot from their boyfriends, but it’s actually the complete opposite. 2NE1 are actually the dump-ers, unable to escape the curse of loneliness even when they’re coupled up, beating themselves up for breaking a poor man’s heart, and desperately searching for a place in the world to belong. The powerful words add yet another unique layer to the song, setting “Lonely” apart from the majority of other popular ballads out today, American or Asian.
“Lonely” isn’t about following trends or copying beats. You can still be commercial and try new things, change up your lyrics, ditch the Stargate drum machines and “Poker Face” clones. If you bring something tangible and real to the table, then people will be receptive. “Lonely” showcases 2NE1′s immense versatility, and further bridges the gap between idol and artist. It’s the perfect 2NE1 lead single for where they are right now, and raises the bar for every other K-Pop idol in the game right now.
2NE1 did it again, y’all!