Instead of following a tried-and-true formula of slowly rolling out individual songs and their characteristically flashy videos, the all-female Korean pop supergroup 2NE1 went the opposite direction with their new album, Crush. Announced in January—no advance snippets were available—and released digitally in February, 2NE1 dropped two singles simultaneously (the uptempo pair “Come Back Home” and “Gotta Be You”). Though both unsurpisingly lit up the Korean charts, the excitement—as well as an appearance in a January episode of ABC’s The Bachelor—buoyed an entrance into Billboard 200, where 2NE1 sold more copies in the first week than any Korean outfit in history. The only semi-micro-plotted movement in the whole campaign happened when YG Entertainment bumped the digital release three days—meaning that they broke the record in four days, instead of a full seven—so it would come out on the February 27 birthday of CL, 2NE1’s ascendant star. Hold that thought.
As one could imagine, Crush is similarly fashioned around the shapeshifter CL, who wrote lyrics and composed three songs on the album in addition to the solo thumper “MBTD”. Crush, in total, is exactly the stylemash you’ve become accustomed to from the group, a release that bottles up contemporary trends (such as the blurry trap sound frequented by Future and others) as well as the usual EDM/reggae/hip-hop/R&B hybrid that YG’s in-house producers favor for the quartet. While the instinct to position the versatile CL in the front of 2NE1 is right on, her compositions fall a hair short of Crush’s standouts, which include the earworms “Come Back Home” and “Happy” as well the subtle, pretty G-Dragon-penned ballad “Good to You”. But it’s not a “sore thumb” situation: CL stacks up to the more experienced hands of the YG factory, and thus seems primed for a huge solo career. Crush represents a sleeker, more refined vision for the group; if nothing else, the well-balanced record serves as a capsule of the outfit’s pop instincts and versatility. Though the soulful, organ-spiked R&B take “Baby I Miss You” might be the most natural fit for the group, they generally make a breeze of it, bolstering strong performances by the ensemble of Dara, Minzy and Park Bom.
In his K-Pop primer from 2011, James Brooks made much of 2NE1's brash, attention-grabbing ethos; Crush finds them wisely dialing back the assault. And, unlike G-Dragon’s strained crossover attempt Coup d’Etat, YG’s team—primarily the producers Teddy, DEE.P and CHOICE 37—create something fairly universal on Crush. Like a number of records in this vein, there are a handful of moments that push the sound’s signature maximalism too far—I would argue that “Come Back Home” holds up plenty well without the skizz-skizz-WOMP-WOMP-WOMP breakdown stapled to the bridge—but maybe that’s a little like penalizing a Swans album for having too many guitars. With Crush, 2NE1 succeed on their inlaid mission statement—they've made music for anyone.
Also, GD got 6.1 for Coup d'Etat loolololo