[Edit, 3/1/2014] I've added the music video for Girls' Generation's "Mr.Mr." below.
We all knew it would come down to this. This past week we saw the ultimate in KPOP Girl Group Turf Wars -- it was the Reigning Supremes in SM's Girls' Generation (eh-oh, GG!) versus bad girls-turned noisy girls-turned melancholic girls in YG's 2NE1 (eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh, 2NE1!).
My bias toward CL & Co. in 2NE1 has been well documented on this blog. I'm sure you're all aware by now that a part of me desperately wants to be as cool as CL is (whatever the unnie is, notwithstanding) and Minzy is six (and a half) years younger than me and yet has more swagger than I could ever dream of. Their back catalog of singles reads like a who's who in noisy KPOP uptempos and they are arguably one of the main reasons why I stayed stanning for KPOP, mostly because they were the anomaly group. They made being a fierce gal in Korea a cool thing to be (at least in terms of groups -- it can be argued that Hyori and BoA also did a lot of this heavy lifting as well) and in terms of global notoriety, they are hard to beat and in such a short amount of time. The group came on the scene roughly around the time that I myself fell down the proverbial KPOP rabbit hole -- in 2009.
In a $$$ battle that feels so calculated it's kind of hilarious, YG squares them off with the undisputed heavyweights in the K-Game (arguably for all K-artists, male and female) in Girls' Generation. GG is a group of ladies so pretty and cute I kind of wanted to despise them if I'm being totally honest. Created in a cutesy, feminine, Pepto-Bismal Pink mirror of my guys in Super Junior (to be fair -- I initially wasn't into SuJu either), GG set a tone for girl groups not just in Korea, but in Japan and even the United States. Their strength is undeniable since their breakthrough in "Gee" (as sickeningly cute as it is, was, and forever will be) and with each successive single, they've only grown stronger in appeal to yours truly. Shades of ferocity glimmered through with "Run Devil Run" and once their Japanese debut ("Bad Girl", "Mr. Taxi") hit shelves, I could no longer deny I had overnight become a casual fan.
Herein lies my conundrum. While I am a new found comrade to the Girls' Generation pantheon, I remain to be faithful to my Blackjack origins. It's been almost three years since 2NE1 has released anything substantial in Korea and an appropriate followup to their monster 2NE1 2nd EP felt Herculean as the months (and eventually years) passed. "I Love You" helped initially and spoke of a more mature feel while "Falling In Love" felt more familiar with its island grooves. "Do You Love Me" was earwormy in a hype album cut kind of way and "Missing You" was desolate and dark. After all this time of waiting, this week we receive Crush, a dark, largely mid-tempo and ballad structured album package that features none of the three singles that preceded it (not even "Missing You" which would have fit in quite nicely). Do you feel my pain yet?
Meanwhile, Girls' Generation also offered up their fourth EP Mr.Mr. this week (their first EP since 2010's Hoot, but their last official release in Korea was the album length I Got A Boy, released just over a year ago). Arguably, much of Mr.Mr. the EP was hinged on the airy kind of fluff that is Girls' Generation's bread and butter and after being teased toward a potentially more bold and brassy lead single (produced by the American Underdogs troupe, no less), I was expecting something...else. However, what we got in "Mr.Mr." the song helps repair the damage done by the frenetic "I Got A Boy" which admittedly suffered from an identity crisis.
"Mr.Mr." crackles with controlled energy -- it has electro swizzle but not so much that it feels contrived and at its root, it's pristine nu-disco pop. It's exactly the kind of sound that Girls' Generation should be cranking out (at 11) in 2014, ultra-femme enough to not stray from the base but with the touches of a femme fatale to tease. The EP is just long enough to satisfy the group's large fanbase and their incessant call for something new from their favorite nine-some (is that a word?) but still short enough to whet your appetite for what's coming next. "Soul" is the obvious choice for a co-promotion song as it harbors a more familiar Soshi sound but with electro-wizzles that echo the tone of "Mr.Mr.". "Europa" is another worthy Europop dance cut, straight out of the 70's roller-rink.
Those three songs alone are reason for purchase of the Mr.Mr. EP and those three alone outweigh 2NE1's entire Crush "album" (the set includes seven new group songs, a new song from CL solo, a Korean version of a Japanese cut already released and an unplugged version of a single that's also included). The highlight here is the single "Come Back Home" which admirably straddles the line between the funkier, peppy feel I associate with 2NE1 and their darker, more melancholy sound that has permeated so much of their more recent material with a reggae-swing a la a sped-up "I Don't Care" or "Falling In Love".
My girl CL wrote lyrics to more than half of the Crush album (although not "Come Back Home") and hints toward much more solo material from her in the future. While I so ardently want 2NE1 to return to their noisy, in-your-face form a la "I Am The Best" and "Fire", it's hard for me to deny the writing on the wall. I might be so bold as to even say that CL has officially outgrown her group (and perhaps, from a vocal standpoint -- I could say the same for Minzy). This is not to say that Bom & Dara aren't talented and important pieces of the puzzle. Its just the overall product just doesn't appear to be a snugly-fit, finished puzzle like it used to. Perhaps this is how fans of Big Bang feel these days with the overwhelming influence of G-Dragon in group promotions. Maybe it's all a red herring. At this moment, it's hard to tell for sure.
As it currently stands, in a gal group battle between my supa-fierce bad girls and my guilty-pleasure good girls, the so called winner points toward someone I totally wouldn't expect. This isn't to say that Crush won't grow on me as time goes by -- much of my beef with this "album" era is aimed at YG themselves -- but as it stands, I'm Team Soshi for this round. Who woulda thunk it?