Korean pop group 2NE1 have simultaneously released two videos for tracks from their new album Crush, out last week. It’s a relatively short album—10 tracks in 35 minutes, including two versions of the song “Come Back Home”—and doesn’t include any of the singles (“I Love You,” “Falling in Love,” “Do You Love Me” and “Missing You”) released since their last EP. Indeed, it might be the first genuinely disappointing 2NE1 release. While the opening title track has the pumped-up energy of their best work, “Come Back Home” lurches back and forth between a sluggish, reggae-derived groove, over which the vocals float with little or no connection to the music, and stuttering hip-hop breakdowns. Meanwhile, the chorus aims for hands-in-the-air rave energy and never quite makes it. “Gotta Be You” follows a similar pattern, and “If I Were You” is a torchy ballad, with strings and choral backing vocals, followed by another one, “Good to You.” The album doesn’t pick up again until track six, “MTBD,” a solo feature for CL that’s all strutting attitude, machine-gun drum programming bolstered by bizarre sampled voices and floor-shaking bass. “Happy,” a track driven by acoustic guitar, is catchy enough, but it’s also basically a rewrite of “Lonely” from their self-titled EP. The electro-pop “Scream,” a Korean version of a track originally recorded for 2012′s Collection (a Japanese-language compilation that also included their take on Madonna‘s “Like a Virgin,” sung in English), is another peak. The final new song on Crush is “Baby I Miss You,” an R&B ballad with a surprising amount of English-language lyrics. And that’s it, except for the closing acoustic version of “Come Back Home,” which is a great showcase for the various singers’ voices, but not exactly what most people come to 2NE1 (or K-pop generally) for. Ultimately, Crush isn’t wild ‘n’ crazy enough to keep 2NE1 at the top of the K-pop heap; it feels like an attempt at artistic maturity, and that’s a mistake.
At least the videos are somewhat interesting. “Come Back Home” actually has something like a plot; features the group members struggling to free people from the grip of technology and virtual realities—pretty ironic, given that their amazing video for “I am the Best” pretty much portrayed them as alien queens in/from some kind of impossible future fantasy world. “Happy” is a little more down-to-earth; it basically consists of footage of the group members walking around L.A. in hyper-stylized fashions, with emoji-like characters bursting all around them (and a pair of quick cameos from their designer, Jeremy Scott). It may not be as ultra-styled or posthuman as some of their best clips, but they’ve gone that route before—the video for “Do You Love Me” was basically shot to look like a night out partying with the group members in street clothes and cavorting in clubs, on the beach and in a pool—and it highlights their personalities and sense of fun and group camaraderie. It’s better than the song it’s promoting.
Watch “Come Back Home”: