Less than a month ago, YG’s main girl group 2NE1 released the digital single, “Lonely.” It’s a fun, fresh track, in two senses: It’s a nice contrast against the tide of poppy and/or electronic-based songs that has saturated the Korean gayo (domestic pop music) market, which YG is well aware of; people who have succeeded in pop music know that it’s as much about contrasting against what’s dominant in the market as keeping in mind the mainstream taste of the public, and YG’s top male group Big Bang also voiced their same intention of going against the electric tide with their recent release of “Tonight,” their fourth mini-album from February of this year. It’s also a different sound for the 2NE1 girls themselves, who rode the pop dance wave albeit with heavier beats.
However, I do have a few qualms with the song. You’ll notice that it’s an acoustic track, pretty much all string sounds with the guitar as the main and some background (synth?) orchestral strings. No rhythm instruments like drums or beat tracks. With this change in sound, the instrumental being literally instrumental, I find the entry of some of the vocals to be too piercing for the song, especially CL’s. (She has the first few lines of the song, but also check out 0:25.)
When listening to the song for the first time, it seemed to me as if the girls couldn’t shake off their in-your-face club style of singing. Some would say that these vocal qualities are what make 2NE1 recognizable, and while this may be true, I think retaining the same singing approach is at the expense of a singer’s skill to gauge a song as well as compromising the song itself. It is understandable to employ a forceful, even, penetrating technique when you’re backed by boomy basses and rainbow synths, but for a more sensitive song, I think the sound could have been adjusted to reflect this change while still remaining strong (like at 1:47). Instead, the voice of member Sandara Park (0:21), who has the weakest vocals of the group, comes off as the most fitting, although Minji’s vocals (0:11) are a nice medium.
Actually, I find the most enjoyable part of the song to be the lyrics. While typical “lonely” songs sung by pop groups are talking about being abandoned by or apart from the other party, 2NE1’s “Lonely” is expressing the feelings of loneliness and restlessness even when you’re in a caring relationship. It kind of follows in the vein of American female singers’ “gentle independence” songs, e.g. Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Already Gone.” After understanding the lyrics, I found the content really refreshing and interesting. In that respect, “Lonely” is really different and rather mature compared to other songs around. To listen to the song along with the lyrics and translation:
All in all, it’s a decent track that’s recognizable thanks to the titular chorus and YG magic. While I wasn’t totally satisfied with the delivery of the song, the girls’ vocals are steady as ever, and they’re enjoying continued success with “Lonely.” It’s been playing everywhere, and I even woke up to it blasting near my apartment building one morning.