There's no doubt that Korean pop phenoms 2NE1 are entering the most fascinating phase of their career. Rapper CL, dancer Minzy, and vocalists Bom and Dara first stormed the scene in 2009 with the barnburner "Fire," then cemented their international renown with instant classics like "I Am the Best" and "Lonely." They earned the respect of everyone from Diplo to Jeremy Scott, enjoyed accolades like MTV's "Best New Band in the World" award in 2011, and built a fanbase empire with foreign legions as far-flung as France and Brazil.
But in the olympiad since their debut album To Anyone, 2NE1 have seemed reticent to release a proper follow-up against mounting pressures worldwide. That's all changing this week, however, with their new Crush album finally out now, and the premiere of their their $470,000, CGI-ballistic double video for the genre-bending "Come Back Home" (and its acoustic cousin) as well as the video for "Happy." They're also kicking off their "All Or Nothing" world tour in Seoul in a matter of hours on March 1st, their first proper shows in well over a year. We caught up with Asia's fiercest four to mark the occasion, discuss the new album, and find out more about why this is the most pivotal moment 2NE1 will ever face.
Noisey: Let's talk first about your lead single and video, "Come Back Home."
CL: "Come Back Home" is the name of one of the biggest Korean songs from the '90s, by Seo Taiji & Boys, which YG [Yang Hyun-suk, YG Entertainment's CEO] was a member of. We thought it would be cool to shout out [the original] "Come Back Home" in dedication to YG.
For the video, the entire process was very different. We shot two versions at the same time and it's more like a movie than anything else you have seen from us.
Crush is your first full-length record in four years. How have you grown musically during the time inbetween, and why did you wait this long to put out another album?
After our last mini-album [2011's 2NE1 EP] we went on our first world tour, which kept us away from recording. For this album, we pretty much locked ourselves up in the studio and gave it 100%. We've also grown a lot as women since our first album, and you'll be able to hear that on this record.
Also, since I wrote a lot of the music, it's even more personal to us than our previous records.
What are some of your favorites?
Bom: "Gotta Be You," because I really like the hook and the sad lyrics. [And yet] it makes you want to rock out.
Minzy: "Come Back Home" is my favorite to listen to.
Dara: "Chakhan Yeoja (Good To You)." I love the lyrics and I feel this song represents me well. I also love CL's rap at the end.
CL, you wrote the music for three songs and lyrics for five. YG has said he was so surprised to hear you write for the first time that you'll be following Crush with a solo album, right?
I woke up one day and suddenly felt like I had so much to say…I ended up making ten songs in about two weeks. In 2NE1, you mostly see just one side of CL. I have other sides of myself that I can show to the world, and this solo album will show that…it will be a lot more personal.
"All Or Nothing" is your second world tour of this scale. What can your fans expect this time out? How will it be different from previous 2NE1 concerts?
Our last tour seemed more catered to the image we felt that the public had of 2NE1 – it was fun and high-energy. For this tour, we wanted to bring about other elements that are more pure to what 2NE1 is…it's more graceful. We really wanted to challenge ourselves and show the other sides of a woman.
In the video announcement of your album and world tour, you seem at a crossroads -- a bit self-doubting even, talking about a "do or die attitude." What feels especially immense about this moment in your career?
"All or Nothing" refers to our world tour and [the fact that] it's been four years since our last album…four years is an especially long time in Korea. So each one of us personally has that "do or die" attitude. We are giving everything we have into this album and tour…We have never released an album full of all new and previously unheard material.
Jakob Dorof is on Twitter - @soyrev