K-Pop Korner: 2NE1 – Can’t Nobody

October 7, 2010

In which the author attempts to recant.

As promised/threatened, this is the last piece of my 2NE1 triptych and it comes after I have had time to reflect on the overall response to my first two entries below. After careful consideration, it seems the ineluctable truth of the matter is that these songs are pretty indefensible. I’ll stand by ‘Follow Me’ as a catchy tune that has been kicking about in my head since I first heard it in a phone commercial earlier this year, and not unpleasantly so, but ‘Clap Your Hands’ and this song here, ‘Can’t Nobody’ don’t contain much of note, even as mindless pop songs. Truth be told, I think I was dazzled by the well made, unapologetically over-the-top music videos. I enjoyed the way the girls of the group seem to have developed into these hyperactive, Day-Glo, cyberpunk pixies as it appeared genuinely more interesting than the typical image of their peers; that of faux sultriness blended with a contrived adolescence. However, the songs themselves are fairly wank. They seem to be the work of one Teddy Park (aka Park Hong-jun), a Korean hip-hop artist turned songwriter and producer who reportedly turned down an offer to work with Lady GaGa in order to fulfill his commitments to 2NE1‘s album. Park is probably one of those young guys who cruise around the streets of Apgujeong in their Lamborghinis or Maseratis. Fair play to him, in his position I wouldn’t work half as hard pumping out trashy pop ditties and let’s face it, it doesn’t appear to be all that challenging. He sets the auto-tune to 11 on every song and reels off lyrics like “don’t stop, I’ll take you to the top, just let your body rock…”

I can’t really explain why I came to be so swept up in this a week ago. Perhaps I’ve been in Korea too long and I’ve become much like the wee Irish fella in Waterworld that’s been out in the open water for such a time that it’s fucked his head. The guy who manically tries to purchase Jeanne Tripplehorn from Kevin Costner’s Mariner in exchange for a few trinkets. “Lookit, lookit…it’s paiperpaiper!” Yeah, that sounds about right. For what it’s worth, I’ll still declare 2NE1 the best Korean girl group going right now, a cut above their peers in terms of the product they’re putting out and a harmlessly entertaining bunch by way of appearing to be mainly in it for the laughs but, in an objective, big-picture sense, it’s just kooky shite for kids. If anything, I’m attempting to further my integration into a foreign society and increase my understanding of it by celebrating one of its major cultural exports, pop music. For the purposes of investigation and analysis I’ve had to dive into it somewhat and assess it on its own terms. I firmly assure you all, in my civilian life I do not listen to these songs for recreational purposes nor do I have any desire to purchase or download them.

‘Can’t Nobody’ is much in the same vein as the previous songs featured. It’s a fairly lightweight affirmation of the same ‘Girl Power’ thing The Spice Girls were first peddling 14 years ago. It does drift slightly into more sexualized territory when one girl gyrates down a corridor in black, almost-fetish clothing singing that she’s “so bad, bad that she’s so good, good” and it’s unfortunate that the girl in question, Minzy, is the 16-year-old member of the group. Also, and surprisingly, another girl, the mercifully fully adult CL, grabs her crotch and declares that she “don’t give a ____” with the word “fuck” presumably blanked out. These parts are sung in English and so may not appear as overtly profane to most Korean listeners and may thus avoid any of the arbitrary censorship that can occasionally fall on Korean pop music but, then again, a woman fiercely cupping her vulva and thrusting her pelvis into the air is a fairly unambiguous image. So far it appears to have avoided generating any controversy, however. I’m going on at length here due to the guilt of having so eagerly enthused about this pop group last week. With that, I’ll down tools on the K-Pop for a little while (until I’m stuck for anything else to ramble about) and give it a rest. In their own way, 2NE1 are still kind of awesome, but I’m a grown ass man and I recognise that I have better things to do with my time.

2NE1 – ‘Can’t Nobody’



  1. EDIT: I mentioned having trouble with the plural form of ho earlier but that was in relation to a section of the above that I completely cut in the end, due to it being extraneous and flabby. I forgot that I had cut that. There is an alternate version of this song on their album sung entirely in English with lyrics that are completely new and which aren’t a straight translation from the Korean. One such line was “I let these ho’s know/ I run the show, show.”

    Because I don’t want to do another entry on these girls, here is a bonus image of 2NE1 without make-up. They posed for these pictures and the images were subsequently released by their management company.


    (Clockwise from top left) Dara, or Sandara Park; CL, or Lee Chaerin; Minzy, or Gong Min-ji; Bom, or Lee Park-bom.

    This is true tabloid stuff I’m channeling now.

  2. I like to believe you were made susceptible to this pop sensation by the unapologetic delight you showed at catching that Mariah Carey performance a ways back.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it may have heightened your attention toward pop music more than it might have otherwise.

    For what it’s worth, I love the blessed shit out of female-centric J-Pop from the late 90s, primarily because that’s what I heard during my first extended stay there, and to this day am still able to sing 90% of Suzuki Ami’s “Alone In My Room” at karaoke with my eyes shut. I realize it’s dated, but I’d be happy to provide a few examples that got me through some rough spots. (As a somewhat surprising side note, two of my favorites–Utada Hikaru and Puffy–both had a modicum of crossover success in the States, the latter renamed Puffy AmiYumi who sang the theme song to the Teen Titans cartoon of the mid-2000s.)

  3. Thank god, I’m not alone! You understand exactly what I’m going through, Chuck.

    And listen, Mariah Carey is no friend ‘o mine but ‘Just Be Good To Me’ is a more-than-decent tune and she knocked it outta the fucking park with that cover on her Daydream tour.

  4. Preaching to the choir, mon frere. And hey, I make no apologies about my love for Mariah’s “Dreamlover.” That gets in my head and won’t leave–in a good way. Can’t listen to Cannibal Ox all the time, can I?

    When I first went to Japan, I went as a student and as with students the world over, music is a great way to make friends and, in this case, had the added bonus of learning about the language and the culture. I know it’s also really common for popular songs of the day to be used as the opening themes of TV dramas, often changing from season to season, and by watching a good bit of TV I was able to figure out the names of artists to asks classmates about. For me those were halcyon days of J-Pop, chiefly with the advent of the aforementioned Utada Hikaru, a singer who was raised in New York and thus had a command over English language and pronunciation to make her Japanese peers jealous. Hikaru’s first album, led off by her infectious hit single, “Automatic”, became even more ubiquitous following the release of “First Love”, which eventually became a standard at karaoke sessions the country over. (“First Love” wasn’t just good, it was slow enough to allow foreigners with at least intermediate Japanese skills to master it.)

    Hikaru was one I believe who seemed to be a tad more popular among foreigners than among native Japanese folks, likely due in no small part to her American upbringing. She was easy to like, that is until she squandered a lot of the goodwill she’d garnered through the years with one horribly conceived lyric in “Easy Breezy”, the lead single off her fourth album, EXODUS, the hook for which went:

    “You’re easy breezy, I’m Japanese-y.”

    Yes, that’s right: Japanese-y.

    It was hard to take her (or her sizable English skills) seriously after that, but I still listen to gems like “Automatic”, “First Love”, “Final Distance”, “Hikari”, “Traveling” and others when the mood strikes.


    I fell in love with Puffy (later renamed Puffy AmiYumi), a female duo, pretty early on in my time in Japan (late 1998) not only for their offbeat lyrical content–such as songs about going to eat seafood and hanging out–but also because of all of the Japanese musical artists I’d encountered to that point (and beyond, if I’m being honest) Puffy seemed the most approachable. I liked the idea that if I met Puffy and said, “Hey, let’s order some pizzas and then go drive go-carts,” they wouldn’t bat an eye and then boast about how they could drive faster than me. Sure, that’s not exactly what you want from your musical artists, but that… vibe initially won me over. Plus, they had a TV show, Pa-Pa-Pa-Pa-Puffy, where they’d engage in inane activities and also host guests like Lenny Kravitz, Sylvester Stallone and others.


    Suzuki Ami, possibly my favorite of the three, is also somewhat of the outlier for me in that her style is much more similar to other traditional female J-Pop artists, both in terms of melody and lyrical content. What’s unique about her situation is that, if memory serves, not long after the release of her first album, SA–which boasted a robust 6 singles–the president of her production company was convicted on tax evasion charges (thank you, Wikipedia!). As a result, her career for all intents and purposes ceased and it took some serious doing to bring it back. SA remains one of my favorite J-Pop albums because its tunes are catchy enough and diverse enough to be enjoyable without getting tiresome.


    When I went back to Japan from 2004-06 to teach, I got into artists such as Onitsuka Chihiro, whose style was more somber ballad than straight-up pop (and whose “Sea of Thorns” ranks just below Suzuki Ami’s “Alone in My Room” on my karaoke stand bys), and Koda Kumi who, for better or worse, is most clearly influenced by the work of mid-career Britney Spears.

    Despite listening to these and those from the early 90s, the biggest shift in my Japanese music listening habits came when I went with some friends to see the insane (punk? noise?) band, Guitar Wolf. As impressive as the band was–at one point the lead guitarist stepped off the stage into the crowd and played a lengthy solo whilst the audience held him aloft–what got to me was a tune the DJ played while the band took a break. It was, and still is, the creepiest song I’d ever heard. I inquired as to who the singer was and learned her name is Yamazaki Hako. After a bit of research I discovered she’s a folk singer who was popular in the late 70s but never huge. I subsequently bought and devoured any album of hers I could find–lucking out with my first purchase in that it contained that creepy song, “Noroi” (Curse), that I’d heard earlier. I was later even more fortunate in that I got to see her live in concert at a small venue where I was clearly her youngest fine by a wide margin. She also made my year by signing a copy of one of her albums I’d bought months earlier and took with me for just that occasion.

    As for the song, “Noroi”, it describes a young woman hammering nails into a “wara ningyo”, which is similar to a voodoo doll. The hammering noise in Japanese onomatopoeia sounds like “kon kon” and this repeated sound, and the… dead-eyed voice with which she sings it, will always give me chills. As the song progresses and she continues hammering, the object of her curse changes against her intentions and she herself begins to bleed and feel the pain of her hammerings. Considering the song came relatively early in her career, and the very mature tone of it, endeared me even further to her. That said, there really isn’t another song in her repertoire quite like it, though I love the others just as much as that.

    Apologies for the lengthy post. Got a wee bit carried away there. I guess I had more to say about female-centric Japanese pop than I’d thought.

  5. Mars, Mao, when i was in on vacation this summer, i discovered ArirangTV from Korea(the satellite had about four stations left that worked, it was one of them), it showed k-pop most of the time. While i didn’t know any of the bands/singers i can say it was fun and fascinating to watch, i even tried to remember one or two names but can’t remember.
    And i agree, that Mariah Carey performance was great (i think i heard a new cover of that song on the radio just recently, maybe Katy Perry or so – it just can’t touch Careys great live version).

  6. Speaking of Japanese noise rock, Chuck, I saw Melt Banana when they came to Korea last year. Brilliant show, and a lot more accessible than I was expecting.

    Melt Banana

  7. Yeah David. The K-pop stuff is fun to read. No need to qualify it or apologize for it. Just keep it coming!

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