K-pop has turned a corner in America. It's gone from an underground Internet sensation to a genuine influence. The South Korean rapper G-Dragon has collaborated with Diplo, Missy Elliott and Skrillex; now the all-female quartet 2NE1 is the latest to shoot for a mainstream U.S. pop presence. "Crush" has one foot in each country's pop music: K-pop's neon melodies, with sounds from America's trap and bass-music scenes. It's the most coherent LP to come out of this generation of K-pop.
2NE1 pulled a Beyoncé with this record, keeping it secret until release day (It worked. "Crush" sold 5,000 copies for K-pop's best debut in U.S. history on the Billboard 200). Singer-rapper-writer CL gets the album's best track in "MTBD," which is billed as a solo cut. It's an eerie, 808-destroying stomper as good as anything on rap radio in America right now. "Crush's" title track is a deliciously trashy electro-pop banger; "Come Back Home" tosses Atlanta trap drums, pop-reggae guitars and Robyn's bleary-eyed pleading into one song and makes it work. 2NE1's softer side is convincing too: "Happy" is just as catchy as Pharrell's single of the same title, and G-Dragon penned the regal ballad "Good to You."
Commercial smash or not, "Crush" is doing more important work than crossing over — it's ushering in K-pop's future, in America and everywhere.
Three starsCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times