Japan’s relationship with K-Pop in 2012 was fraught with ambivalence, as the excitement of the new that washed through 2011 became complicated by politics in the shape of the Takeshima/Dokdo dispute, a growing sense of oversaturation, a backlash against the slickness and professionalism of Korean acts in favour of the fake ordinary-girl authenticity of Japanese idol groups, and perhaps a general sense that the Japanese market was being exploited as a cash cow by Koreans who were more interested in breaking America and whose country had no intention of returning the good will.
Girls’ Generation and Kara, the two big players in the scene (in the absence of new releases by boy bands Big Bang and TVXQ), sold well, but nowhere near as well as the previous year, while worldwide smash Gangnam Style made little to no impact in Japan. Japanese mainstream music in the meantime, slunk back into its comfort zone of late-90s style pop balladry, ephebophilic idol music and repackaged oldies. As a result, the appearance in the spring of 2NE1’s first full length Japanese language album was a ray of light in an otherwise grim year for pop.
I reviewed Collection for The Japan Times and wrote a bit more about it here, so check those out if you want to read what I had to say at the time. In the intervening period, it’s lost none of its swagger and sounds just as over-the-top and clever-stupid as it did when it first came out. Since its release, 2NE1 also came up with what might be the best pop single of the year in I Love You and put on a thrilling arena tour. They’ve been preparing to strike out towards the U.S. by working with will.i.am and all the dreary horrors that entails, so Japanese audiences can at least be satisfied that in 2012 they caught 2NE1 at their best.