On April 16, South Korean rapper CL took to the stage at Coachella in California, one of the most influential music festivals in the world. For one song she was joined by Park Bom, Sandara Park and Minzy, the three other women who made up K-pop group 2NE1, which formally disbanded in 2016. It was the first time they had performed together in over half a decade. As the quartet sang their 2011 hit I Am the Best, there was a poignant awareness of how much of an impact these four had together. If only they hadn’t faced sudden difficulties mid-career that put a halt to their superstardom and led them to go their separate ways. 2NE1 arrived on the K-pop scene in 2009, managed by YG Entertainment, now best known as the home of Blackpink, but also historically one of South Korea’s biggest music labels and in its heyday at the time. The group started making waves from the moment of their first release, a pre-debut mobile phone ad called Lollipop in collaboration with BigBang. They soon followed with their formal debut song, Fire, another major hit . After that, every release the quartet put out was bigger than the previous one, and their fierce dance-pop anthems won them fans across the world, known collectively as “Blackjacks”. 2NE1 hit it big not only in South Korea, but also released songs and albums in Japanese, and set records in global music charts. Band members were in hot demand as models, fashion icons and collaborators, while CL especially rose up as a soloist. When modern K-pop was born in April 1992 with I Know by Seo Taiji & Boys The group started to make inroads into the US scene, the world’s largest music market, particularly after I Am the Best was featured in a Microsoft computer ad in 2014, garnering them more attention. But in mid-2014, things came to a sudden halt when Park Bom was embroiled in a drug-smuggling case relating to medication she was taking for her mental health. The medication was illegal to bring into South Korea but she had a prescription for it in the US. The next time the group would perform together would be in December 2015 – another CL solo performance during which she brought the other three women onto the stage, heralding a surprise reunion full of hope. But that 2015 performance was the last one from the group under YG Entertainment. In April 2016, Minzy left YG; the label said 2NE1 would continue as a trio, but in November of that year it suddenly announced the group’s disbandment and released a final single, Goodbye, performed by the remaining three members. Since then, all four have been doing their own thing, exploring new stages of their careers as soloists on their own terms. Though the four have been reticent about the period in between being at the top of K-popdom and going almost silent while under YG, it has become apparent that there was some mismanagement of musical releases and promotions, especially for CL, who left YG in 2019 and almost immediately released an album – showing that she had been sitting on material for years. YG has often left female artists and their fans frustrated with the scarcity of releases while male label-mates put out albums and singles with higher frequency. Soloist Lee Hi left the label in 2019 after years of infrequent releases, and Blackpink’s fans have, on multiple occasions, protested about what many see as a lack of releases from one of the most prominent pop acts of their generation. YG has put out statements promising releases, some of which fans are still waiting for. It’s because of all this that watching 2NE1’s reunion was both thrilling and a little bittersweet: these are four women in the prime of their lives who, while also great when separate, have a special spark when they come together as 2NE1. K-pop label apologises after boy band’s song accused of Nazi-inspired lyrics After performing at Coachella, the internet lit up with fans around the world exclaiming that they had reunited. It also felt like a “what if” moment – what if 2NE1 had never stopped going?” “What ifs” rarely reflect reality, but when this particularly “what if” crossed my mind it felt different because it was so full of poignant potential – it felt like a chance to recoup something from the sudden silence that settled over their career. Are 2NE1 going to come together again to try to make music together on their own terms? Or was this, like the 2015 performance, a short-lived reunion before the four go their separate ways again, another stopping point in the career of a group that many feel should have gone differently? Whatever the answer, the women of 2NE1 are now in control of their own narratives. Wherever this Coachella reunion leads to, they’ll be the ones directing it as they strive to be, as the song goes, the very best they can.