K-pop star CL completes what she started on her debut album ‘ALPHA’: NPR

At ALPHA, her debut album, K-pop artist CL seems determined and confident despite years of industry setbacks.

Very cherry / Courtesy the artist

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Very cherry / Courtesy the artist

At ALPHA, her debut album, K-pop artist CL seems determined and confident despite years of industry setbacks.

Very cherry / Courtesy the artist

In “My Way”, when it debuted on October 20 ALPHA, CL sings, “아직 해줄 말이 많은데 (I still have a lot to say) / But I just want to speak my own way.” Born K-pop artist Lee Chae-rin looks determined, which is reassuring, given the near-decade of fanfare – and years of radio silence – leading up to this moment.

CL got used to historic success with her former girl group, YG Entertainment’s 2NE1 (pronounced “21,” as in this century). Featured as “trailblazers” by will.i.am., 2NE1 was the first K-pop girl group to tour the world. In 2014, 2NE1 set a debut record for the biggest selling week for a K-pop group in Billboard story, with his best (and ultimately last) album To crush. At the heart of her image as a tough girl, indebted to the signifiers of punk and rap, was 2NE1’s Spitfire CL, who declared herself “Seoul City’s meanest woman ever.” And she appeared just as confident that plans for her solo debut in the United States were falling into place. It has signed a management agreement in the United States with Scooter Braun SB projects. She has collaborated with Diplo and Skrillex and has received leading video processing from Dave Meyers and choreographer Parris Goebel.

Yet even after several solo singles, CL’s debut did not materialize. Several reporters made valiant efforts to investigate what happened, as the Western takeover of K-pop finally seemed imminent. CL’s beginnings were meant to be part of this larger global transition, when differences in language and culture no longer seemed to matter. (Meanwhile, YG Entertainment launched their upcoming girl group, BLACKPINK, for immediate comparisons to 2NE1.) Instead, in 2019, CL left YG Entertainment and released In the name of love, an EP of ballads where she never seemed more heartbroken. She alluded to, but declined to explain, the disagreements between her Korean and American leadership. “Everyone was excited. But no one knew what to do,” she said. Billboard. Nobody, that is to say, except CL. Last year, CL founded their independent label Very Cherry (the word “cherry” sounds like CL’s name, Chae-rin) to finally release their debut album.

The first voice heard in ALPHA doesn’t belong to CL, but to actor John Malkovich, who befriended the artist when she landed a small role in the 2018 action thriller Thousand 22. Still, what he says (“Excuse me? Do you have that spicy, Korean-made sauce?”) Instantly goes back that CL, in fact, is back. Malkovich presents “Spicy,” which CL says was “written to be an extension” of early solo singles like “The Baddest Female” from 2013 and “Hello B ******” from 2015. These songs in particular introduced the sound – a bold, global hybrid of pop, rap, R&B and EDM – which CL refines in ALPHA. The production is updated, to reflect the evolution of 21st century music since the days of 2NE1: “Spicy” includes bass collaborators Baauer and Holly. And Travis Scott-inspired “Paradise”, with its seriousness and modern use of Auto-Tune, is courtesy of two producers Scott has worked with previously, J Gramm and Rogét Chahayed. Overall, however, ALPHA rewards longtime listeners with many of CL’s patented “bad b ****** hymns” – powerful, assertive songs that call for dance breaks, such as “Chuck”, “Tie a Cherry”, “My Way” and “HWA”.


For years fans and critics have had to speculate on tearful TV interviews and analyze his behavior on social media, for an explanation behind his relative silence – at least, one more satisfying than “There isn’t one. nobody. It’s not a thing. ” The FADER Owen Myers wrote in 2018, about CL’s “somewhat impersonal” English-language music at the time.

But on ALPHA, CL expects her confidence to speak volumes herself. It might not open up as much as critics like Myers would like, but CL isn’t interested in rehashing the past. She maintains her position in recent interviews, which is to ignore YG, at least more than she has before. Empowerment remains the goal, including in songs that are not necessarily “bad ****** hymns”. The pop-rock ballad “Let It” is the type of song where listeners might expect CL to just be featured, to add a dose of attitude rather than wearing it all out. Instead, CL sings: why do I feel like I’m in the same place every day / now who said what, who else said / just worrying about unnecessary things CL says she wrote it as a letter to herself, reassuring that “it’s good to relax and go with the flow.” We should know by now why CL would need to tell herself.

“Let It” was inspired by Bruce Lee’s infamous saying that “to be formless, formless like water,” or embrace fluidity in all aspects of life. As always, CL thrives when she balances her sense of hip-hop with an Asian, if not Korean, pride that is palpable. This has been a delicate balance for K-pop, as its artists have taken inspiration from black American music while pretending to ignore their racial mimicry. (CL’s “The Baddest Female” video is hard to watch, especially because it sports bamboo earrings and a grill.) “, While the Dave Meyers-directed visual projects CL in a hip music video. -hop New York. “Lifted” doesn’t have the blatant blackface that K-pop has been guilty of before. And it was harder to accuse CL of cultural appropriation when Method Man himself appeared in his. video But at the very least, “Lifted” felt like CL was trying to assimilate fully into American culture.

During this time, ALPHA comes two years after CL showed her support for Black Lives Matter and called on the K-pop industry and fans to “give back and show their support for everything we’ve received from black performers.” In addition, for her new album, CL is fine-tuning this balance between who she is and where she draws her inspiration. Being that “spicy, Korean-made sauce”, of course, is CL’s take on what hip-hop of recent years has demanded in spades. She is the “flowing like water” wave, which resembles Pak Se-ri, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. In the fiery hip-hop “HWA”, CL not only conquers K-Town and Seoul City, but compares herself to the national flower of South Korea. “무궁화 꽃 이 피었 습니다” (“Mugunghwa bloomed”), she raps. CL is respectful, but with a sneering voice, as if to show no sign of fading. Surely that’s what the people behind CL all those years ago thought she couldn’t do.


CL may never fully reveal what happened behind the scenes to delay his solo arrival for nearly a decade. But if ALPHA It’s an indication, it wasn’t for lack of ideas or because of an identity crisis, on how she could claim her claim in the history of music. Years after presenting herself as “the meanest woman”, she retains her role as, or older sister, this cross-cultural moment in pop music today. The reintroduction of CL is strong enough to appease longtime fans, but may also arouse the curiosity of an audience that may not yet understand its role in the global K-pop takeover but are more receptive. than ever to K-pop. As always, CL’s confidence and global ambitions remain intact. Only this time, with the time that has passed, his brags – in Korean and English – never felt more deserved.

About Dawn Valle

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