Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: An ambitious, international music star makes it big on home turf and aims to do the same in the United States. She’s usually British (Spice Girls? Amy Winehouse? Anyone with weird teeth and a guitar?) Sometimes she’s Latina (Shakirrrrra!). But a non-PSY high-rising star from the far East? Unprecedented thus far.
South Korean rapper and K-Pop star CL is about to change that. From her colorful, outrageous K-Pop legacy comes a woman with an attitude larger than the sets she performs in (extra large). Her aesthetic is simultaneously chic and trill, which Urban Dictionary tells me is “used in hip-hop culture to describe someone who is considered to be well respected, coming from a combination of the words “true” and “real.”
As such, her image breaks the preconceived notions of what’s expected from an Asian woman. “I don’t want a ‘good’ image,” CL told The Fader. “I’m not the standard Asian girl.”
She’s not a standard girl, period. CL (real name Lee Chae-rin) was born in Seoul, but spent her childhood in Japan and France where she learned fluent English and adopted an apparent penchant for rapping. By age 15, she had accrued enough world experience to land an audition with YG Entertainment (The leading label for K-Pop music), and found herself in a K-Pop all-girl group, 2NE1. Their single, “Gotta Be You,” formed the basis for much of her present image today.
If your knowledge of K-Pop is solely limited to “Gangnam Style” (made popular by CL’s fellow YG label-mate PSY), then you should know that 2NE1 is one of the most successful girl groups in the game right now. 2NE1 is like female N*Sync … and CL is JT, a performer whose swag demands a stage only for her. So, as the break-through artist of her group, it was only natural for her to release a couple solo singles of her own. Check out “Baddest Female,” the video and song that put CL on the top of my “lesbian crush” list.
Released in 2013, “Baddest Female” proved that CL was serious business with her forthcoming solo projects. Too much swag (girl’s got a KILLER fashion sense), hella attitude, and a prowess in rapping – both in English and Korean – there isn’t anything unimpressive with what CL had to offer with her first single.
So CL’s popularity rose. But that wasn’t enough for her. Eight years into dominating the K-Pop world, CL got a little bored and set her sights on more Western horizons. With the help of Scooter Braun (manager of the Biebs and Carly Rae Jepsen), Skrillex and Diplo, CL has already released two songs that she’s featured in. And they are FIRE.
First up is Skrillex’s “Dirty Vibe,” which features CL and another rising crossover rapper from Seoul, G-Dragon (who I also love but that’s another story in itself … *heavy breathing*).
Let’s be real here. If you collaborate with Skrillex these days, you’re pretty much worth talking about. “Dirty Vibe” is fun but aggressive, spotlighting a version of CL that begs not to be fucked with. She’s holding a neon rifle, for fuck’s sake. She means business.
The lyrics are simple and confrontational. According to an interview with The Fader, she wrote it in a random recording session when she was fed up waiting for Diplo to get his shit together for a meeting they had scheduled. Out of frustration, she wrote:
“Phone calling I’m pressing red
Only red cup that’s in my hand
I ain’t got the time, so why you asking
I got a flight to catch, I’m always traveling.”
Calling out Diplo is not an activity meant for the meek. You have to be unreasonably confident and sharp to get away with it … and you guessed it; she did. Diplo ended up producing the track, which, with his help, sounds like it could easily slide into Top 40 rotation. It’s catchy. It’s LIT. CL and Diplo collaborating is my dream come true.
Watch this last video if you don’t believe me.
In recent interviews, CL doesn’t seem to be sweating her forthcoming take-over. “I don’t feel pressured, and I don’t want to be,” CL told the WILD magazine. “I definitely have a long way to go, but I’m just trying to do what I do and not make it too complicated.” CL is owning it, taking control of her image but also leaving herself open to criticism and any artistic turns coming her way. How is she doing it? “Be a boss ass bitch” is the advice she’s gotten. So far she’s killing it.
She’ll be performing at the Mad Decent Block Party in LA on September 19. More info on the link. You probably won’t wanna miss her.