“CL is the K-Pop Superstar with the West in Her Sights”
As she share her official US debut single, the rest of the world is about to discover the real CL. In a quick-fire interview from LA, she tells us how Method Man taught her how to dance and that she’s focussed on doing what she does best.
Chaerin Lee, better known as CL, is a K-Pop superstar. She’s a fashion muse to the likes of Jeremy Scott. She’s the multi-lingual (Korean, English, French and Japanese) rapper with award-winning girl group 2NE1, who have amassed over 1.5 billion views on their YouTube channel. But if you don’t follow K-Pop, then there’s every chance you won’t have a clue who CL is, and that’s what she’s looking to change with her official US debut single, Lifted.
Her American ambitions have long been public knowledge. As 2NE1 went into hiatus in October 2014, CL’s shift towards US soil took root with the immediate announcement of her signing with Scooter Braun, the man behind Justin Bieber’s success. She featured on Skrillex’s Dirty Vibe shortly before Christmas, Diplo’s Doctor Pepper in May 2015 and released her own not-official-even-though-you-wanted-it-to-be single, the divisive English/Korean stomper Hello Bitches, in November. And then…. nothing. CL’s American debut took on the hue of an urban legend because despite the hype, the magazine inches devoted to her and the chattering of the online masses, she went quiet.
That silence broke last week as her Korean label, YG, teased her new artwork. But, in a plot twist, on release it became evident that both the single and video are exactly a year old, having been hinted at on Instagram by YG’s CEO last August and, allegedly, meant for a drop in September 2015. The reasons for the delay are still unknown. Maybe there’s a story to it and maybe there isn’t but, right now, any information isn’t forthcoming. Instead, we have the long-awaited, radio-friendly Lifted, with its sample of Wu Tang Clan’s M.E.T.H.O.D Man on the chorus, reggae on the bridge to counterbalance the hefty sub bass and hi-hat rolls, and CL’s delivery as distinctive as ever, cruising through with confidence.
While it’s not the “fierce CL” that some of her fans (or “gizibes”/bad girls, as she calls them) perhaps wanted, the question of is America ready for a fierce Asian female popstar certainly comes into play. The answer seen in the lack of mainstream Asian-American artists, fierce, female or otherwise, suggests a softly-softly approach is, at least for now, in play. Knowing what CL is capable of (look to The Baddest Female for unbridled star power) simply whets the appetite for Chaerin’s long game because, as she tells i-D in a quick-fire interview from LA, she isn’t really changing, she’s “going to do what I do best”.
Let’s warm up by putting you on the spot. Lifted, in one word, is ….
Is Lifted still the exact same song that you and Teddy wrote and recorded in 2015, or have you guys tweaked it?
We added a verse but everything else is all the same.
Did the director Dave Meyers (whose work includes Missy Elliott, Tink, Rihanna, Katy Perry) come to you with a treatment or did you offer him ideas? What was the creative process on this?
We met as soon as he decided to shoot this video. I wanted him to know who I am and what I am about. We talked the creative together and what I would wear and everything happened “in the moment”. We called our friends and their friends who are internet kids. It was very organic and spontaneous and we went out and had fun!
Lifted samples Method Man – what’s your history with Wu Tang’s music? When did you discover them/who introduced them to you and what do you love about them?
I didn’t grow up in that era but I found out about them when I got into music. I know how important 36 Chambers is and it inspired me to record Lifted.
What was it like hanging with Method Man in your new video, and what kind of guy does he come across as?
He was super chill. He helped teach me the dance routine and I loved how he was into it. I didn’t expect him to come in with ideas for my video.
And was it a spontaneous dance off or prepared? Who suggested it?
It was spontaneous. We saw this clip on YouTube and we showed it to him so we could do it together.
There’s been much talk amongst K-Pop fans about your American debut – what is it that you’d like to achieve and show to people through this new era as a whole?
I want to show who CL is on my first solo album.
You’ve had a couple of warm ups for your American solo work, with Dirty Vibes and Hello Bitches. How did they help prepare you? Why were they so necessary for you to release?
It wasn’t planned! These were songs I made with my friends. They were both created before we decided to make my album.
How does it feel to you being unknown to mainstream America when you’re a megastar in Asia and to international K-Pop fans? Is this an opportunity for a kind of rebirth?
My fans are internet kids so I don’t feel any particular way. I don’t think I will change, I’m going to do what I do best.