cl is the k-pop superstar with the west in her sights
As she shares her official US debut single, 'Lifted,' the Korean megastar tells us about her plan for conquering America, and how Method Man taught her to dance.
Chaerin Lee, better known as CL, is a K-Pop superstar. She's a fashion muse to the likes of Jeremy Scott and 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 a chance you don't have a clue who CL is. That's what she's looking to change with her official US debut single, "Lifted."
Her American ambitions have long been public knowledge. When 2NE1 began a hiatus in October 2014, CL's turn towards the US became clear with the immediate announcement that she had signed with Scooter Braun, the man behind Justin Bieber's success. She featured on Skrillex's "Dirty Vibe" shortly before Christmas and Diplo's "Doctor Pepper" in May 2015. In November, she released her own not-official-even-though-you-wanted-it-to-be solo single, the English/Korean stomper Hello Bitches. And then.... nothing. CL's American debut took on the cast 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 when her Korean label, YG, teased new artwork. But, in another plot twist, it later became clear that both the single and video are a year old, allegedly meant for a drop in September 2015. The reasons for the delay are still unknown. But now, Instead, we have the long-awaited, radio-friendly "Lifted," with its sample of Wu Tang Clan's "Method 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 (gizibes, or "bad girls," as she calls them) perhaps wanted, it asks the question, "Is America ready for a fierce Asian female pop star?" Will she succeed where other K-Pop idols have struggled? Knowing what CL is capable of (witness the unbridled star power "The Baddest Female") only increases the excitement to see how her long game plays out. As she tells i-D during a quick-fire interview in LA, she isn't really changing, she's just "going to do what I do best."
"Lifted," in one word, is ....
Is it the exact same song that you and Teddy 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 (who has worked with Missy Elliott, Tink, Rihanna, and Katy Perry), come to you with a treatment or did you offer him ideas? What was the creative process?
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 about 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 relationship with Wu Tang's music?
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?
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.
Was it a spontaneous dance-off?
It was! We saw this clip on YouTube and we showed it to him so we could do it together.
There's been a lot of talk amongst K-Pop fans about your American debut — what do you want to achieve in this new era?
I want to show who CL is on my first solo album.
You've had a couple of warmups 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 be relatively 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.
Text Taylor Glasby