CL Will Make It in America, But Don't Try This At Home

CL in America

When someone says Kpop in America, I come running. Naturally, I’ve been following the recent news regarding CL making a debut under the tutelage of Scooter Braun. Yes, the same man who brought us Justin Bieber, and who currently works with the most-viewed man ever, PSY. A tentative release date of Spring 2015 has been floated, and Blackjacks stateside are already speculating on concept and style. Let’s get one thing straight, though: CL is going to make it.

2NE1 have long been the darlings of Kpop, earning rave reviews since their debut in 2009. The sheer number of awards they have received over the years makes them impossible to overhype. This past year, 2NE1 set a record for the highest-charting Kpop album on the Billboard 200. And CL is a big part of that success. As the leader, rapper, and fashionista, many believe her to be the driving creative force behind 2NE1.

CL in America

The announcement of CL’s upcoming Spring 2015 debut in America really isn’t much of a surprise. It’s been a long time coming. She already made a cameo in “Hangover,” though her role was totally forgettable. More impressively, CL provided a rap for Skrillex’s “Dirty Vibe,” inserting herself into the American pop scene with the confidence of someone who had been there for years. Her swagger is evident in lyrics like, “all the pretty bitches love me.” Watch out women of rap, because CL is coming.

Unlike most Kpop Invasion articles, I have little doubt that CL will be a success. It doesn’t even seem to merit argument. Just like G Dragon will succeed (whenever that debut happens), CL has the sound, the style, and the attitude that American pop goes crazy for. She’s going to make it. But I’m not so sure that’s a good thing for Kpop.

CL in America

CL’s type of music, grunge-rap with a memorable hook, meshes perfectly with pop in America. But what happens when other Kpop artists try to mimic her success? Unfortunately, conquering America is still viewed by many artists as some pinnacle of achievement (it’s not). And attempting to follow CL may force Kpop to go too far into EDM. As a listener of EDM, as someone who enjoys and actively listens to Dubstep, I still don’t want Kpop to follow CL down the EDM rabbit hole.

Because, at least for now, Kpop is based on vocals and performance. EDM, on the other hand, makes everyone obsolete. The band is obsolete, replaced by electronic drums and sound clips. The singer is obsolete, her single lyric cut and endlessly repeated and remixed. Even the DJ on stage is obsolete, performance being completely unnecessary in an automated world. Moreso than most genres, Kpop stands to lose in a shift to EDM.

As part of the long grooming process, CL recently performed live with Diplo for the Style Icon Awards (CL ranked 13th overall with 2.6% of the vote). It was a good indication of what to expect: CL rapping next to a sound board while a DJ pretends to tweak knobs and sliders. It was a performance that tested even CL’s charisma. A less-experienced artist would've crumbled. It’s difficult to imagine music shows dominated by such performances.

But good luck to CL. She’ll do great in America. She’s the next M.I.A. The next Nicki Minaj or Iggy Azalea. But she’s not going to wow us with her vocals, she’s going to knock our knees with bass and wobble, she's going to dazzle us with style and self-confidence. I just hope that the rest of Kpop doesn’t try to match her. Because none can.

Zander Stachniak is a southern-born, Chicago-based writer who first discovered Kpop through ShoutCast Radio. His biases are f(x) and Block B.


  1. I am not trying to be a hater but that song was crap. I showed to a few of my friends and their reactions were: "what is she saying?", "Is she attempting to be like Nicki because if she is then she needs to try again". A friend of mine who is a k-pop fan was exited about her debut, but he also expressed how the song was disappointing. I have not hate for these people. I wish them all the best, but for a debut song I think a lot more effort should have been put into the lyrics.

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  2. Mission USA seems to be the Holy Grail of many K-Pop companies. Sure its the music industry's largest market (by far) and yes, it serves as a springboard to the rest off the world. But while I wish CL the best (I'm a fan!), I think we should recognize this is YG's commercial project, and not the entry for K-Pop in America.

    I think YG is being ultra conservative, and rightly so! They've learnt from others - JYP wasted a year promoting the Wonder Girls, and even Gangnam Style failed to reach #1 in America. The irony is this; while K-Pop is the Korean interpretation of American music, its still not familiar enough for the US consumer. So strip back the language and interpretation, and you have a Korean singer, dishing out American music.

    Nothing wrong with that (& I do hope CL makes it big), except of course - there's really no K-Pop involved.


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