CL Forces Us to Make a Difficult Choice by Promoting in America
Everyone is anxiously awaiting CL's debut in America, when the star of 2NE1, one of the biggest Kpop groups worldwide, is expected to take the West by storm. The question is, should we care?
[Take a breath. Keep reading before you react. I want to ask this question from a specific perspective. I have no intention of telling anyone what he or she should listen to or love. Leave your identity politics at the door.]
I’m bringing up CL right now because there’s a certain inevitability to this argument. CL will debut in America, and when she does, her music is going to leave a lot of Kpop fans confused. Is this our music? Should we tell all our non-Kpop friends to listen for CL? Can we even describe the music that CL releases in America as Kpop?
So far we have only one song to judge by: "Dr. Pepper." I think it's fairly clear that this song is not typical of the Kpop genre. Looking at the comments on Reddit’s r/Kpop (anecdotal, yes, but I'm interested in the general perspective of Kpop fans), there are many variations of “this isn’t for me” or “I didn’t like it.” And for the die-hard CL fans upset by that honest feedback, it’s not an indictment of the music. It’s a recognition that “Dr. Pepper” does not fit within the traditional bounds of Kpop music.
And though this is only one song, It’s extremely unlikely that the rest of CL’s album will sound anything like the Kpop we are used to. She’s working exclusively with Western artists, DJs, and producers. She is promoting in America and targeting a Western audience. Make no mistake, this album will not be "Kpop" as we know it. So how do we respond?
Well, for the Blackjack or the die-hard CL fan, I doubt support will wane. Whether CL releases Kpop or some other form of music, whether she promotes in Korea, Japan, or America, these fans are likely to continue following her career (even if some would prefer a more Kpop centered focus).
For the very casual Kpop fan (i.e. the fan who passively enjoys Kpop, but does not seek it out), this questions probably doesn’t apply. Either this fan might not ever hear about CL releasing in America, or this fan might hear the new music on the radio without realizing CL has any connection to Kpop. After all, it’s unlikely that CL’s American marketing team will highlight her roots (unless we’re talking about her hair). And the marketing team would be, sadly, justified in distancing CL from her Asianness. If past attempts by Asian artists to break into the American scene have taught us anything it’s that the state of Asian representation in America is such that being Asian is more likely to be a liability than anything else. This is the same country, after all, where Emma Stone gets cast for an Asian role in a movie. But I digress.
The hardcore (but non-Blackjack) Kpop fan is harder to predict. These fans are likely to consider CL as a Kpop artist (out of habit, if nothing else), and so will be inclined to at least give her new releases a chance. But these same fans very well might be turned away if CL’s sound doesn’t match their expectations of what Kpop is.
Which brings me to my final question, the real reason for this editorial: How should a website such as this one, dedicated to Kpop, react to CL’s American debut? Should we continue to cover her stateside releases, or should we ignore what is arguably better categorized as American pop music produced by a Korean pop star?
I have little doubt that the bigger sites will continue to cover CL. Sites like AllKpop and Koreaboo are hardly known for their self-awareness, and it is almost unfathomable that any of their editors would bother asking a question about the boundaries of their coverage. But what about the smaller, more self-aware sites? How far are we willing to stray from our subject, our ethos?
Or, to put a finer point on the question, should a website such as this one, dedicated to Kpop, continue reviewing and writing about CL's music? It may be a philosophical question right now, but very soon it will become a practical one. And when the time comes, it’s largely going to depend on the music. We at Critical Kpop are not going to abandon, or shun, or condemn CL. In fact, we love CL! But we’re also not going to direct our energies outward and away from Kpop. It’s important that we maintain a clear focus for the success of our website. CL shouldn’t have the generic restrictions that we do, and neither should you when you pick up an album. Sing what you feel, listen to what moves you, love what you love. And, of course, prepare for the netizen fallout.
Zander Stachniak is a southern-born, Chicago-based writer who first discovered Kpop through ShoutCast Radio. His biases are f(x) and Block B.