A commentary on CL

Any millennial pop music aficionado growing up on a diet of 2000’s MTV, celebrity culture and the early blogosphere will know that a pop artist appearing in a barrage of fashion magazine covers is camouflaged marketing strategy. This is a clear indication of a project either in the works or already on the way. In the mid-Spring/Summer of 2022, South Korean pop export CL (nee Chaelin Lee) appeared successively in The WOW, L’Officiel Korea, Marvin and HYPEBAE’s first ever digital cover. True to her penchant for a kaleidoscope of styles, CL and each photoshoot’s editorial team conjures up striking new visuals, new pages in the CL fashion compendium. And though her 2NE1 legacy is sealed in the marble halls of YG, her 2021 debut album ALPHA, released under her own Very Cherry label, is a creative masterstroke of CL’s pop curation. A childhood in the South Korean pop machine and years of experience on the fringes of mainstream music has CL fully equipped.

ALPHA comes highly recommended for pop fans looking for a mix of dark R&B Rihanna, swaggering Lil’ Kim attitude and the performance-driven choreography and energy of K-Pop. Veteran listeners will dip into mostly familiar CL territory; she is a blackbelt of pop, R&B and hip-hop stylings. But, the effortlessness of the songs betrays how musically complex these beats really are – every percussive tone, every snap or hi-hat, every synth is specifically placed. Pop songwriters and producers like Baauer (G-Dragon, Diplo), Dave Hamelin (070 Shake, Leikeli47) and Jean-Baptise Kouame (Rihanna, Madonna) all make appearances, fleshing out ALPHA deceptively detailed sonic palate. But it’s unquestionable that CL is cherry picking elements of her mix.

“Chuck” is a particular standout, brash and bratty like her early 2NE1 verses, but weightier and with luxe bravado. And the percussion sound design is tight and metallic, but the song production is so full of aural space. “Tie A Cherry” slots in nicely between Rihanna-like playlists, excellent in all its pop/R&B glory. The fashionable music video is the true representation of the song, another highly recommended watch. Transforming herself between genres, CL also serves pop-rock a la 2NE1, Travis Scott-style trap and blistering EDM dance, reminiscent of her Diplo days. The result on ALPHA is a blossoming, impactful debut. Even beyond the album, CL’s one-off singles and independent EP showcase a versatility and competency rare in even the North American pop scene. 2016’s “Lifted” riffs on tropical reggae-pop with heavy interpolation (and a Method Man co-sign) of the Wu-Tang Clan. Despite sounding more like unfinished pop ideas, 2019’s In the Name of Love EP is a hopeful self-produced reintroduction of what was to come. “Wish You Were Here,” released in early 2021, is a cautiously vulnerable ode to her late mother. Always a chameleon of style, CL’s musical pathway can truly lead anywhere.

The music industry should pay closer attention to CL and her body of work. She is the fully realized female Asian figure, unconquered by North American stereotypical sensibilities and unfazed by the K-Pop machine. Her allegory as a phoenix from the ashes of record label politics industry trappings, and skill as a masterful curator of South Korean pop stylings resonates so strongly with her fanbase, many of whom have been riding the CL train since her 2009 debut. Now, CL is cobbling together all elements of her creative persona, as the baddest female, the 2NE1 leader and the real Chaelin Lee. What us children are fed are fashionable fiery pop gems, sizzling with attitude and slathered in this very specific sauce that is spicy, made in Korea. If this wave of fashion magazine marketing is any indication, ALPHA was just an appetizer.

Additional reading:

“The Badass “Unnie” Graces the First-Ever Cover of HYPEBAE.” by Yeeun Kim, for HYPEBAE

” CL, Korean Singer, Rapper and MARVIN Issue 4 Cover Star, Opens Up About Her Latest Album “Alpha” and Her Solo Journey” by Alex Frank, for Marvin

CL: In the Name of Love” by Robyn Ngan, for The Wow

“A commentary on Britney Spears” for Windhill Journal

3 responses to “A commentary on CL”

  1. […] “A commentary on CL” for Windhill Journal […]


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