Meet CL, the Korean Rapper and Singer Who's About to Take Over the U.S.

In Asia, this pop star needs no introduction. With help from the man who gave the world Justin Bieber, soon she won’t need one in the States either.

You will soon be bombarded by articles about CL, the 23-year-old singer/rapper who is coming to America after conquering Asia with her group 2NE1. These stories will inevitably mention K-pop (because she’s from Korea), and PSY (because they’re labelmates at YG Entertainment), and Scooter Braun (because she is S.B.’s first Korean signee post-“Gangnam Style”). All of these contextual details—which are, predictably, also in this story—might suggest that CL is a novelty aided by famous associations.

But reducing CL to these connections would be a disservice to her electric talent, which deserves the attention on its own. (Witness Diplo’s unsolicited co-sign.) The bold, unique solo records she has already released in Korea (“The Baddest Female” and “MTBD”) are what she calls “risky” for K-pop but—minus the Korean rapping—would make perfect sense here. Musical ability aside, her fluency in English and unmistakably cool style are more significant than her affiliations. So CL is from Korea, like Rihanna is from Barbados, or Lady Gaga is from Long Island. The origin story is important, but don’t let it get in the way of the music.

When “Gangnam Style” arrived in the U.S., I interviewed Scooter and PSY, and they both told me that it was important that PSY didn’t change who he was to cater to the U.S. market. Did you have a similar conversation when you signed with Scooter?
Yeah, he definitely respects me already as an artist, and he loves what I’ve been doing. He just wants to bring that out here and balance it out. It’s not like I am going to sing a whole song in Korean like PSY, but I think it’s a good balance. I want to represent Asian women in the right way. He wants to support that.

Some K-pop fans think that to make it here you’ll have to sex up your image.
Well, you know my image when I was in 2NE1. And I’m not going to change that. I’m not against being beautiful or sexy or anything, but it’s just I have this—I don’t know how to say it—but I have this “cool” image that I want to keep.

Everybody is speculating that your U.S. debut means that 2NE1 will break up.
That’s not true! We just finished our tour and everybody gets to take a break now. It’s just I don’t get a break. [Laughs.]

What are your expectations for your solo album?
I feel like it’s all about good music at the end of the day. It’s not like I’m a rookie—I have been doing this for a long time in Asia. It’s just a new market. I have to have good music, so I’m just focusing on that.

What has been the reaction in Korea to your upcoming U.S. debut?
People have been supportive. I’m happy about that. It’s a good pressure for me.

To be the breakthrough Korean artist?
Right. It hasn’t happened for me yet, so they’re just like: “Oh, good luck.” PSY blew up in a second, and everybody was proud of him. But they can’t say they’re proud of me. All they can do is wish me good luck and support me because nothing has actually happened yet.

Growing up, you attended international schools in Korea, Japan, and France—I’m guessing you learned how to adapt pretty quickly.
There were a lot of different races, and I grew up with all of them. I’m an open book. I love making friends. I like getting inspired, meeting new people, talking to them about their lives.

Korean dramas and makeup are blowing up in America lately. Have you noticed that?
Actually, no. Not dramas, because I don’t watch them. Are they big here?

Photography by Kevin Amato

A lot of non-Koreans are getting into them because there are websites that show them with English subtitles.
That’s interesting. I didn’t know.

And Korean makeup is huge.
When it comes to makeup, everyone in Asia already knows that Korean makeup is the best. [Laughs.] And I know the makeup game. People care a lot about beauty in Korea, in general.

Overall I’d say Korean stuff is cool in a way that it wasn’t when I was a kid, so it’s actually a great time for you to come out here.
Right. There are so many Korean people here—and Chinese and Japanese—but they don’t have one pop artist that they can look up to. That’s kind of sad. I wish I could be that person for them to be proud of.

I look forward to seeing that happen.
I’m going to try my best to represent Korea in the best way. [Laughs.] In a cool way. I feel like sometimes we have the wrong image, and I want to fix it a little bit. I’ll try my best.

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