By: Jeremy Pesigan
CL is attempting a crossover move unprecedented in American popular culture. She first rose to fame coming from the girl group 2NE1, one of the more popular girl groups in Korea. Now, she is seeking to create her solo career, primarily in America. As she makes the shift to transnational pop star, she seeks to demonstrate her exchange of black music traditions by asserting her authenticity in the process of creating her art, but ultimately calls into question what she is trying to prove.
The K-Pop industry from which she hails is known for its product oriented nature. CL was formed in this industry, but as she moves toward the American pop industry, she makes a large effort towards transparency using making of videos. Similar videos were made for music videos made the group which CL fronted, 2ne1, but the making of videos that CL produces now are through different industries, such as CNN and Genius, the music lyric site that offers explanations of lyrics by the artist. In the video CL-CNN STYLE: Conquering America,” she negotiates her own body in the America. She describes avoiding the bounds of race in her discussion with the stylist Lukas Shabbat, suggesting that culture will become homogenized through the vast exchanges over the internet, decrying the borders that internet critics assert around what CL can create authentically. Her use of English and her association with American style icons Alexander Wang, Jeremy Scott, and Lukas Shabbat both point towards the intended audience of American viewers. Her appeal to American viewers can be matched with the content of explanation. She uses the cultural capital of these fashion designers to authenticate her voice to an American audience who criticizes her of cultural appropriation for her hip hop music and style sensibilities. The varied race of these speakers also broadens their audience. CL’s practice of female empowerment is questioned, too, in her strong bonds to these male icons. Though the message she puts out in her songs is feminist, what does she do to support woman in the world? Her focus on message makes the questioning of it even more important.
Much of the controversy over CL’s cultural appropriation surrounds her first single, Lifted. Lifted features Method Man because CL used the hook from his song with the same title. The music video finds her walking around an unnamed city, dancing on fire escapes, with a bunch of people on a basketball court, in front of cityscapes, with plenty of bottles in brown bags and vapes abound. She even runs into Method Man working on a car and dances with him for a moment. The music video is markedly diverse, featuring black dancers heavily, but not exclusively. The diversity has two polar readings: that she uses the black bodies and street setting as objects to authenticate her image; or that she uses her imagery to point towards the origins of the hip hop genre which she works in. On the original video for Lifted by Method Man you can find many commentators on YouTube saying that they listened because of CL, supporting the second reading. CL’s own position as an Asian woman born in Korea and raised in Japan and France suggests an unfamiliarity with the cultures to which she is drawing from, though she does note that one of her childhood influences was Lauryn Hill, played for her by her father.
CL’s search for authenticity within the position she takes in Lifted is further explored in multiple making-of videos. One Genius video recalls how Lifted is inspired by Method Man’s song, which was inspired by Michael Jackson’s cover of a Beatles song who were sued for borrowing from Chuck Berry for that song. By pointing at the massive amount of borrowing occurring in music, the genius video leans toward exchange in their reading of CL’s new song. CL also goes on the Genius website to describe the official lyrics of the song and what they mean to her. In this video, and another video depicting the making of the music video for Lifted, she tells the story of how she made the song. When she first met Method Man he comes up to her and says, “You made this song while just playing around with my song in the studio, right?” Even in the making of video, for the music video in which Method Man is in, he doesn’t in tone on his opinions of her work with his song, his question always asked by CL. The only section in which he speaks is when he asks CL how to say “what’s up” in Korean. This exchange of language again highlights CL’s hopes for cultural exchange, as opposed to any confrontation Method Man’s opinion.
The making of videos also highlight CL’s stardom, all the artists she works with stressing how they wish to represent CL as the powerful artist that she is. It’s important to map her navigation of cultural relationships because of her burgeoning influence. As a pioneer of transnational interactions over music, she sets the standard for future crossover acts. Though there has often been exchange of music over oceans, CL is the first to shift her entire body and language from K-Pop to American Pop music styles. The emphatic endorsement of the artists she works with feels genuine, but masks from the audience dissenting opinions within the work that may align with those in the comments section.
Works Cited (Including Links to Main Videos)
2NE1. “CL- ‘LIFTED’ M/V BEHIND THE SCENES”. Filmed [Aug 2015]. YouTube video, 3:38. Posted [Aug 2015]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yv_5BwsdKuM.
BLACKPINK2NE1. “CL-CNN STYLE: Conquering America”. Filmed [Nov 2016]. YouTube video, 5:01. Posted [Nov 2016]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uyv5gm6J8K4.
CL. “CL-‘LIFTED’ M/V”. Filmed [Aug 2016]. YouTube video, 3:01. Posted [Aug 2016]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mr29X77OA5g.
Genius. “K-Pop Superstar CL’s New Single “Lifted” Was Inspired by Method Man”. Filmed [Aug 2016]. YouTube video, 0:47. Posted [Aug 2016]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B97y3oK83tw.
Wu-TangClanVEVO. “Wu-Tang Clan- Method Man”. Filmed [Feb 2013]. YouTube video, 4:26. Posted [Feb 2013]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEnwXYJcSZc.