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Opinion: Convergence of K-pop, American music a win for both industries

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Singer Lee Chae-rin, also known as CL, arriving to the Chanel Haute-Couture Fall-Winter 2014-2015 fashion show held at the Grand Palais, in Paris, France, on July 8. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Singer Lee Chae-rin, also known as CL, arriving to the Chanel Haute-Couture Fall-Winter 2014-2015 fashion show held at the Grand Palais, in Paris, France, on July 8.
Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Fans of Korean pop, or K-pop, can look forward to a prominent Korean artist debuting stateside in 2015. “The Baddest Female” is about to “crush” it on her upcoming collaboration with two of the hottest producers on the planet.

OK, enough with the jokes.

On Nov. 22, Lee “CL” Chae-rin teased on Instagram her upcoming collaboration with American DJs and producers Skrillex and Diplo. In the photo, she’s posing with Skrillex, Diplo and RoccStar in a studio.

This is not the first time the leader of 2NE1 (pronounced as either 21 or “to anyone”) has worked with the superstar producers. She appeared alongside Korean boy band Big Bang’s leader Kwon “G-Dragon” Ji-yong on “Dirty Vibe,” released on Skrillex’s first album “Recess.”

CL performed her solo track “Mental Breakdown” from 2NE1’s “Crush” album with Diplo at the 2014 Style Icon Awards.

With 2NE1, CL also found success when Microsoft decided to use the group’s 2011 “I Am the Best” from in their recent commercial for its Surface Pro 3 tablet laptop, gaining exposure for the hit in the American market.

Being a Blackjack (fan of 2NE1), I was personally excited to hear that CL is attempting to cross over into the U.S. music industry.

As the leader of one of the most successful Korean girl bands, CL exudes a charismatic presence whenever she is on stage. Her look is fierce and has a swagger that many Korean ladies lack. As a rapper, her presence is domineering and during many of the live 2NE1 performances I have watched, my eyes would constantly land on her.

A lot of Americans might find it odd that a Korean who has found so much success in South Korea would want to try and break into a market that is very difficult to please. However, after nabbing super manager Scooter Braun (who has also signed big names Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande), CL has the promotional power to really set it off.

CL’s fans are international and will most likely support her on her U.S. debut. Known as Gizibes (GZBs), the name was given to them by CL from her song “The Baddest Female.” GZB can roughly be translated to mean a bad girl. “Not bad meaning bad but bad meaning good, you know,” she sings in her hit single that had racked up more than 17 million views on YouTube as of Monday evening.

Even though CL is fluent in English, I do worry if her U.S. debut will actually cement her as one of the leading Asian female rappers. Several Korean acts before her attempted to release English albums and did not fare very well.

In 2012, Wonder Girls — one of the most popular girl groups in South Korea — did a movie with now defunct American girl group School Gyrls. “The Wonder Girls” aired on TeenNick, and they released “The DJ is Mine” as their promotional single. Unfortunately, the dubstep-pop song did not chart well — even with the help of Enrique Iglesias and Bruno Mars on the single’s production — and Wonder Girls lost steam back home when Girls’ Generation emerged as South Korea’s new most popular girl group.

Even Kwon Boa (known by her stage name of BoA) who has been dubbed Queen of K-Pop and is a favorite in the Japanese market, struggled with her crossover attempt. Fluent in Korean, Japanese and English, BoA was considered the one Korean artist that had a chance at breaking into the U.S. music industry. She released her self-titled English album in 2009 with “Eat You Up” as the lead single. The song did well and peaked at No. 8 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play chart. However, her career failed to make traction because she was simultaneously promoting in South Korea and Japan.

Only rapper Psy and his “Gangnam Style” found frenzied (and almost accidental) success around the globe in 2012, topping music charts in more than 30 countries. I say accidental because “Gangnam Style” was Psy’s first comeback after a two-year hiatus. “Gangnam Style” also won Top Streaming Song (Video) at the Billboard Music Awards that year. Psy, who is under the same Korean label as CL and G-Dragon, YG Entertainment, broke the glass ceiling for Korean artists aiming to break into the U.S. market.

Ailee, a Korean-American who has found success in South Korea and is constantly referred to as the “Korean Beyoncé,” was announced by YMC Entertainment to be working on her American debut with famous producer Shea Taylor, who has worked with Beyoncé, Rihanna, Ne-Yo and Chris Brown.

Jessica Jung, another Korean-American who found rapid success in South Korea through the group Girls’ Generation, is rumored to be pursuing a solo career in the American market after she was reportedly forced out of the group in September. She recently performed with rapper Ja Rule at a concert in Macao, which only fans the flames of the rumor.

It is always a treasure seeing my favorite artists attempt to tackle what is arguably the largest music industry in the world. CL has all the skills to be the artist that becomes the definitive representation of Korean music and culture.

With 2NE1 and her solo singles, CL has the music variety that the American audience will enjoy. Her sound is also versatile, ranging from hip hop to EDM.

Naketa McKinney, a second-year in biology who is minoring in Korean, was also excited to hear that CL was planning on her U.S. debut.

“I was very excited when I heard about it because I feel she can accomplish a lot and help the Hallyu wave grow larger than it already is,” she said.

“Hallyu” was a term coined by Beijing journalists to describe the increasing popularity of South Korean culture in the late 1990s.

McKinney, who has been a fan of K-pop, said that 2NE1 was one of her first girl bands that she listened too and is confident that CL’s individual sound will not be drowned out by Diplo and Skrillex.

“I think the fact she was able to connect with two awesome artists like them shows how well she can make her debut. Their unique sound plus hers, I feel, will be popular amongst a lot of people,” she said. “Even if their sounds may be similar in some aspects, I think she will work hard to make sure that her individual sound is known to the listener.”

Crystal Obiukwu, a 2013 social work graduate student, said while she is excited to hear of CL’s solo pursuits, she was not jumping for joy after learning of one of the producers CL will be working with.

“I think she needs to steer clear of Skrillex because dubstep is over and has been played out so much,” she said. “Korean artists have a history of trying styles that are a little behind when they come to the U.S. Diplo is a good choice since he is aware of current styles globally and can give her high energy music.”

Brandon Parks, an education graduate student at Wayne State University who has been a fan of K-pop since 2009, is optimistic for CL’s U.S. debut, comparing her to female artists hot on the music charts.

“CL is musically along the same lines of some pretty powerful female musicians right now, like Rita Ora and Iggy Azalea — foreign female musicians,” she said. “Not only that, but she speaks English fluently and can do so without an accent, making her extremely marketable to the American music market. She also has the benefit of avoiding the mistakes of Korean artists’ past to help guide her decisions.”

As a K-pop fan myself, I am rooting for CL’s success. There are very few mainstream female rappers outside of Nicki Minaj and Iggy Azalea, so it would be refreshing to see new blood in the genre. However, only time will tell if she really is “bad” in a good way.

2 comments

  1. Hmm, I find it interesting that so many K-pop idols are trying to make their solo debut in the U.S. right now. CL, Jessica, Ailee…and then many are having tours across the U.S. like 2PM, UKiss, and Got7…They are really trying to push through the western market.

  2. Super excited for CL!…But I’m a little selfish and even if her attempt is successful, it would be weird for everyone to know who she is. “Have you heard of CL? She’s awesome!” “Yeah!..” I want her to stay known by kpop fans..not so much every person around me. Oh well. GOOD LUCK CL IM CHEERING YOU ON!

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