CL’s Attempt at a Western Audience: Ambition or Folly?

K-Pop, J-Pop and C-Pop dominate the Eastern hemisphere, while American pop and British pop tend to hold the attention of Western populations when it comes to music and pop culture. What happens, then, when the two worlds – East and West – come together in one artist? CL is a female, Korean singer, rapper and songwriter from the internationally acclaimed girl group called 2NE1. She’s a K-Pop star through and through, known as ‘The Baddest Female’ in Korea. In the past few years, however, she has been noticed by some big names in the pop industry in North America, namely producer Diplo and manager Scooter Braun. Both of these big names have come together to help CL make her debut as a solo artist in the U.S., but is her style “too Eastern” to make it big in the West? So far the answer to that question has been no.


CL started her music career back in 2009 as the leader and main rapper of the four-member group 2NE1 under the hip hop label YG Entertainment. The group made record breaking slams as rookies in the industry, taking home prestigious awards in their first year as active artists such as Song of the Year and Rookie Group of the Year at the Mnet Asian Music Awards (MAMAs). Since then the group has been flooded with success, earning support from millions across the globe. The most recent album put out by the group entitled Crush gained international recognition, getting the 11th spot on the Billboard 100 top pop albums of 2014, marking the first ever K-Pop album to rank on the chart.

In 2013, CL began her career as a soloist. While still part of the group 2NE1, she put out her first single as a soloist entitled The Baddest Female. This track gained a lot of attention as it was very out of the norm for a female Korean artist to make such a bold image for herself. The song itself won multiple awards, including Best Stage Performance by a Female Solo Artist at the MAMAs and was also nominated for Song of the Year in 2013. This song along with the solo track she recorded for the Crush album entitled Mental Breakdown (MTBD) garnered a lot of attention overseas, making her appeal to people such as Diplo and Scooter Braun who began to work with her. Skrillex took an interest in her, writing a song entitled Dirty Vibe that featured both her and fellow YG artist G-Dragon, which helped introduce both artists to Western audiences.


Some other connections the singer and rapper had prior to starting her work in the U.S. are Will.I.Am and Jeremy Scott. Early on in 2NE1’s career the group was featured on two songs of Will.I.Am’s, including the song Gettin’ Dumb off his solo album. Ever since the artists have been supporting of each other, and Will.I.Am publicly reached out to CL asking her to feature on the reformation album for the Black Eyed Peas on Twitter in 2015. CL also has a very strong friendship with designer Jeremy Scott who owns the Moschino fashion company. The two first met in 2NE1’s early days for a photo shoot where the four members of the K-Pop group were wearing his designs and he posed with them for the shoot. Both have claimed that since the day they met they were close, they simply clicked. Jeremy has claimed CL as one of his muses, having been featured with her for a reality show in Korea that followed the 2NE1 members in their daily lives while preparing their new albums. The two have been very active together on social media, showing immense support for each other, and have also been featured together for magazine interviews as well where they have discussed their friendship. In 2015 Jeremy asked CL to be his ‘date’ for the VMAs which aided in giving her exposure to the Western public, and she was also featured in Jeremy Scott’s documentary movie.

What is also noteworthy is that in 2015 Time Magazine ran a poll on their website letting the public vote for the top 100 most influential people in the world, and for the majority of the voting period CL held the number one spot. At the very end of the pole she was just beat out by Vladimir Putin but still ranked second in the voting pole. Unfortunately, she wasn’t listed on the final top 100 list, however Time did write an article about her hold on the number one spot in their pole. CL has expressed her desire to change the stereotype that rests on Asian women from the demure, shy, quiet image to that of something more strong, fierce and independent. With an international following that ranks her number one for the most influential people in the world for so long, she just might be able to achieve her goals.


In 2015, it was announced that CL would be working with Diplo under the management of Scooter Braun – who also manages Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande – that she would be making her American Debut in the U.S. with an album recorded entirely in English. Ever since this announcement she has been hard at work recording her album but more notably trying to build a Western following. CL isn’t the first K-Pop star who has tried to breach the Western market. The most notable K-Pop idols to have tried to gain success in America are BoA, a female singer under SM Entertainment, and Se7en, who at the time was a male singer under YG Entertainment but has since moved on to make his own label in Korea. Both BoA and Se7en came directly from Korea to the states with a few recorded English songs, expecting to just show up and suddenly have a crowd. They jumped in too quickly with tours that ended up failing and salty CEOs that brought them back to Korea almost empty-handed. CL and her team have taken a different approach to debuting her in North America.

CL’s first song with Diplo entitled Dr. Pepper was released in 2015 with a music video. This song and video featured two artists; RiFF RAFF and OG Maco. The video on Mad Decent’s Youtube channel has 9.9 million views to date. The song was written by Diplo and CL collaboratively and was used as an ice breaker for the female artist to not only network with other artists but to also give her a shoe in for the Mad Decent Block Party tour. She was featured with other artists on this tour to help her gain more of a following in the U.S. which was successful in giving her more interest as a potential American artist.

Diplo x CL x RiFF RAFF x OG Maco - Doctor Pepper (Official Music Video)

CL spent a lot of her time in the states making appearances where she could such as the Ultra Music Festival in Miami and New York City’s fashion week. A slow build up of exposure was her strategy in getting the recognition she needed for a successful American debut. CL didn’t forget her Korean roots though; in late 2015 she released a Korean single entitled Hello Bi+ches which she performed at the 2015 MAMAs and was publicly praised by artist Lorde for the live stage on Twitter. The music video for the song on 2NE1’s official Youtube channel has 18 million views to date, the music video on CL’s new Youtube channel already at 2 million views. The music video showed off not only her singing and rapping skills, but also her dance skills as the video was titled as a dance performance video. The choreography was done by Parris Goebel, a notable choreographer in the industry, and the video also featured the ReQuest Dance Crew, a notable troupe of dancers.


With CL’s success as a soloist starting to grow and her presence in the Western world getting stronger she finally released her American debut single entitled Lifted on August 18th, 2016. The music video on her official Youtube channel gained 2.7 million views within the first day of being released; not bad for a debut single. The song includes interpolations from Method Man and has a laid-back summer vibe. The song is catching mixed reviews from her prior fans in Korea but is gaining positive feedback from newcomers just discovering her music. The question that is begged and has been begged since this project for CL has started, “is she too Eastern to appeal to the West?’ has yet to be fully answered, however it looks promising for the young artist.

Despite the success she has seen there is also criticism that has come with her attempts to make it big as a soloist. Her first solo song she debuted with in Korea received criticism on the international scale for Black Culture Appropriation seen in the music video with her attire and gestures. Her appearance at Ultra Music Festival also sparked some backlash in the Western audience with people calling her an Asian Iggy Azalea with derogatory undertones in the meaning. What CL does have going for her is that she is fluent in English with hardly any accent to speak of, and major connections with the right people to set her on the path for success. Can she make it? That’s up to the Western audience. Check out her video below and decide for yourself.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. I am Brazilian..I am a K-pop fan..
    K-Pop has solid fan base across Asia, Latin America and Europe
    And K-Pop is popular in Latin America and Asia

  2. Basterd

    There are excellent musicians in Korea, and those in k-pop are not them. Posing and posturing and vapid empty headedness.

    If you think Justin Beiber is malignant wait until you here about k-pop’s business model. Teenaged girls of some attractiveness are withdrawn from school in placed in the custody of their corporate managers in supervised living quarters. They’re given meagre rations to keep them thin and sent to cosmetic surgeons. They rehearse and rehearse and rehearse dance routines. All day long for months on end. A few catchy songs are written, often by a Swede or a Korean-American, and the girls hit the road performing everywhere in Korea. All of this development is quite expensive, and the corporation is relentless in squeezing the profit out of these girls, even if these means highly sexualising them. Dissent is brutally suppressed; complain and you’re given the boot, which this means the girl can’t return to school, so she has to earn a living in more in even more exploitative ways. Some girls are charged failing their ‘training’ and to compensate the corporation they are forced into prostitution.

    If a group makes it big they are then forced into commercial endorsements for Samsung mobiles, Lotte crisps, and Chilsung beverages – whatever contracts the corporation is able to secure. The touring schedule is increased to cash in whilst the song is hot. The corporation takes the lion’s share for itself; the girls themselves see very little. Inevitably the group is overshadowed by an newer one – there’s always one coming down the pipeline. They’ll redouble their efforts to recapture the limelight, but if that fails the corporation, determining that it has maximised its profit, is finished with them.

    If you’re a fan of k-pop you’re a supporter of the brutally inhumane and unjust system that creates them. And abuses them.

    • Tigey

      Sad. Speaking of malignant, Albert Grossman – manager of many 1960’s folk acts in the United States – forbid Mary Travers (of Peter, Paul, and Mary) – to get any sun in order to give her a wan, waifish look. Makes me want to tan and eat bacon.

    • Tigey

      Can you cite your sources regarding forced prostitution of K-Pop stars, please? Thanks.

    • Partially true, but definitely not in the case with CL’s label/group – YG Entertainment. I suggest watching the likes of 2NE1tv on Youtube for a more accurate depiction of a K-Pop group behind the scenes, and considering 2NE1 (who CL is a member of) are still active from 2009 no such overshadowing has been taking place. A 4 year old song of theirs reached number one on Billboard’s World Digital Charts recently so like…

      • Basterd

        Only a handful of groups will reach stardom. Hundreds of groups comprised of thousands of teenaged girls torn away from their families and school to live under the control of inhumane management won’t. What is the outcome for the losers in the is model? The exploitation is well known. Propaganda videos made by 2NE1’s management and posted on youtube will have appeal to those who are useful idiots.

        • Shiah

          You’re acting like these girls don’t have a choice when they do – they seek out these companies, audition, and sign their contracts, or their parents do. They are pursuing their dream, these girls agree to this lifestyle. Is it inhumane? Yes, but girls agreeing to it and seeking it out is also part of the problem. You’re also very naive to think that K-Pop is the only section of the entertainment industry in the world to treat singers this way, it happens everywhere, on every continent. The problem is on a much grander scale and people all around the world still agree to it and buy into it. Also keep in mind a lot of these companies aren’t billionaires right off the bat and it takes an obscene amount of money to debut a group. The girls will be given poor living conditions if the company is just starting out since that’s all they can afford, which isn’t a surprise to the trainees. Nor is the hectic schedule. Nor are the diets, that’s the biggest one that happens everywhere. Do these conditions need to change? Absolutely, but you can’t just sit there and pin it all on the companies or on K-Pop. The issue is more complex than that.

  3. The irony of BoA and Se7en’s failed U.S. takeover is that those same efforts were how I learned about those two artists in the first place (if memory serves me right). I think CL is smart to gradually gain exposure and build an audience so that her debut has some decent ground to stand on. I think she has a shot at being successful since her on-stage persona as “the baddest female” translates well to other popular American pop stars who have similar tough-girl reputations. Only time will tell of course whether she will make it or not, but I will say I was pretty proud of her U.S. debut single. “Lifted” has the catchiness of K-pop, but also a laid back “western” vibe. As a side-note, I read a comment on YouTube recently that I have to say I agree with….Jay Park seems the best suited to take on a bridge between eastern and western audiences. I guess he doesn’t count since he’s American, but it seems like he’s not as well-known here as he should be (except to fans of Korean music).

  4. The queen of k-pop is here to storm America!

  5. The difference between K-pop and those US/Brit singers, is that k-pop ADMITS that it is contrived…
    And K-pop stars can dance. Another crucial factor.

  6. I love watching k-pop videos, but only on mute.

  7. The problem with most people that comment on k-pop do not understand it and its cultural roots and probably not part of target demographic audience. K-pop will probably struggle in countries that are not used to popular culture in a foreign language. Its “novelty” may apply to the UK it certainly doesn’t apply to the Asia and gaining a lot of support in the Spanish speaking Americas being a subculture in Australia, NZ & North America.

  8. The reason I turned to kpop is they’re just better entertainers. They really go above and beyond to connect with their fans in different countries. I can’t think of a single American artist that has made songs in Japanese, Chinese, Tagalog, or Korean in attempts to reach more fans. Kpop artists are trained in languages, rap, singing, dancing and etiquette. I think CL will go further than she has, she has a good base to start with.

  9. Dan Lear

    She’s really talented. Also kind of cute.

  10. Lewandowski

    My dream is a collab between CL and Nicki minaj. baddest females for sure.

  11. I really love and admire CL she is a singer and a rapper she does both PERFECTLY she is talented…

  12. Korean Iggy Azalea

  13. Love her, and the badass beats from 2NE1 or her solo stuff. But that’s just me, I’m a sucker for playful bad-girl shtick that gets my butt moving on the treadmill.

  14. Been paying attention to her career. She’s mad talented alright.

  15. If the music doesn’t set the world alight, K-pop might at least help promote cosmetic surgery tourism here in Korea. I have been living here for years, and I have trouble telling these singers apart.

  16. There are K-pop singers with personality..
    BigBang, 2NE1, MAMAMOO, Sistar

  17. Harmony

    the slight eye bogging makes her seem like a vic and bob character.

  18. Music for children.

  19. It will be interesting to see how she will fare in the American market. The Eastern and Western pop scenes seem like total opposites in places. For starters, the Eastern pop scene is more openly and shamelessly “corporate” than Western pop. While Western bands put effort into a relatable, “human” image to suit the youth’s rebellious anti-corporate ideals, Eastern pop fans are notably, even stereotypically older and are fully aware that the groups they listen to were recruited and put together by a company. Western pop stars are almost encouraged to date so fans and tabloids can speculate on the who’s dating whom and who’s cheating on whom conspiracies. In Eastern cultures have a reputation for being far more strict about who their idols can be with (i.e. nobody, because a boyfriend would shatter the illusion that the fans have a chance of being with them) and the consequences for breaking the rules can be severe. I look forward to seeing how it all works out; will she thrive as a siren or flounder like a fish out of water?

  20. I think K-pop has a big influence in Asian countries and K-pop is slowly affecting the world. The reason why k-pop has slowly impact is the language barrier, but It does make people think about what is the difference between western pop and Eastern pop.

  21. Kevin

    She was great at Mad Decent and I think the globalization of EDM (on the Western side) is opening up more opportunities for international stars from all nations!

  22. Eugene Lee

    As a fan of K-Pop and the fact that I’m Korean American, it’s been really exciting watching Korean popular culture become more and more popular across the world. Even though I don’t know if CL will be the one to finally break into the Western entertainment world, I do have hope that she will. CL making it big here would provide such a great source of representation for our Asian Americans. I really hope it works out for her.

  23. seouljustice

    There are valid criticisms of CL’s American debut from a marketing standpoint (Scooter Braun’s management style isn’t really the best for her), but I think backlash from some of the public is due to the lack of representation of Asian-Americans in Hollywood.

  24. I have mixed feelings about CL entering the “Western” scene. On one hand, I think it’d be great to see some Asian representation in mainstream (probably American) media. On the other hand, the fact that she has to appeal to western audiences by westernizing herself makes me feel less eager to see her enter the scene. I understand that that’s what entertainers, especially global entertainers, do, but there’s a hint of cultural hegemony here that makes me feel somewhat reluctant. Ultimately, though, I suppose this was her choice, so if she succeeds in the Western scene, I’d be more than willing to celebrate her success.

  25. dreamlikediana

    I have always had this same exact thought in the back of my head. If anyone can do it, it is her. Though her recent 2016 debut single doesn’t intrigue me. In fact, I hated it. Even the song she made previous to it, with all the girl backup dancers I didn’t like. It eas visually appealing, but that’s what it takes in America. The stuff that sticks here are women’s bodies, sex and sexuality, alcohol and drugs, being rich, having money, and exotic cars. Though also, we can see one or all of the American values. A few notable ones are, individuality and self-determination. All or most mainstream music we can at least see one of these. Even with her song Dr. Pepper I wasn’t really into it all like that. Though, her stint with Diplo or even Skrillex, I loved it! I feel like there is still the best to come. Maybe she didn’t want to overwhelm, but I would love to see her sing in a collaboration with The Chainsmokers. She has the voice. On the hand, some of her lyrics just don’t match up. I feel like she is thinking in a Western way sometimes and then trying to translate it to English. If anyone has ever tried to translate anything before, we know and we can see the structures are never the same. Whoever is producing her needs to step up their game.

    As a side note, look at how big Day $tick by Rich Chigga—a 17 year old rich Indonesian artist—became. He learned English from music videos, especially from notable rappers. He is rich, but in his video you see him in a polo and a fanny pack. The track was recently remade in collaboration with a few others, and the video you can see all that I mentioned above, females body, wealth, etc. Maybe this is as far as he will get, but I’m more thrilled about his tracks than CL’s over the last while. I have looked up to CL since she first debutrd, and she is younger than I am. Though her stuff, I can’t dig it. Many Asian-Americans I know agree with me.

  26. I’ll definitely be interested in seeing how CL’s western album fares. I feel like I’m one of the few people who absolutely adores BoA’s western release (BoA is easily one of my favorite artists). I’ve been following 2NE1 for several years, so I’m happy to see anything new from them or CL.

    • Shiah

      BoA’s Western release is what got me into K-Pop, she was the first Korean artist I was exposed to and I love her Western songs as well. I wish she had been marketed better because she has a J-Lo feel to her that would’ve fared well here.

  27. CL definitely has her own flavor in the Music industry. Its not so much polarized in Eastern or Western Music, its way in between. All it depends on are the perspectives of the audience. People in asia might say CL is crazy and is TOO Western, or is just doing too much. But Westerners, like Americans might say, she’s absolutely not American styled. This being, I think CL is just focusing on finding out her OWN type of music. And those who are attracted to her music, will listen to her music regardless what others need to say.

    • Shiah

      That’s a really interesting view that I’ve never considered, she’s not one or the other but a marriage of the two. Insightful!

  28. m-cubed

    I’ve never seen CL as very Eastern? I can show my friends who don’t like Kpop a CL song and they think it’s pretty cool… Like, I think BoA has always been too ‘soft’ for the US, and the Wonder Girls never even had a chance, but CL? She’s always sounded more Western to me than the majority of Kpop artists.

    I think her problem might be the Western style of rap. Every popular male American rapper usually does ‘edgy’ boast raps (“Look at all the women and all this money I have”) while female rappers are generally relegated to discussing sex or sexual situations. But CL-and Korean rap in general-is very different.

    Looking at “MTBD”: it has a very different subject than most American rap. Meanwhile, “Lifted” seems to be CL’s first discussion of drugs, and I feel like that was intentionally done, because American rap ‘has to be edgier’…. Yes? Maybe?

    I think the fact that all Kpop groups have rappers has transformed the Korean idea of rap, while America still restricts rap’s subject manner as an art form (it’s not rap if it doesn’t discuss ___). Think of Moon Byul, Euna Kim, or Jimin (AOA) trying to make it in the US. RapMon? They aren’t ‘edgy’ enough, regardless of their skill (and ignoring tehir English abilities).

    CL will either act as an outlier, change the American idea of rap, or change her rapping to adhere to the US. I’m pretty excited to see which, either way, I think she’s going to make it.

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