The Art of Being CL
RollingStone India|November 2021
How K-pop’s Baddest Female reclaimed her throne
RIDDHI CHAKRABORTY

It’s the end of October and CL is completing the promotion cycle for her debut LP, Alpha. The record dropped on the 20th, and the entire month saw the South Korean superstar’s schedule packed full of interviews, fan meetings and live performances–all in celebration of her glorious return to the scene. Each single racked up tens of millions of views on YouTube and the world rejoiced with tweets, articles and reaction videos, but the scale of Alpha’s roaring success hasn’t quite hit the singer-songwriter and rapper just yet. “It feels… I don’t know,” she confesses. “It hasn’t got into me that it’s out, because those are the pictures and videos and everything I’ve been with for so long, that I’ve been preparing. I’ve been in the process very deep. But whenever I can perform it or just talk about it with you guys or my fans, that’s when I kind of feel like it’s happened.”

While the success of Alpha was expected, it’s also a little unbelievable to have her back onstage. For both CL and her fandom, the GZBz, the time between 2018 to late 2019 was painful. Her former group 2NE1 had disbanded in 2017, and rumored disputes between her Korean label and overseas management delayed her plans for a big American solo career, eventually leading to a pause on any projects she had in the pipeline. It was a massive blow, shutting down the numerous predictions of her being the ‘next big thing from South Korea’ and disappointing legions of fans. As time passed and her silence on the music front grew, the world attempted to theorize what went wrong and if there was a way to fix it. CL handled it all with grace, maintaining her silence and eventually walking away from her label in 2019.

That same year, she dropped the incredibly cathartic EP In The Name of Love, which outlined all her pain and the emotional toll silence can take on an artist. While it marked her return to music and celebrated a triumphant exit from her former label, it was also deeply connected to one of the most difficult chapters of her life. She needed to begin a new era, forge a new legacy to break free from the chaos of the past few years, and Alpha was the answer. CL conceptualized the foundation of Alpha in 2019 and announced a 2020 release, but later decided it was still too soon. With all the drama with record labels done with, it was time to do herself justice and evolve her debut album into a work of art that mirrored her reality. “I’ve actually been living with that concept and that title for so long. I always knew my first album should be named Alpha,” she says when we connect over Zoom for our conversation. She’s radiant as she smiles on my screen and sets the tone for what will be one of the most honest, in-depth interviews I’ve ever done. “It means the beginning of everything. The whole concept is choosing love over fear and facing it, too. It’s all the emotions that I went through and I wanted to share that with my fans, because I’ve always been about that. Especially from the In The Name of Love project where I got to talk more about myself, I feel like I always grew up with my fans, because I started so young and I want them to connect to me. So I wanted to make sure I did that.”

After a difficult journey dealing with the complexities that come with entertainment agencies and big music labels, CL felt the need to create something of her own, a space that allowed her to explore her artistry with no limits, disputes or contradictions. Her desire to be more involved in the creative process of music led her to launch Very Cherry in 2020, her own creative company and its in-house music label, Very Cherry Records. “Like I said, Alpha is about facing your fears, and I feel like being in the system for so long, I didn’t really get to meet all the people I work with, or understand the process of it. And there was always a question behind that, like, ‘How does this work?’ I feel that not knowing the truth, the process of it… I was always curious. So those are the sides that I learned more about through making Very Cherry.”

The company features an impressive roster of creative minds from various parts of the music and fashion industries, geared to bring CL’s vision to life and work as a unit to celebrate art. “It was about recreating the team,” she explains about her arsenal of visual directors, producers, photographers, stylists and more. “I’m coming out of the system, so I’m just working with everyone. There are people that I have worked with before, but now it’s as a team working together for the first time– and there’s also a lot of people around the world that I work with. I have a lot of teams outside of Korea and Very Cherry. So, just putting all that together in such a short period of time while it’s our first run… I’ve learned a lot.”

When I ask about her long-term vision for the label and why she felt it was the right time to launch it, she’s contemplative. “I made Very Cherry to protect my creativity,” she finally reveals. It’s a gleaming shield built of all the pain she went through and an absolute victory. “Like right now it’s Very Cherry Records also. Because even if I do in the future work with a label, or with different companies to create other things outside of music, I still want a home base and my people that I always create with. I want to be creative, I want to stay, and I want to protect that.”

THE RISE OF THE ALPHA

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