The leader of the K-Pop phenomenon discusses the group's next album, her solo ambitions, and goals that go beyond music
When K-pop girl-group phenomenon 2NE1 came to America in August 2012, the timing seemed a little off. They had just released the single “I Love You” (a domestic smash off the bat that debuted at No. 1 on the K-Pop Hot 100) and promised a Korean album to follow in October. Yet, in late July, the girls embarked on a world tour with stops in both hemispheres. When would there be time to finish an album?
“I Love You” indicated big things to come from the record. They had never sung about the topic of love before and portrayed a vulnerable side that juxtaposed their fierce, feisty style. Yet the album’s plans dissipated with no real news given about the state of 2NE1—until the group’s leader, CL, returned to the U.S. for New York Fashion Week in early February.
Even without extensive promotion in America, CL is a bona fide celebrity at friend Jeremy Scott’s fashion show, which she attends of Feb. 13. She poses for photos with Terry Richardson (whose studio she visits on Valentine's Day) and A$AP Rocky (whom she snaps a photo with to share on her Instagram account that boasts 235,000 followers, including Rihanna). She also has a secret project in the works with the designer, possibly out next month, which she teases is somewhat similar to when labelmate G-Dragon of BIGBANG gave a track to Lady Gaga stylist Nicola Formichetti for a men’s fashion show in January.
Things seem to be in a good place for CL to come to New York, enjoy Fashion Week and sit down for a chat by the fireplace of the sophisticated Gramercy Park Hotel lobby. “Last year, we were actually planning to have an album out and we had recorded some songs. But it didn’t happen because of our tour,” CL says. “We had to go on a tour and we had a deadline for if we wanted an album. But it’s just...we couldn’t make it.”
But CL tells Billboard that a 2013 comeback is now set for April. While a lead single or concept is still to be chosen, CL ensures that the music is classic 2NE1. “I feel like ‘I Am The Best’ or ‘Can’t Nobody’ are very much 2NE1’s style, if that’s how you want to put it. ‘I Love You,’ was something different for our fans and for 2NE1,” she says. “But moving forward, we’re sticking to the original and we’re going to go back to the fun, crazy, different 2NE1.”
While the final tracklisting is still to be decided, CL does speak excitedly about one track in particular that appears to be in the same vein as “I Love You.” CL reveals, “It’s a slow, love song. It’s about missing somebody. I was really connected to that song because I was missing my fans and the stage. I love that song. I know people will love it.”
While 2NE1 and her labelmates PSY and BIGBANG have proved that good music can find support no matter what language it’s in, CL still hopes to record music in English.
“I want to so bad,” she says of her hopes, which almost came to fruition with an English version of “I Love You,” which ultimately never saw the light of day. “Once the song is out in any language, it’s hard to make it that good in another one. It takes so much energy and time to make one song perfect. But putting that into another language? It’s the same thing, but even more difficult because it has to have the same energy.”
CL does add that the group’s producer, Korean-American Teddy, writes their music in English first and then translates it into Korean. She also mentions there is a 2NE1 song already in English, possibly to be recorded in Korean, which could stay in English. Additionally, while it was unsure months ago, it looks likely 2NE1 will make the cut for a feature on will.i.am’s “#willpower” album when it is released.
As ambitious as CL is with her group, she has possibly even more ambitious plans for herself as a solo artist.
“I’m planning to have my solo album out this year, after 2NE1,” she says. “I was looking back and thinking, ‘I want to have something personal for me.’ With 2NE1, it’s not personal because it’s not only about me; it’s about all the members. We’re more about influencing the world. But I have so many things I want to say. I have this other side of me that people didn’t meet in 2NE1.”
She expresses her wishes to have a full album (rather than the usual introductory single or mini-album approach for new artists or projects) because “that’s a stamp. That’s a footprint for me and my life. I want to keep it personal.” The project will most likely involve Teddy, but CL hopes to write music for the project too. Though she doesn't listen to other music while she's in artist mode, so not be influenced, she adds that she loves hip-hop and rap most.
Still CL’s goals go further than just music. While she said 2NE1 influences the world, CL hopes to change stereotypes regarding Asian women. “I want to represent Asian women. I want to break that typical Asian female stereotype. There’s this standard where they’re all calm,” she says excitedly. “I want to break that. I want to tell the world that there are some badass Asian female girls and that we can be cool. That we’re nothing different. I want to break that standard and stand up for all the girls.”
Doubt YG will give her a full album tbh. Also I seriously hope whatever she's planning is not like GD's Mugler track. Puss puss puss?