Celebrities. The rich and famous. As much as I stay away from them, citing the age-old “They’re all dumb and shallow!” argument, I have to admit that even I have a few celebs that I enjoy following every now and again. It’s not my fault that Robert Downey Jr. is a perfect Iron Man, okay? The celebs that I find myself the most interested in, however, are often in the Korean music scene. Loving the music of my favorite groups inevitably led me to picking my bias among the members, which led to me picking up news about them here and there where I could. One of my favorite Korean superstars has been CL, the leader of 2NE1; she’s a talented, strong, independent woman that I look up to. Or at least, I did.
As a part of the well-loved family of artists over at YG Entertainment, CL was pretty much destined for greatness. Debuting with the girl group 2NE1 in 2009, CL’s career started strong. 2NE1 quickly made a name for themselves by breaking the molds that other girl groups had set: they weren’t afraid to tackle different musical styles or address different issues in their group concepts or music videos. “I Am the Best” will always be a classic for me due to its swag-infused bass and hammering backbeat, but songs like “If I Were You” aren’t afraid to take it slow and soft. While not my personal bias of the four girls of 2NE1, CL always stood out to me as the trendsetter among them; what G-Dragon was to BIGBANG, CL was to 2NE1, and you could see her ambition and drive alongside her passion in her performances.
CL alongside her groupmates in 2NE1
Recently, CL has set her sights on doing more solo work due to the hiatus of 2NE1. She began working with Scooter Braun, the man behind Justin Beiber and Ariana Grande, in hopes of a US debut. If the previous sentence alone doesn’t convey to you the dread that I started to feel during the planning phase of her US work, I don’t know what else will. Aside from her actual US debut, that is. As of the posting of this article, her first US song “Lifted” will have been released a day ago. Not counting the single “Hello B**ches” that she released a couple months ago that pretty much cemented the style that CL would be going for here in the US, “Lifted” is a reminder to me, both of what I love about KPOP and what I despise about most of the American pop and rap scene.
KPOP, to me, has always been a genre that’s cared about the music. Sure, there are groups out there that were designed to cash in on an aesthetic or a formula (that in and of itself is another topic for another day), but overall the industry has seemed focused on delivering high quality music to its fans, along with using talented people to convey the image of the individual labels. The more community-focused and respectful ethic of South Korea has always seemed to me to give most groups an air of self-respect, despite the wide range of styles. There are those groups that push it, such as Block B or the recently disbanded 4Minute, but in general you don’t see Korean celebrities acting as stupid or crazy as American celebrities. In general.
CL has always been a Queen. One that I want to serve…?
This brings me to CL’s US release. While it boasts an epic backbeat and some of the best production I’ve heard in a hip-hop song, the entire music video for “Lifted” felt like the type of thing I’d tried to avoid from US media. Scantily clad women, the glorification of alcohol and drugs, a life without responsibilities seen as the norm: it wasn’t the CL I’d grown to love from her 2NE1 days. The woman who flaunted herself as “the baddest female” and yet still put her soul into heartbreaking performances such as If I Were You in 2014 found it no problem to twerk and grind for her latest song? It’s been…confusing. I’ve known that CL could pull off the sexy, confident woman, but she never portrayed herself as the carefree, loose, somewhat-slutty girl that so many American female artists tend to fall into. What was wrong?
As I thought about it, I came to the realization that there wasn’t a problem with CL. Or rather, my problem with CL wasn’t due to what she did, but my expectations of her. I’d placed her into a mental box that demanded a higher standard. I’d grown used to seeing her as a step above most Western artists, and seeing her do the same things that they did was really jarring to me. In hindsight, it shouldn’t have been so surprising. CL was simply adapting to the climate of the industry in the US: she is an entertainer, after all. Those who pay the piper dictate the tune, and clearly the American public wants most of their mainstream artists to be (or at the least, to portray themselves) as morally loose and socially acceptable.
As talented and beautiful as she is, I can’t find a good reason to support CL.
In the end, was it all my fault for expecting more of CL than she was willing to give? Yes, and no: as consumers we should hold our artists to higher standards. The more we challenge them, the greater the art that they create in response will be. My problem was that I expected CL’s standards for music and appearance to be as inflexible as mine. Living by standards and imposing them on others are two different things, and when two sets of different standards go head-to-head, one of them has to give. As a follower of Christ, the message of “Lifted” as conveyed by both the visuals and the lyrics was in direct opposition to the beliefs and convictions that I hold dear, and as such I can’t support it or CL’s new venture here in the US. While I have no animosity towards her as a person, I can’t in good conscience listen to or support her new music. God informs us as Christians to be “salt of the earth” (Matt 5:13)- we are to be a contrast to the world. If my life is to be a contrast and yet the media I endorse is not, and has no redeeming value, what good is it?