Yet as CL laid down tracks, her Eastern and Western teams appeared to differ on what was best for their artist. “When you’re working with two groups of people, it’s not really up to me to schedule or pick the songs,” she says. “It was hard to meet in the middle.” She released only a handful of singles between 2015 and 2016: “Doctor Pepper,” a raucous turn-up anthem with Diplo and rappers Riff Raff and OG Maco; “Hello Bitches,” a maximalist reunion with 2NE1 producer Teddy Park; and “Lifted,” a softer hip-pop track sampling Wu-Tang Clan that barely cracked the Billboard Hot 100. They all hinted at the myriad career paths available to a singer whose chameleonic skill set had no clear precedent.
Yet if CL suffered for not fitting neatly into a box, she’s uninterested in unpacking what went wrong. Prior to our conversation, CL requests, through her publicist, that her former Korean label not be mentioned by name. Did it hold her back? “Not really,” says CL. “I don’t think anyone was trying to hold me back. I think it was the opposite. Everyone was excited. But no one knew what to do.” (YG did not comment for this story.) When asked who or what held up the music, she grows a little frustrated. “There’s not one person,” she says. “It’s not one thing. It’s nobody’s ‘fault,’ it’s just whatever happens, happens. And I learned the best way is to just really learn from it.” Did the situation feel claustrophobic? “Yes,” she says. “That I can say.”
She reclaimed power where she could: on social media, where she leaked an unreleased music video and made her frustrations known in other ways. She left the SB Projects roster in October 2018, and the following month she and Braun pooh-poohed rumors of tension with a jokey Twitter exchange in which CL called Braun her “#broforlife.” Yet the following year, she liked a series of Instagram comments from fans who suggested he had treated her unfairly. One directed at him read: “Take care of your artist and stop shunting her to the side.”
If there were any issues, neither party speaks of them today. CL parted ways with YG in November 2019, a decision that she confirms was her own, then rejoined SB Projects in early 2020 as an independent artist. “Her fans had been waiting so patiently for her solo comeback that I knew she had a lot to say and a lot to prove, not only for herself but for [her fans] across the world,” says Jen McDaniels, general manager at SB Projects. “It was a no-brainer that we had to help fulfill that vision for her and pick up where we left off.” (The company declined to comment about YG.)
CL is nonchalant about the whole thing. “With Scooter I will always be grateful, because he’s the one who invited me out to L.A.,” she says. “I’m working with the whole team again now, and it has been great.”
In late 2019, CL made her independent debut with the In the Name of Love EP, a confident hopscotch through synth-pop, EDM and R&B. It didn’t include the big-name collaborations she recorded a few years prior; she is vague about what happened to those songs and talks about them as if they are lost to the great external hard drive in the sky. “Hopefully the people I did work with, we could reconnect and make something better,” she says calmly. “If it’s out of my control, I can’t do anything about it. What I can do is make a better song. That’s under my control.”