Back in April 2013, supermanager Scooter Braun was in South Korea to see Psy, the viral K-pop artist he reps in North America, and caught opening act 2NE1, one of K-pop’s most obsessed-over girl groups. After the show, he wound up drinking soju and trading advice on romance with CL (nee Lee Chae-rin), 2NE1’s magnetic rapper-singer. Not long after, says CL, Braun “emailed me and was like, ‘Let’s do this’ ” — meaning, essentially, make her a superstar in America, too. “It was so out of the blue,” she says over the phone from Seoul, speaking with the polish of someone who has been famous since she was a teenager (not to mention perfect Valley Girl diction). “We didn’t really talk about work. We would argue about love, life, relationships.”
Since then, CL, 24, has split her time between Seoul and Los Angeles, where she recorded her as-yet-untitled-and-unscheduled 2016 solo debut. She also released the singles “Doctor Pepper” (with Riff Raff and Diplo) and “Hello Bitches,” which falls somewhere between M.I.A.‘s “Bad Girls” and the Rihanna album fans have been waiting on for all these years. (CL just calls it “raw.”) In the video, CL sports violet hair and leather and is flanked by a group of dancers with names like “Binki Boo” and “Vanilla Ice,” who make the room shake with their stomps and throw animated liquor at the camera.
The video is chaotic, but CL remains mesmerizing throughout. For an idea of exactly how cultish a following she already has in the United States, one need only go to YouTube for the reaction videos posted after “Hello Bitches” dropped. Celebratory Jell-O shots are taken. Shouts of “Slay, queen!” are heard. Vloggers, like, literally die.
With the cast of characters — from New Jersey moll to Harajuku princess to Hot Topic chola — she adopts, CL is like Nicki Minaj, if Minaj were more interested in dominating social media rather than other rappers. “I always wanted to do my solo album in English, because I grew up listening to a lot of pop artists and English-based songs,” says CL, “but you can’t really do that in Korea, so…” So, in other words, she’s ready to take on America.
This story originally appeared in the Jan. 16 issue of Billboard.