While playing one of the world’s biggest festivals was a typical Saturday for CL, the emotional labor the Korean superstar put into her Coachella debut understandably explains why she was under the weather in the following days.
Nearly seven years after their last performance together, border-breaking girl group 2NE1 made a surprise reunion performance at Coachella 2022 as part of CL’s set in the historic 88rising Head in the Clouds Forever stage. After commanding an army of dancers to deliver her solo tracks like “Spicy” and “Chuck” off her debut full-length Alpha, CL disappeared in a cloud of fog — until the immediately recognizable silhouettes of her and bandmates Bom, Dara and Minzy were revealed to a globally shocked fanbase.
In an exclusive sit-down days after the performance, an upbeat CL shares how it was “a no-brainer” for 2NE1 to return with “I Am the Best,” the song that not only remains the group’s signature song from 2011, but also hit No. 1 on Billboard‘s World Digital Songs chart to make them the first K-pop group to do so. In addition to being K-pop pioneers who booked arenas, appeared on prime-time television, and broke chart records in America, coming back together at California’s biggest festival felt entirely fitting.
Read the full conversation on how 2NE1 pulled off the reunion, previously unshared details about the group’s time together, and hints to what’s next for CL and 2NE1.
We have to start by saying a huge congratulations but also check in how you’re feeling because I heard you were a little sick.
We’ve been nonstop preparing for this, and also for my performance and everything for Coachella, for a while. But I’m well-rested today.
Good to hear. Take us through the preparations of how it all came together.
It’s been like two months or more since we started talking about this. We kept it a secret, so when we were rehearsing, we would go to Minzy’s place because she has the dance studio and it was always at like 10 or 11 p.m when all the classes are done. It was two weeks prior [in Korea] and then two weeks here [in Los Angeles] to rehearse. So it’s been a journey. Like you said, physically, you know, we do this all the time; this is what we do. So that wasn’t a big thing. But emotionally, definitely, has been a roller coaster. We feel so comfortable around each other. Like, it’s been awhile, for sure, but it didn’t feel like it. But then also every moment felt unreal when we were together! [Laughs] Then you need to crash into something very real in that all our teams are different and we have to communicate this way. You’re just like, “Wow, this is a different situation.”I think my body is digesting that part.
A lot of people were curious because we saw photos of you together months ago. You met up in February, and everyone went crazy. Was that when this was discussed? How long do you need to plan a Coachella surprise?
To be honest, I think it was pretty last-minute. [Laughs] It’s been like two months since I brought it up. But till like a month ago, we were like, “Is this still happening or not?” But the dinner was absolutely not our first time doing that — we definitely try to meet once a year. And we promised ourselves that a couple years ago. I was like, “OK, we need to do at least one dinner a year, wherever you are, come back and we’re going to do one once a year. We have to do that.” So that was something else we did. It wasn’t for Coachella.
I love that. You really did keep a great secret. I heard the members didn’t tell their teams.
I was like, “You guys can’t tell; don’t tell your mom!” I don’t think Dara told her company. [Laughs] I hope because everything went well that they’re all happy at the end of the day.
When you’re one of the artists in a set with a partner like 88rising, is a big guest appearance like this something you need to get approved?
I’m pretty close with Sean [Miyashiro, founder and CEO of 88rising], and he was very supportive and flexible. It was all a conversation and there’s always a process. It was good working with them and I was glad to be a part of it — the whole purpose was about Asian music and culture. So him bringing that together, I’m super proud of him. There were a lot of Korean artists, for sure. And then having Utada Hikaru there, I grew up on her music, because I was raised in Japan. I used to have those [Japanese] mini CD singles of hers! To me, it was like a full-circle, magical moment for my inner child.
Was the plan always to perform “I Am the Best,” or did you discuss other songs?
It was a no-brainer. I don’t think we even talked about it. We did talk about doing a slow song as well, but I’m happy we didn’t because that’s the song that represents us so well in every way: from the video, the style to the music. Even what we’ve talked about with the story of how the song was made, it’s just very 2NE1.
For those who don’t know, what’s the story behind how it was made?
It’s a little personal for me because that was the first demo I got when I went to YG [Entertainment, 2NE1’s former label] for a solo project. And I had that song for — like three or four years before it came out? It was called “Satisfy Me,” it had a totally different hook, but we were missing the verses. [2NE1 producer] Teddy and I were in the room and I was like, “You know what, we should put that first verse in, use that verse…” So, it’s like for me, I still remember that song to my heart because, well, I thought that was going to be my song. But in the end, it worked and it was perfect.
Something I want to emphasize too were the details: the styling, the hair, the poses, it felt like you were honoring that time.
Definitely, definitely. When we decided to do “I Am the Best,” I was like, “We need to come up with the iconic looks that … you guys had.” Minzy cut her hair for this! Right before she flew out, she sends us this picture of just hair on the ground. [Laughs] And she’s like, “I cut my hair.” It’s not easy to tell somebody to cut their hair that short, you know? I was like, “Minj, would you do this?” And she said yes right away, so I think we were all on the same page. Dara’s hair has actually gotten longer than it was in 2010, so that [mohawk] was taller than back then. But we add a little twist of color and make it a little bit different from the original. Even wearing Alexander Wang to represent an Asian designer. I thought all those things would be meaningful for that set.
How was the afterparty? We saw you pop a celebratory champagne bottle on Instagram.
We were invited to a lot of things, but we stayed in, we stayed up in our house and with [DJ and YouTube personality] Kerwin Frost, he was hosting and also like our glue. We were doing karaoke to our 2NE1 songs — it was so fun, but it was so weird because, except for me, everyone knew all the 2NE1 routines. I was so embarrassed! Bom was the one who knew them the most and we were like, “Of course, it’s her who knows every movement and then whenever you tell her to do that onstage, she’s going in the wrong direction!” [Laughs] We were just jamming to our songs, celebrating 2NE1 as a group and the whole team that made this happen. So we took it in a very intimate way to end a very, very meaningful day for us.
I caught a moment onstage where you and Bom are seated and you’re hyping her up. She’s talked about her anxiety, so I saw that and thought, “That’s a good leader: making sure she’s comfortable.”
Yeah, I wanted to make sure she gets to that place because we only have, what, like three minutes to do this together; I could tell she needed that. It was all just in the moment, I felt that way, but I didn’t realize how loud I was and that you guys heard me screaming. I didn’t realize that until later.
The big question on everyone’s mind: Is more coming from 2NE1?
We still can’t believe this even happened and we’re still digesting that. Our group chat is like going on, we’re all still talking — Dara was like, “I can finally eat!” So we’re digesting.
And what’s coming next for you? We saw the CL+ video on YouTube that shows you and Scott Storch at a piano together. Are you making new music?
Yes. We met in Miami, through a mutual friend who was like, “You guys got to work together!” I grew up on his music so it was such an honor to meet him. And I actually did start working with him and it’s fun. And I can’t wait to share the music, but I’m not gonna talk about that because, you know, it’s all about timing again. But I did start. It was amazing just to see him work too. I think everything has its own timing … even when it was Alpha [promotional] season, I got a lot of questions about 2NE1 because people felt there were a lot of things that were unsolved and unspoken about, but I didn’t want to talk about it first. I wanted to do first.
Oh, I like that. Not just talking about it, actually doing it.
I wanted to make sure the intentions were just really simply “us” in the best way; more of a celebration. I was looking for the right time, and I think it always turns out to be the best when you have good intentions.