Singer and rapper CL is one-fourth of the acclaimed K-Pop girl group 2NE1 and renowned for her stage presence, wardrobe and indomitable leadership. Respected Korean rapper Tasha gives her props, Rihanna follows her on Instagram, she's been hanging out with A$AP. Close friends with Jeremy Scott, who designed their stage clothes for their wildly successful 2012 New Evolution tour, she was seen front-row at his NY AW13 catwalk, she's become his design muse.
2NE1, despite Girls' Generation and Wonder Girls putting effort into cracking the non-Asia market, are arguably the most recognisable of the female idol groups beyond K-Pop's usual stamping grounds; they've held several successful American concerts, worked with Will.I.am, and starred in a US Adidas campaign as well as critically lauded by MTV, BBC, Forbes, CNN, Elle, and Rolling Stone.
Their sound - bass heavy electro pop with nods to hip-hop - is big, bold and brash and the accompanying visuals scorn the aegyo, the cutesy cheek puffing and big anime eyes, that so many girl groups employ. Instead, CL and her band members Minzy, Dara and Bom have adopted the styles associated with their male contemporaries (including their YG label-mates BigBang) of fast cars, studs, spikes and aggressive choreography.
Last year saw only one release from 2NE1, the languid change of pace of 'I Love You' as well as stylistic change of pace but that's only to be expected from the quartet who, since their 2009 debut, continually run circles around even the style conscious K-Pop scene to become style icons in their own right.
Often outspoken and upfront, CL has become a role model to both her fans and other rappers and singers within K-Pop groups such as GLAM and EXO-K while the 2NE1 influence, visual or otherwise, can be seen in groups like Evol, D-Unit and B.A.P.
Dazed Digital: What has been your favourite 2NE1 moment of recent times?
CL: Actually, I can't pick one, it's really hard but I love travelling with them and meeting our fans from all around the world. I love when we're on tour and when we're on stage. That's the moment for us. It was our first show in Seoul when we started the second tour, we had the eye contact on stage and were like, 'okay, it's starting' and you feel that butterfly. It was a good moment to start the show and start to our first global tour.
DD: What's happening with the new 2NE1 album?
CL: We're still wrapping up our album. We did one video but we haven't had an album out in a year and a half and we're working very hard to make it special.
DD: Are you nervous about bringing it out after that long away?
CL: We're more excited than nervous. I'm dying to go up on a stage again and perform new songs again.
DD: Is there a favourite track off it?
CL: Well, I can't talk about the title but there's a slow song that we did. It's very emotional and kind of different from Lonely and the other slow songs we did. And I love that song. It's about me missing somebody and it was easy for us to connect with it because we were missing our fans and our stage.
DD: Many idols have families that don't support their idea of performing and some even lose family ties over it but your father has very publicly shown his support for you. Are you still very close with him despite your busy schedule?
CL: Yes, of course. My dad lives in Paris right now and he's busy all the time but we always talk to each other. He had a book for children out; he used to draw me pictures when I was young and tell me stories so he made that as a book and that was really special. I always thank him because he was always supportive. I was giving the book to everybody and I was really happy. There was a picture of me when I was young, there's some drawings I gave him as a Father's Day gift.
DD: As part of your YG/2NE1 family do you still live the typical idol dormitory life?
CL: We have a dorm. We actually moved just now. All the members family live in Korea but my family live all around the world. They get to go back to their home when they want to but I can't so I got my own place so I'm living by myself.
DD: What other girl groups do 2NE1 feel keep you on your toes? Not jealousy but just some healthy competition?
CL: We’re into discovering ourselves as 2NE1. Since all four of us are different, we inspire and push each other.
DD: Let's talk about your 2NE1 girls; who do you go to when you're having a hard time of it?
I actually don't go to anyone, cos I'm the leader I kind of have to suck it in. I don't want to show them that kind of struggle, so that they can rely on me.
DD: Who do you go to for career advice?
CL: I definitely go to Teddy (Park). He writes all our songs and is our producer and he's the only one I share what's on my mind. If I was going through a hard time, I would share that with him. He's like the guiding light for me. He's much older than me and he gives me good advice and takes care of me and makes sure I'm good. As a girl and a performer!
DD: You've been called a fashionista, the Baddest Female, but what do all these titles mean, if anything?
CL: I don't know. Those are things I love but I don't do it for that name, I don't do it for people to call me fashionista or a leader but I love fashion and art and I'm enjoying what I do. I love being called being Baddest Female. On stage I'm a bad ass so they can call me that.
DD: Could you see yourself working in design or would you prefer to be a muse?
CL: I'm more of a muse type. Even when it comes to music, I wanna be the muse.
DD: Would you start a CL fashion range?
CL: I don't wanna do it if its not 100% me. I'm waiting, maybe one day but for now I want to be a muse for somebody.
DD: Who in particular?
CL: I love Jeremy Scott, it's hard... I love Karl Lagerfield, Riccardo Tisci, I love his work. It's hard to put one. Can you put three?
DD: Stylistically 2NE1 are icons and unafraid of pushing boundaries but lately all four of you have been doing magazine shoots and experimenting with a more low-key, womanly image.... where would you like to see 2NE1 go - fashion-wise - in the future?
CL: The magazines that we shot separately were for fun. Together we sort of have this signature “2NE1 style” but separately we, of course, have our own individuality so we wanted to show people a different side of 2NE1 because that colourful out there stuff is not our only side. We dress how we feel – every day. With regards to the future it will depend on what kind of music we put out because the look should coincide with the theme of the music. Personally, it depends on my mood or how we are feeling – it will depend on what we are going for and then we’ll go for it.
DD: You often call yourself a workaholic but where does that ethos comes from?
CL: I think it's in my blood, both of my parents are very hard workers and were always working when I was growing up. I love working and what I do.
DD: What about when you have time off?
CL: I don't know what to do so I try to keep myself busy even if I have time off. I can't just stay home and do nothing. I'm not good at that. A month ago I was really really sick. I caught a cold and so I had to, not because I wanted to, stay in bed for a week. I couldn't get out of bed. My body was telling me I need rest.
DD: Your fans have been wondering where you've been of late, though...
CL: I was on tour last year but the Korean fans were like, 'where are you?' I was working all the time even though they couldn't see me. We couldn't have an album out because of the tour, because if we wanted it out it had to be before the tour started. The timing was really bad and we didn't want to pass that year without anything out so we did 'I Love You'. We did that for our fans and it was different from what we always did, but we tried something different.
DD: Outside Asia the market proved that little bit elusive, however 2NE1 have made managed to make a starting dent in it. When you travel do you see K-Pop really developing in non-Asian countries? Do you think it could ever escape its niche and go really mainstream so that a lot of groups can experience the kind of success that YG artists have?
CL: I don’t know about other groups or artists but we try to make global music - not for certain places. For us, it’s not about where you do it but how you do it.
DD: You're one of the most confident, outspoken girls on the K-Pop scene, where does all that confidence come from?
CL: It's from loving yourself. Everybody goes through that awkward teenage phase, and even the prettiest girl can think she's ugly. It's about going to another level when that hits you, you have ever get over that, and get up when things knock you down.
DD: Have you ever worried about what other people think of you?
CL: Yes. I went through that phase when I was kind of thinking about other people. It was in 2011 and everybody was trying to put me down because of my confidence. So I was going through, like, do I think about that or do I do what I love and just be me. I was struggling for a while but you live once and you can only be you, you can't be somebody else. I don't want to live my life regretting things. I want to say what I want to say, do what I wanna do. This moment will never come back. You have to capture every moment you get and appreciate it. You have to have respect for other people and appreciate everything in life but you have to trust in yourself.
DD: You spent your teens training and now your adult life as an idol... what kind of experiences or activities do you think you missed out on that other young women have had?
CL: I did miss out on certain simple things like walking casually on the street or catching a movie but I went through most of the phases that all girls go through when they are growing up.
DD: Is there a place or a location that you love or find inspiration from?
CL: There's places I wanna go. I want to go to Egypt and Greece and places like that. I would ride a camel in Egypt, I would love to do that. Whenever I travel it's for work but I want to go India. I would love to experience it, I love their culture, art and history.
DD: What, outside of performing/recording, makes you happiest?
CL: Simple things like family, friends, good food and catching sunlight.
DD: You're often asked about your ideal type and relationships...
CL: I have no time for relationships, I'm working hard every day. I'm not looking for just someone to go on dates with. I won't just go on dates casually.
DD: Does that mean you have a dislike of casual dating? And, in a romantic sense, given the life you lead would only another idol or someone in the industry be able to understand you?
CL: I don’t dislike casual dating. It’s just that at the moment, I don’t have time for it right now. It doesn’t have take someone to be in the industry to understand me because if he fell in love with me then he would already understand me.
DD: How do you deal with tabloids and the stories they create?
CL: Actually it's sad but I don't have a lot of scandal with anyone. They don't do that to me.
DD: In the forums, the practice of shipping (placing two celebrities with each other in an imaginary relationship) has put you with your YG labelmates, in particular G-Dragon and Taeyang of BigBang.
CL: It's cute that people do that but that's not true at all, it's funny. (laughing) I'm happy that people do that 'cos I never thought that people do that to me!!
DD: People think there are real but secret relationships going on because you often have Instagram photos with both boys and seem very close.
CL: I wouldn't do that (post photos online) if we were a real couple!!
Photography by Benjamin Fredrickson
Styling by Alison Isbell