CL album review: K-pop’s Queen of Rap shines on her debut album, ‘Alpha’

Natasha Ho
  • The former 2NE1 singer made headlines when she left her label YG in 2019, but her new release proves that she can bloom on her own
  • The South Korean singer explores identity, love, and independence on her first full album
Natasha Ho |

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‘Alpha’ is CL’s full-length debut album. The former 2NE1 singer left her label, YG, in December 2019. Photo: YouTube

Since her departure from YG in December 2019, all eyes have been on CL and what she’ll bring to the table after setting the world on fire with her 2NE1 bandmates, commonly regarded as the pioneers of the global K-pop storm. With her debut studio album Alpha, CL shuts down speculation of her downfall after leaving YG and establishes her identity as a versatile all-rounder, a strong and independent Korean woman, and a human being craving love.

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The first two lead singles showcase CL’s versatility, as the songs are the opposites of each other. SPICY brings along a heavy EDM track that seems typical on the surface, but still manages to grab your attention on the first listen with an addictive bassline and use of anti-drop on the chorus, building up to a musical explosion.

What’s worth noting about this song is the repeated mention of CL’s Korean identity, with lyrics such as “made in Korea,” “You looking at the most fly Asians,” and “We from South Korea,” a proud take on her ethnicity after the recent streak of anti-Asian hate crimes in the West.

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Lover Like Me takes on a much softer approach, but maintains a spark of power that is undeniably CL. With its dreamy instrumentals and echoing background vocals, CL speaks to a romantic partner who has given up on her, warning that they will never find another person like her. The most noteworthy part is how the pre-chorus ascends into the chorus in the form of a beat drop, and how the chorus is more musical, with few lyrics – they simply aren’t needed.

Chuck is a surprisingly experimental song, with peculiar background beats. Her vocals on Xai suggest a beautiful sense of longing and incorporate East Asian elements, with traces of notes similar to a kayagŭm, and drums like a sogo.

The inspiring Let It and Tie A Cherry show off her incredible vocal range as well as her rap flow, reassuring listeners that she is still the K-pop Queen of Rap. Paradise and My Way will be great for hyping up crowds at future concerts, while Siren turns in a different direction and displays her strong and soulful voice.

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One of the most outstanding songs on the album is HWA. Even though it was released as a single around 11 months ago, shortly after leaving YG, it never lost its spark as an anthem of independence. The line, “The mugunghwa has bloomed,” with mugunghwa being South Korea’s national flower, is the core message of the album: it represents the fact that CL is finally blooming on her own.

It was an interesting decision to put one of the album’s softest and most-heartwarming songs at the end of the track list. 5 star is a song of extreme vulnerability, in which CL talks about opening her heart to a ‘5 star love’. It shows another side of her, that of a strong woman who still wants to be loved.

All in all, this is a very solid debut, which successfully achieves everything a debut needs: it establishes CL’s identity and authenticity. She truly is The Baddest Female.

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