Track Review: Spicy // CL

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On August 24, K-pop veteran CL made her highly anticipated comeback with ‘Spicy’, after a turbulent few years following a clash with her former label—who she asks not to be named alongside. 

Her departure from the Korean ‘big 3’ agency led to the release of the 2019 EP In The Name Of Love as an independent artist. It was a thank you to the fans that stuck with her during that difficult period in her career, in which no music was released. 

This was followed by two successful singles last autumn entitled ‘+HWA+’ and ‘+ 5 STAR +’, intended as pre-album release singles. However, her debut solo album Alpha was delayed for improvements and after the singer unfortunately lost her mother, she released the track ‘Wish You Were Here’ as a tribute. 

CL returned in August 2021 with a schedule for her upcoming debut album, Alpha, planned for October, 11 years into her iconic career. The title Alpha was chosen to represent her alpha female alter ego that has left her branded ‘The Baddest Female’ as well as its position as the first letter of the Greek alphabet, indicating a new start for the rapper.

Her first single from this new era, ‘Spicy’, begins with the voice of John Malkovich, the American actor who CL has described as her mentor, met during her stint in the US, whilst starring in Mile 22 together, amid her label difficulties. Malkovich opens the track with the words “Have you got that sauce that is spicy? / Made in Korea” instantly reminding listeners of her roots after her period in the US, showing her intent to return as a prominent figure in the K-pop/K-hip-hop scene. Her proud heritage is also seen in lyrics such as “You’re looking at the most fly Asians” and the many other mentions of South Korea across the song. 

Malkovich and CL can also be heard uttering the phrase “energy, power, chemistry” across the song, a motto that accurately describes the qualities that elevated CL to K-pop icon status as the leader of 2NE1, qualities which ‘Spicy’’s high energy proves she still possesses. 

The song is quintessentially CL, a loud, high-energy beat that feels like an alarm clock. Adding tension, the time is up: CL is back and holding no punches, accompanied by an equally energised rap and typically powerful and self-confident lyrics and visuals. 

Lines like “CL is the alpha” and “We can never be stopped / You getting tired / 우린 올라가지만 (we go up) / you gone retire” refer to her upcoming album, her attitude towards haters, setbacks, and her powerful ability to bounce back—as seen in the success of ‘Spicy’, which has over 7 million YouTube views to date. 

The video accompanying the song is high budget and aesthetically pleasing, a dark, rock and roll meets hip-hop and high fashion feel. A powerful almost masculine dance across the top, showing how CL has often broken stereotypes for women in K-pop and K-hip-hop. 

CL’s return to music is exactly what one would have expected, powerful and bold; a slow build-up to her debut record Alpha this October.

Words by Mary Atkinson


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