Alpha, CL’s first full-length album as a solo artist, has been a long time coming. CL (real name: Lee Chaelin) is the leader of 2NE1, a four-member girl group that is unquestionably one of the most prominent acts to come out of what’s often been described as the second generation of K-pop. Equally proficient at singing and rapping, she’s able to bring a vibrant chameleon-like style to her tracks. CL’s voice is hence the equitable star of this comeback. She modulates between singing and rapping in a natural flow that feels confident without being excessively showy.
“I’m multicultural, and I have always been representing that. I think it started from who I am, and I am both [sides], so I merged the two and it became one thing. The whole message of ALPHA is CL and Chaelin finding balance.”- CL in an interview with Billboard.
Alpha often throws light on the idea of independence and breaking out of a shell, just like CL’s own story. She explores a duality between the fierce charisma of CL, “the one and only baddest female” on tracks like ‘Spicy’ and ‘My Way,’ and her softer, real identity as Chaelin on songs like ‘5 Star’ and ‘Lover Like Me.’ This release includes eleven tracks of which four were pre-released as a prologue for this long-awaited album. Let’s dive right in!
The album starts its introduction with the track “SPICY” that expresses familiar self-confidence, vibe messages from CL whom we have known all these years. This track is likely to be a 2021 version of super hit tracks like, “The Baddest Female” and “Hello Bitches”– an authentic sassy anthem. One of the major highlights of this track as well as the MV is the opening narration by legendary actor John Malkovich who is a big fan of the artist. John iteratively says ‘Energy, Power, Chemistry’ which perfectly describes the overall vibe of the album. This track is jointly written by Sokodomo, Bonique, and CL.
“CL this the alpha leader / I ran all this way without rеsting but it’s only the beginning now / If you thought it was over, it’s only thе tip of the iceberg,” she voice outs in the first rap verse. It’s an apt introduction to the album, which she had described as the “start of an era”!
LOVER LIKE ME
The pop delight ‘Lover Like Me’ is a love story that stresses self-recognition and worth. It’s remarkably a lot chiller than what we are used to hearing from CL, though those trap snares and synths are definitely still present. ‘Lover Like Me’ is eventually a well-balanced pop anthem that manages to unite traces of her fierce aura while still being surprisingly sensitive. It’s also a great break-up song to help you move on to the next and in a very ALPHA mindset. She released this song before the album was released because it serves as a message to end the era before ALPHA begins.
‘Chuck’ is a self-aware bop about her fondness for setting trends. The lyrics, co-written by the singer herself, are self-illustrative: “Rather than running stuffily, I walk / I don’t want to be stagnant and rotting, flowing like water”. Harmonizing with booming beats, intricately layered hip-hop beats, and an appealing refrain, it becomes an instantaneous banger that better matches her appeal of edginess that has gracefully matured in the fullness of time. “Chuck” has a double meaning in Korea. One meaning is “pretentious and fake” and one means “bullseye.” It’s about the double entendre, and she has wittily conveyed that.
‘Xai’ finds CL taking influences from deep and tropical houses to create the ideal setting for its story, a narrative about the thirst for her lover to stay by her side. This track has an EDM arrangement and it’s a new music style that CL tried. It also throws light on CL’s love life in a way and how it’s always been private. On the hook it says, “We are gone when the sun is up and we meet when it’s dark when the moon is up” and “whatever shines in the dark you can’t have or own.” which can be interpreted as the portrayal of how she feels about her relationship with rest of the world.
CL talks about how sometimes when things are out of your control, you can let them flow. You have yourself, and you got to just believe that. She definitely wanted to send this message out to the world and to herself. On “Let It,” she is vulnerable but inspiring as she dives into her journey as an artist, addressing her ambitions as well as her insecurities: “I’m continuously walking but why do I feel like I’m in the same spot,” she sings. ‘Let It’ with its groovy tempo alongside an introspective and lightheartedly optimistic outlook expresses: “Like me, always do what you feel like doing / And it’s okay, let’s shake it all off / Cause I’m always going to be me.”
TIE A CHERRY
‘Tie A Cherry’ is also cut from the same cloth of trap beats and sonorous beats, however, it takes things a level higher by including a remarkable display of both vocal and rap ability from CL. This may just be the perfect demonstration of her musical caliber, especially considering that she’s credited as the main writer of the song. This song is the birth of Miss Cherry, a character that was created in the process of making ALPHA. She is very independent, self-made, fun, and chill.
It talks about a zone when we feel like we’re in paradise. It’s not about a place, it’s about a state of mind that we’re in and how we could be anywhere to feel that way. It’s kind of an extension of 2014’s “MTBD” track from 2NE1’s album CRUSH.
The scintillating track that further reinforces CL’s inclination for attitude-infused sounds is ‘My Way’. The message is just like the title: ‘It’s me going my way, doing things independently as an independent artist, and doing the solo project.’ It’s the attitude that CL had for this project. “I’mma do it my way / Just as I walked, just like me / I’mma do my way, my way, my way, my way, my way,” she chants commandingly in the refrain.
It’s about the emotions you have when you are trying your best in a relationship to not let the fire go out, but the signal is off. ‘Siren’ is another vocal-focused track on the album, which is in nice contrast to the CL we have seen before.
This was the first song that CL released as an independent artist. It has all the K-Pop essence. The chorus has lines from a famous game in Korea “Red light, Green Light[many may know it from the Squid Game]” which overall gives a message, “Everbody freeze, I’m back!” There is another line that translates to “Mugunghwa [the national flower of Korea] has blossomed” this is a reference to CL, that finally grew as an artist. We are talking about CL and how can we not talk about her asserting Korean influence in her songs!
‘ALPHA’, finds its magnum opus in its closing track ‘5 STAR’. It is a feel-good love song; how you want to feel when you’re in love, and how you want people to feel when they are in love. “5 STAR” is the Chaelin side that people haven’t seen, and this is how she introduced everyone to that side of Chaelin. Despite having been out for over a year, this delicately affectionate song is equal parts universal and timeless. Gifted K-HipHop artist DPR Ian made a sweet appearance as CL’s lover in the music video. It shines a spotlight on CL’s vocals, heavily depending on it to carry the track forward – and that’s what makes it so refreshing. Meanwhile, its lyrics, which sees her and a frequent collaborator/friend Tablo of Epik High credited as co-writers, are poetic and catchy: “What more do you need? / Boy I got you in my arms / I only need you / This night without a star, shining”.
Although the messages in ‘Alpha’ are analogous to the theme of CL’s previous releases, sonically but they show a new side to her range, with a bigger emphasis on vocals, storytelling, and lyricism, also adding to the rap capabilities she’s shown over the years. Alpha consolidates a fresh start that won’t leave her old fans in the dust. ‘ALPHA’ signifies a brand new era for CL as she grows into her own casing as a musician.