K-pop has always lingered outside the periphery of mainstream American pop, a purely international affliction that never made its way over the Pacific outside of niche circles. PSY, its biggest crossover of the past decade, was a mostly a novelty gimmick, discarded after a few months for the next musical meme. The world of girl-group K-pop is on a completely different plane than the one that even PSY occupies. One of the biggest pop groups in the world right now are 2NE1, but you wouldn’t know it in most of the Western world.
But chances are that you’ll probably get to know its breakout star: CL quickly separated herself from the pack in South Korea, a distinctive personality in a music industry machine that prefers their notables maintain a squeaky-clean image. And now she’s starting to make her first steps stateside: She’s picked up Scooter Braun as a co-manager, who represents the likes of Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, and Carly Rae Jepsen. He’s working alongside YG Entertainment, the massive star-grooming entertainment company that’s responsible for CL’s ascent in her home country, and they both seem to be aiming for the big leagues.
“Doctor Pepper” isn’t CL’s English-language debut, but it is her first solo single that has a decidedly American audience in mind. In a sense, it’s meant to test the waters for her eventual English full-length. It does its job well. Diplo serves as producer — they previously worked together on a track on Skrillex’s album last year — and he reverts back to the hit factory intensity of his solo material that he seems eager to step away from. The pops and fizzes on the track are reminiscent of Sophie — that time in the studio working with him on “Bitch, I’m Madonna” seems to have rubbed off — but the beat is straight dirty Atlanta rap, given some legitimacy with a verse from OG Maco. Riff Raff also adds a verse, but both of them mostly serve as window dressing to keep the beat rolling until CL can come through again and set everything on fire. Her voice is a malleable thing — here, it’s mostly menacing, but occasionally she’ll take on the sugary sweetness of the titular drink, betraying her training as a K-pop star. This is the kind of song that most singers would kill for, and CL knows it and takes advantage. If this isn’t a star-making track, then I don’t know what is. Listen below.