I have lived my entire life on the internet. Most of my formative years were spent scrolling through Tumblr, methodically curating a microblog consisting of glittering gifs, expensive clothing, and K-Pop stars. As a result of my many hours spent online, I've discovered music from around the world. And prompted by a couple of friends, I was able to easily find the mystifying and expansive world of K-Pop fandoms. Although my interests ranged from groups like f(x), Girl's Generation, and Super Junior, my favorite group, and frontwoman of them all, was 2NE1 (pronounced 21) charismatically led by CL.
Plastered all on my bedroom wall, and my Tumblr dashboard alike, were pictures of the pop star. I kept a copy of an issue of i-D, painstakingly glossy and without creases, featuring the K-Pop starlet and her then-best friend and creative collaborator Jeremy Scott. As Scott's muse, she donned electric-hued furs and sequined sportswear that the designer created in collaboration with Adidas. This was a magazine clipping was from 2013 when Scott, who is known for ripping off smaller and independent designers, was still relevant.
Now I'm seeing CL live for the first time. My past self, the freshman in high school who spent too much time on Tumblr reblogging K-Pop gifs and neon designer sportswear, is squealing.
It takes a while to get in to the Hammerstein Ballroom, jostling past the Halloween tourists outside Penn, but I made it just in time to see CL perform 2NE1's 2012 hit "I Love You." Overlooking a sea of red glow sticks and bobbing heads, I'm in disbelief—it was like a Tumblr gif come to life. Donning a flowing silver dress, backed by pulsating strobe lights and visuals of multihued constellations, it's otherworldly, seeing the pop star that I obsessed over for a good part of my formative years.
CL transitions into material from her hip-hop influenced singles. She starts off with "Doctor Pepper," a track she collaborated on with RiFF RAFF and OG Maco. Over a sparse bass-heavy beat, she basically talks over the instrumentals during the hook: "Put it on ice bitch, Dr. Pepper/ Feeling so clean, it don't get no fresher/ Chillin' in the freezer when I'm under pressure/ I put it on ice bitch, Dr. Pepper." As soon as the repetitive beat blares over the speakers, the crowd goes wild. Even in the balcony where I was sitting, which consists of mostly late-twenty somethings (who seem to be the oldest people at the show) strategically angling selfie sticks to capture their reluctant boyfriends, everyone screams at the top of its lungs. Back up dancers wield large flags as CL struts around the stage in a jumpsuit and thigh high cowboy boots.
The Hello Bitches Tour, and the singles promoted on it, are CL's thinly veiled attempts at creating a buzz in the US. It is a venture from her pop-heavy past into more Americanized mainstream hip-hop and rap. On "MBTD (Mental Breakdown)", a saccharine mainstream EDM-inspired backtrack blares as CL raps in Korean. The woman next to me waves her phone, bobs her head, and wildly smiles as she sings along to every word. CL does some rave-like step moves with her backup dancers, now clad in Timberlands and booty shorts, as a visual backdrop of a comically large green butt envelops the large screen behind the performers. When the bass drops, CL stands in center as her female backup dancers proceed to twerk. The moves seemed a little more than forced, and the gratuitous twerking didn't seem to end.
Following the butt-inspired anthem was "Lifted" and, you guessed it, it's an ode to smoking weed. On the chorus she sings, "I got myself a 40/ I got myself a shorty/ And I'm about to go get lifted." A backdrop of blue skies and plush white clouds animate the stage as white balloons suddenly appear in the in the audience.
Despite my previous devotion to the K-Pop starlet, this all seems as if it's all a circa 2013 Miley Cyrus attempt at cultural relevancy. Although butts, radio friendly EDM, and cowboy boots are certainly enjoyable, it isn't the CL that I had obsessed over for a good part of my youth. The individualized creativity, style and talent that she embodied as frontwoman of 2NE1 is overshadowed by a meticulously manicured façade of Americanized EDM-infused hip-hop.
As the people funnel out of the venue, I decide to stay around a little bit longer to see what the rest of the crowd looks like. Hovering outside of the show are groups of teenagers, completely sober, deliriously overjoyed and buzzing. I see a girl, no older than seventeen years old, sporting a CL shirt and clutching onto a photograph of the star. This Halloween weekend I got in contact with the ghost of 2012's past. I feel happy knowing it's magic still has the power to possess.
All photos by Jack Gorlin.
Emma May is not a ghost on Twitter.