The CL International Solo Artist Experience has seemingly been stuck in IT’S JUST AROUND THE CORNER GUIYZ status for years, (with several trial balloon tracks along the way, some good, some… not good) so by the time that CL dropped her American debut single “Lifted” on the world, it was not unlike learning of the Trump campaign’s summer collapse. The only question that could have reasonably been asked was “What took so long?” With the debut being so longingly drawn out and so seemingly inevitable, “Lifted” suffers a bit from prolonged expectations and the fact that the song doesn’t really, well, lift off and convincingly sell its star to a new market.
To start with the single’s positives, “Lifted” has a chorus that is amazingly addictive and a beat that screams summer nights. The emphasis on heavy bass gives “Lifted” a lazy warmth that still retains just enough hip-hop influence to keep the track in CL’s comfortable sound of not-quite-hip-hop-but-not-straight-pop. While the layers on the beat provide a calming ambiance, CL lends “Lifted” a confident sing-song swagger that makes the single memorable. The way that she lifts her vocals when singing the word “Lifted” is genius; it somehow resonates both as a playful reading of the lyrics and an emcee toying with her audience. If only the other elements of the single were executed as well as the chorus.
Admittedly, the weak points of “Lifted” really come down to a matter of preference rather than any single inarguable fuck up. The laid-back approach that is so expertly showcased in the song’s choruses isn’t really given anything to play off of in verses that opt for a similar tempo, cadence and beat. The approach leaves “Lifted” sounding like the musical equivalent of a toasted marshmallow – cozy, gooey and a tad formless. The song’s lack of punch also does CL a bit of a disservice. Compared to a song like “Hello Bitches,” which still serves as a fantastic international introduction to The CL Experience, it’s hard to say what image CL is going for with her first American single. The song’s relaxed hip-pop makes for a great backyard cookout track but it’s not one that really sells CL as a talent either. Hell, even CL’s wardrobe, usually a memorable sticking point (for better or worse) is really toned down in “Lifted.” On the one hand, less Jeremy Scott is objectively A Good Thing. On the other hand, when taken together with the verses, the video’s ho-hum CL’s block party concept (I don’t think anyone is going to be raving about the stunning creativity or direction in “Lifted” aside from the ingenious inclusion of Method Man) and the single’s complete lack of contrast, it becomes a little difficult to parse what makes “Lifted” a brilliant CL-inspired opening salvo into the American market.
In all, “Lifted” is pretty… alright. The chorus is popping and I could easily see myself having this on repeat while driving around as summer turns to fall. However, for all of its positives, “Lifted” doesn’t sound like a track that was made to get another audience to pay attention to its star. If anything, it sounds like the sort of song that you (Ok, well, me) would try to sneak into a non K-Pop listener’s playlist. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe “Lifted” isn’t so much about CL brashly announcing herself to an American audience as much as it is about having CL fit in with American musical sensibilities in TYOOL 2016. Maybe that’s the smart approach. But when I think of CL, “fitting in” is the last thing that comes to my mind.