Filling Hammerstein Ballroom on Halloween Weekend is no mean feat, and fans packed the New York City venue on Saturday (Oct. 29) night to see Korea’s self-proclaimed baddest female kick off her first U.S. solo tour. With Scooter Braun and Jeremy Scott’s support, several English singles, and a recent performance of her new song “Lifted” on The Late Late Show, the stars are aligned for CL’s solo reign.
Rising to fame as one quarter of 2NE1 and then crafting her individual identity over the past few years as a swaggering rap diva, CL has been touted as the Korean artist who will be able to break into the U.S. market. But while CL dominated the stage on Saturday night like the true star she is, the night’s one failing was that it billed itself as CL’s Hello Bitches Tour — then presented her as CL from 2NE1.
The crowd bristled with excitement outside the venue, wondering what to expect from the South Korean diva. While she has several solo songs, there’s not enough to fill a concert set. Would she be debuting new songs? Would 2NE1 members Bom and Dara, the latter of whom had been recently seen in New York, join her on stage? It was CL’s night, but 2NE1 had last performed in the Tri-State Area in 2012. The first sign of what was to come began as the concertgoers slowly filtered into the Ballroom, many waving the artist’s signature red lightsticks. 2NE1 music videos preceded several videos of CL performing her solo songs, setting the tone of the Hello Bitches 2016 Tour as an extension of CL’s career as a K-pop girl group member. The show began in earnest with a video chronicling the history of the star before the band began playing 2NE1’s 2009 electropop debut single, “Fire.”
Coming out in slick black leather, duster coat and all, CL commanded the stage like the leader she is for the updated version of “Fire” followed by another early 2NE1 dance song, “Can’t Nobody.” Backup dancers and the band helped fill the stage as CL sang over the verses, and the audio, originally performed by 2NE1’s other members. At any moment, it seemed like Dara, Park Bom, or even Minzy (who recently left the group) would join in. But it was clearly The CL Show as the star blazed through her introductory songs before being joined by dancers wearing Scream masks to perform a rendition of “Scream” that had the audience doing just that.
By the time CL asked fans to sing along to 2NE1’s anthemic “I Am The Best,” there was no doubt that the Hello Bitches Tour was fulfilling the song’s bombastic message: CL is the first Korean singer to have a solo concert in a major New York City venue, let alone sell out to a crowd of adoring fans who took in every moment of the synchronized performance with a cheer. “Come Back Home,” one of 2NE1’s more recent trap-infused hits, followed on the heels of the party song. Despite the audio cutting out at the beginning of the song, CL attempted to make up for the fact that one woman was singing a song meant for four voices, even if it occasionally meant that the backing track overpowered the singer. Pre-recorded tracks were prominent throughout the show, and there were occasional, questionable moments when CL lowered her mic mid-verse.
CL took advantage of having a live backup band during the next set of songs, a tropical, laid-back take on “I Don’t Care” followed by “Gotta Be You” and “Falling In Love.” Decked out in a silvery pantsuit-gown hybrid, the pop star looked more suited for a futuristic gala than a dance hall, but the elegant outfit gelled with “Lonely,” “Missing You,” and a jazzy take on “If I Were You,” the only non-single she performed the entire night. CL’s solo take on 2NE1’s hits came to a close with “I Love You,” which provided the baddest female a chance to show off her emotional side one final time before switching things up for the long-awaited CL-focused portion of the night.
The anticipation was palpable as a brand new version of the tour’s titular “Hello Bitches” music video played; for the first time, the night would be all about CL rather than tinged with nostalgia for 2NE1’s rosier days. Coming out and working blue leather cowboy boots and a romper, the singer broke into “The Baddest Female,” the song that launched CL as a soloist in her own right. The audience’s fervor hit a new level as backup dancers heralded CL’s dominance with military-like precision, flag’s spinning to declare the stage as CL’s domain. The exuberant atmosphere continued into the follow up track “Doctor Pepper,” the pounding, Diplo-produced track where CL delivers her spoken rap ode to the drink, but it was during the third solo track of the night that CL affirmed her right to hold a solo show in the heart of midtown Manhattan.
As the frenzied opening bars of “MTBD” played, it seemed like everybody in the concert hall was singing along as CL rapped over the blaring EDM track. The moment the bass dropped became the first time that night that CL’s dancers truly seemed more than just space-fillers as the star and her backups twerked their way through the rest of the song; the derrieres perhaps overstayed their time in the spotlight for a crowd that had just been treated to the pop songs of a girl group known for girl power rather than their bodies. The song ended with a lengthy guitar solo, running “MTBD” through a gamut of genres in under five minutes.
After a quick video showing a behind the scenes look at what went on to produce the show, CL returned to the stage to perform her newest single, “Lifted.” As it was the first time she’s performed the old school hip-hop song in New York, her fans greeted her with raised white balloons. (While common in Korea, special events run by fans at K-pop concerts in the U.S. rarely go as planned, so kudos to the fans for pulling it off en masse.) The chill vibe of “Lifted” had everyone ready for a bit of downtime, and perhaps a surprise new song from CL off of her still MIA Liftedalbum, but that was not to be as CL announced that the next song would be her final song of the night.
The playful “Hello Bitches” was the perfect banger to end the night, as the audience danced along to CL’s bilingual delivery of the song’s chanting lyrics. In the middle of the song she threw in a quick shoutout to Dara, who was dancing along to the song on one of the balconies. By the end of the song, the crowd’s dancing could have gone on for hours, but when the lights turned on and credits, literally, rolled on the screen, it declared the CL show over for New York audiences.
For CL of 2NE1, the opening stop of Hello Bitches 2016 was a great show that provided her with a venue to evoke nostalgia while establishing that she could hold a solo performance to rival her group’s performances. For a singer who has been planning her American takeover, it felt like CL offered yet another tease of the yet-to-be-released music she’s been dangling for the past two years.