Currently, Cube Entertainment’s only active girl group, CLC, has gone through quite a few different transitions on the path to finding success since their debut in 2015. From soft and girly to hard and powerful concepts, this group has gone through them all.
Debut Concepts and Member Mix-Ups
CLC (short for Crystal Clear) made their debut in 2015 with mini-album First Love, which featured the song “Pepe.” The debut drew a decent amount of attention to members Seunghee, Yujin, Seungyeon, Sorn, and Yeeun, but not quite what was expected of the group. Their first comeback, “궁금해 (Like),” appeared to be in the same vein as “Pepe,” but it failed to gain the same level of traction as their debut.
In 2016, Cube added two more members to the mix: Elkie and Eunbin. Eunbin was, at the time, a contestant on Produce 101, and, as such, her appearance with the rest of the group was initially delayed. A year after their initial debut, CLC dropped the title song for their second comeback, “High Heels,” with the two new members. The response was lukewarm, much like it had been for “궁금해 (Like).”
One of the potential reasons for the group’s difficulty gaining speed in their early days has to do with the fact that all three of their early concepts were standard cutesy concepts that, more or less, sounded the same. While the cutesy formula seems almost guaranteed to work for most groups, it wasn’t doing the trick for CLC, for one reason or another, and Cube clearly decided that it was time for a change.
Switching It Up
Their second release of 2016 changed the formula slightly, with title song “아니야 (No Oh Oh)” having more of a jazzy sound and a more modern look. However, the group remained stuck in limbo, much as they had been since debut, and they did not return until early 2017. This year’s comeback was their true breakthrough.
“도깨비 (Hobgoblin)” was like nothing CLC had put out before. Labelmate and veteran K-Pop star HyunA worked on the track, which becomes apparent almost instantly, as her hard-hitting style is very recognizable. “도깨비 (Hobgoblin)” is an intense, even overpowering, track that goes hard from the moment it begins. It does not relent, totally contrasting the soft and sweet vibe the group had given off before.
The shift in concepts proved to be the decision necessary to grant the group the attention they deserved. “도깨비 (Hobgoblin)” peaked at number four on the World Digital Song Sales chart, with its mini-album, Crystyle, debuting on Billboard’s World Albums chart at number six. YouTube music video views multiplied by 10 in comparison to their 2016 releases. The world was finally paying attention to Crystal Clear.
Looking Toward the Future
CLC has come back recently with title track “어디야? (Where Are You?),” an R&B ballad track which reverts back to a softer aesthetic. While its impact is clearly not as heavy as “도깨비 (Hobgoblin),” it should not be dismissed solely based on the fact that they’ve once again switched gears.
It is unclear what the future holds for CLC. Whether or not it’s fair that their success seems to have come from a style they were not originally aiming for still remains to be seen. It’s no secret that girl groups tend to have to jump through more hoops in the K-Pop industry to gain notoriety compared to their male counterparts, and CLC is a true example of that fact. Personally speaking, I tend to favor the more HyunA-esque girl group sounds myself, but that doesn’t mean that every group that sticks to cutesy, soft concepts should be ignored. If CLC can manage to execute these different types of concepts successfully, there’s no doubt that their talent will deserve your attention.