This month we’ve been blessed with CLC’s aggressive EDM sound, matched with their power lesbian-esque concept, in Black Dress. International fans are generally disposed to powerful and risky concepts. So, for them this is a glorious moment where CLC is returning to a similar concept to Hobgoblin. Hobgoblin brought CLC their biggest international attention since Pepe, their debut song, after two years of debut. Unfortunately, for CLC’s long-standing fans this has meant witnessing an unstable fandom presence. Why does CLC struggle to keep these fans around?
Now, I’ve been told by fans of CLC that their concepts are supposed to be ever changing, but whether this works for the girls or not is another deal entirely. When they debuted with Pepe it was interesting to see a group, under Cube Entertainment, explore the balance between 4Minute’s flashy image with APink’s* more cutesy one. In early 2015 there weren’t many girl groups actively trying to create this image of flashy, cute, and “classy” girls, and initially that’s what made me excited for CLC’s debut. That, and Pepe turned out to be a bop.
Identity and Concepts
Now, CLC’s 3 years into their debut and without a solid identity. I don’t mean a solid concept, since groups like Red Velvet, and even Twice, change up their concepts routinely. When I say identity I mean the way we see the group overall. With Red Velvet, they can achieve moving solidly through cute concepts like Ice Cream Cake, to concepts like Bad Boy or Be Natural, because they maintain a quirky image overall. Even if the quirky image is missing they tend to work with the same music video producers, so stylistically the MVs flow. With smaller labels, even GFriend managed to move from Navillera to Fingertip while still having the same “powerful innocence” image they had consistently used. It’s only now, when they’ve gone back to a duller version of their trilogy, that they’ve lost fans.
With CLC and their concepts, there seems to be a missing element: Who are the girls in their idol world? Are they quirky? Girl crush? Cute? What are they giving to the public and their fans? Without a successful hit they’re at a point where they look like they’re struggling to find a concept that works. This is why groups like EXID, AOA, and GFriend all stuck with the same concepts musically and stylistically, because it worked for them. They made themselves an identity that the public enjoyed, and therefore could still be around for fans that were loyal.
Sales, popularity, and future
As it comes to CLC, their album and digital sales are dire. All of their concepts, bar Refresh/High Heels, have sold the same. This leaves CLC in the position of having to change their concept again, regardless of if this is the intention. They have done everything from girl crush, to super duper cutesy(!), and none of it has worked.
Is this the girls’ fault? No, I doubt it. The girls fulfil everything you need in K-Pop: pretty, talented, and (for the most part) interesting as individuals. When it comes to K-Pop it’s usually luck of the draw if you’re not from the Big 3 labels. EXID gained popularity because one fancam went viral. Mamamoo went towards a more poppy sound that just happened to hit it off with the public. GFriend’s label was smart enough to debut them when many groups were going for a sexy image. The list goes on. However, CLC needs to have something consistent so fans and non-fans can recognise them and anticipate future comebacks. This, instead of flip flopping all over the place and leaving everyone anxious as to whether they will like the next single.
At the end of the day, CLC needs to start sticking with an image so the public knows what to expect, and from there they can build their fandom from it. Without a pause in their switches they’re going to lose any momentum the girl crush concepts give them. It’s hard for their loyal fans who’ve stuck with them, but girl crush concepts are the only chance they have. Without that and luck, no one can win otherwise.
*APink is under Plan A Entertainment, which was a subsidiary of Cube Entertainment when CLC debuted. Previously called A Cube Entertainment, 70% of the label was acquired by LOEN Entertainment in November 2015 and subsequently became an independent subsidiary.