“Bish a whole meal, I take you to go / tell me that’s dinner for two / Put ’em on me, that’s all on me / baby that’s vitamin too.” These are the type of lyrics we’ve come to expect from South Korean rapper Lil Cherry. It’s off her recent track “WAMEM,” a standout effort from her latest album, SPACE TALK. She frequently sprinkles her lyrics with food references, whether as a metaphor for sex or just literally about eating—all of which she spits in chirpy tones over big, bouncy tracks like “MUKKBANG!” and “G!” But her new project, alongisde main collaborator and brother GOLDBUUDA, frequently deviates away from the typical rap formula, veering into emo rock, drum ‘n bass, and even Jersey club.
Listen to select tracks below:
Most of Cherry’s lyrics are in English, and for a long time, you were as likely to hear one-off lines in Spanish as you were to hear Korean. Sometimes it can be hard to tell, because of the different accents she mixes with artistic flourishes, melodic nimbleness, and rhythmic variety. But even if you can’t understand the lyrics, which are often a lighthearted stream of consciousness or more significant expressions buried in metaphor, listening to Cherry is still a vibe. Just ask her fans in Korea: “I’m really touched when we’re performing at clubs in Seoul and I see the fans rapping along,” she says. “We used to release a lot of songs on Youtube without lyrics, which meant those fans were memorizing them by sound alone. A lot of them don’t even speak English and could still sing along!”
Cherry 的作品大多数为英文歌词为主，偶尔可以听到一两句西班牙语或韩语的混入；有时，她的歌词甚至根本无法分辨，因为她喜欢将自己的发音混合各种艺术修饰、跳跃旋律和多样化节奏。她的歌词往往是一些轻快的意识流形式，穿插各种暗喻。但即使你听不懂歌词，也绝对能感受到 Cherry 音乐的独特感受，这一点韩国本地乐迷对此深有体会，“我们在首尔的俱乐部表演时，看到歌迷一起合唱，真的很感动，”她说道，“我们以前在 Youtube 上发布了很多没有歌词的歌曲，所以歌迷只能单从声音来记下歌曲。他们中很多人甚至不会说英语，却能跟着一起唱！”
Cherry learned to speak English in Miami, where she lived with her family during middle school. Her father was a visiting professor, so they joined him when he moved there briefly. “We only expected to stay in Miami for a year or two to learn English and come back but we fell in love with it,” she says. “My dad actually moved back to Korea way before us. We kept extending our stay.” She ended up living in Florida for seven years. As the only Korean person at her school, it was difficult at first because she couldn’t communicate and had to deal with subtle racism, but she says kids’ television stations like Disney and Nickelodeon helped her learn the language more quickly. “I feel like Spongebob taught me English,” she laughs.
Cherry 曾在迈阿密学过英语，中学时候她随家人到那里生活。她的父亲是一名客座教授，兄妹二人就跟着他在这里短暂生活过一段时间。“我们原本只打算在迈阿密呆一两年，学点英语就回来，但最后却爱上了迈阿密，”她说，“我爸爸比我们还早一点搬回了韩国。我们一直延长在迈阿密生活的时间。”就这样，她在佛罗里达州生活了七年。作为学校里唯一的韩国人，一开始的生活并不容易，除了语言上无法沟通，她还不得不应对微妙的种族歧视。但她表示，迪士尼和 Nickelodeon 等儿童电视台帮助她更快地掌握了这门语言，她笑着说：“我觉得我的英语都是海绵宝宝教的。”
It was in Miami where Cherry first discovered rap music. Rappers performed at her friends’ bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs, since she lived in a Jewish community. She also blasted plenty of local radio and whatever her brother would download off LimeWire, all while nurturing her own love for K-pop.
Eventually, she moved back to Korea and finished high school in Seoul, only to immediately return to the US and study poetry in New York. She wasn’t very interested in making music yet and largely focused on her studies, but soon, she began feeling uninspired and returned to Korea for a hiatus. This is when she discovered music. “My brother had turned his room into a recording studio, and the day I came back he asked me to freestyle over some beats,” she recalls. “I took out my journal with my poems and we made ‘Motorola’ right there, our first song. When I was recording it felt like it wasn’t even me. It was an outer spirit that came into me and wanted to express something.”
Cherry 第一次接触说唱音乐也是在迈阿密。当时她住在一个犹太社区，一些说唱歌手常常在当地酒吧 Mitzvahs 和 Bat Mitzvahs 里表演。她还很喜欢听当地电台播放的音乐，还有她哥哥从 LimeWire 上下载的歌，与此同时，她也逐渐热爱上 K-pop 音乐。
They uploaded “Motorola” to Soundcloud but it was the video that caught people’s attention—a syrupy colored visual with lots of 8-bit animation and trippy effects. “When it comes to making a video, I’ll throw out some key ideas, or I’ll find a certain look that I’m trying to rock in the videos. Then the director will take that and it unfolds from there,” Cherry says, adding that they’re heavily involved in the editing process to make sure it matches the music properly. “There’s this Korean phrase about how when something works together, it’s like rice cake because it sticks together perfectly. That’s how we think about the music in our videos.”
Once the video dropped, other local artists started reaching out and asking them to collaborate. Cherry mentions other female rappers like Jackie Wai and Bryn specifically but says the whole community was very welcoming. They performed together at small underground clubs like Cakeshop, Soap, and Henz where the crowds were an eclectic mix. “A lot of times when it starts getting wild, I see guys sort of pushing to the front and the girls not really joining in on the mosh pits. And then later on my Instagram they’re saying they got stepped on or their shoes got ruined. It got me thinking how can I make everyone feel included.” But coronavirus has limited their live performances with nearly all of their shows happening online in recent times (their recent performance at SXSW one big exception.).
真正引起乐迷们关注的，是歌曲《Motorola》的MV——整支视频拥有甜美色调，糅合了丰富的8位像素风动画和迷幻视觉特效。“制作之前我喜欢找一些关键词，或者一些视觉上的风格，然后交给导演，以此为基础开始创作，”Lil Cherry 说，同时表示他们会大量参与后期编辑，以确保 MV 与音乐契合。“韩国有句俗语，当某些东西融合得很好，就会说它们像年糕粘在一起。这也是我们对 MV 和音乐的看法。”
MV 发布后，许多当地艺术家纷纷联系他们合作。Cherry 表示整个说唱圈子对他们都蛮感兴趣，其中特别提到了 Jackie Wai 和 Bryn 等女说唱歌手。他们一起在 Cakeshop、Soap 和 Henz 等小型地下俱乐部联合演出，到场的观众形形色色。“很多时候，当气氛开始高涨时，我就会看到男生涌到前面，而女孩却无法加入进 mosh pit 中。后来在我在 Instagram 上看到她们说自己被踩到脚或者鞋子破损之类的话题。我就想，怎样才能让每个人都参与其中。”然而新冠疫情暴发后，演出受到影响，几乎所有表演都是在线上进行（除了最近在 SXSW 上的表演）。
Her online fanbase is from all over the world, Cherry says. 90 percent of her TikTok fans are female and most are from the US. On Instagram, which is where she first found an audience, it’s half Korean and American fans, with a lot from Brazil as well. She considers her appearance on the Dingo Freestyle Korean rap channel as a turning point; marking a new stage in her career and the ability to reach fans whose main language is English. She blew up on TikTok right around the same time as well. “Even though my career started in Korea and this will always be my hometown, they couldn’t always connect on a lyrical level,” she explains. To make up for that, her recent music has included more Korean lines, although it’s still overwhelmingly in English.
One thing Cherry’s Korean fans have been able to bond with her over is the use of the word “pye.” It began when someone said the word “party,” she mistakenly heard it as “pye,” and it quickly became an inside joke from there. She sprinkles the self-coined slang in many of her songs, yells it out at shows, and recently dropped a track called “Pye Life,” a light afrobeats cut produced by Atlanta’s London on da Track. “It’s probably the simplest hook I’ve ever come up with but hopefully the most resonant. We’ve been yelling ‘pye life’ for quite a while,” she says. “It’s the newest replacement for ‘cheese’ or ‘kimchi’. A way to get people smiling. When people see me on the street and they’re too shy to start a conversation, I’ll just say ‘pye’ and they say ‘pye’ back!”
Cherry 说，她在网上的粉丝来自世界各地。TikTok 粉丝中 90% 为女性，且大多数来自美国。而在她首次引起关注的 Instagram 上，来自韩国和美国的粉丝各占一半，还有很多来自巴西的粉丝。她认为自己在 Dingo Freestyle 韩国说唱频道上的露面是一次转折，标志着她职业生涯进入一个新的阶段，并有机会接触以母语为主要语言的受众群体。同一时间，她在海外版抖音上爆红，“我的职业生涯始于韩国，这里也永远是我的家乡，但在歌词层面，本地歌迷可能无法与歌曲建立联系，”她解释道。为了弥补这一点，她在最近的创作中加入了更多韩语元素。
“pye” 这个词语正是 Cherry 和韩国歌迷建立起的一个联系。这是一个自创词语，最初是她错将“Party”听成“pye”，很快这就有了这么个口头禅。她在许多歌曲中都加入了这个自创的词语，在现场高喊而出，最近还推出了同名作品《Pye Life》，由亚特兰大的 London on da Track 制作，带有轻快的非洲舞曲元素。“我们 ‘pye life’ 已经很长一段时间了。有人在街上看到我时，我们经常会用‘pye’互相打招呼！”
The new level of attention has required Cherry to think more strategically: “I’ve really expanded the business part of my brain, I don’t want to be the type of artist that doesn’t know what’s going on with the team,” she says. “I don’t want to be too up in the clouds, only thinking about things on a poetic level.” But she still plans on remaining true to herself and her stories. Whether that means telling her own personal stories or not is still an open question. “Do we have to reference our own lives or can we build fantasies? At the end of the day it’s up to you.”