Debut Re-Evaluation: CLC – Pepe

CLC - Pepe

K-Pop debuts can be tricky things. At times, they’re the best song a group delivers. Sometimes, they’re the only song a group delivers!

But, debuts can also be huge wtf moments in an artist’s career. In this feature, I’ll be looking back at debut songs through the prism of time, re-evaluating how well they hold up and how representative they are of an artist’s eventual singles run.

Debut Date: March 19, 2015


As Cube Entertainment’s first new girl group after the mega-successful 4minute, CLC had a lot riding on them. Pepe emerged just as K-pop’s brassy trend was in full flourish, driven by the popularity of EXID’s Up & Down months earlier. In this way, it was well-targeted to its era.

Composed by Duble Sidekick, Pepe stakes its claim on an airy hook that circles through the track with ease, making it an incredibly pleasant listening experience. Everything about the song contributes to this cyclical structure. It’s almost as if you can visualize the music twirling. The instrumental’s nudging brass gives Pepe an enjoyable lightness, while its melodic flourishes feel reminiscent of Brave Brothers’ signature sound.

Importantly, CLC don’t oversell the cuteness. There’s a ton of attitude here, but also some strong moments of vocal belting that give Pepe a dynamic appeal. The bridge delivers a satisfying rap, and the whole thing is tied up with a chanted finale that works very well.

Does the song hold up?

Is the song stronger or weaker than most of the artist’s title tracks?
To me, this is definitely in the upper half of CLC’s singles discography.

Does the song represent the artist’s music going forward?
Not really. CLC would eventually find more success with an edgier sound and concept.

 Hooks 9
 Production 8
 Longevity 9
 Bias 8


33 thoughts on “Debut Re-Evaluation: CLC – Pepe

  1. This feels so Sistar & Brave Brothers that I can’t believe it isn’t Sistar or Brave Brothers. I was surprised when I found out that CLC used to have a completely different concept, but I prefer this. It’s fun.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yeah I think this song aged very well. What I find interesting about this song is how the pre-chorus sounds like the second part of the verse. I love how the thudding bass transitions the plinky piano verse into the brassier pre-chorus. It’s a cool reversal of musical trends, which often features softer pre-choruses that lead into the hook. But not Pepe.
    The two-part chorus is what really sells the song for me; it’s a really good juxtaposition of full-throated vocals with ethereal falsetto, and neither part is out of place here.
    I’m also a fan of Yeeun’s rap break. She has a very good sense of rhythm. I used to think she was a bit of a Hyuna clone, but over time she’s grown into her own artist. Perhaps it’s the timbre of her voice that gave me that impression, but I think that her part in Pepe leaves a pretty strong impression nonetheless.
    The la-la-la part is a little cheesy, but I love the outro. We need more songs with strong outros like this one, and it’s one of the reasons why I like Pepe as a song. It’s not my favorite (gotta give that title to Devil) but it’s a very strong debut in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am really excited for this feature! I really hope to see your thoughts on the following songs below:
    SHINee’s Replay, A cold K-pop classic.
    Nu’est’s Face, It’s just incredible.
    Taemin’s Danger! Taemin’s Danger!
    ATEEZ’s Pirate King – I mean, if you count it as a title track.
    TVXQ’s Hug! I love it’s melody!

    These are the five I am awaiting out of many!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. TL;DR: Yo! “Pepe” is ma jam, boi!

    2015 was a great year for K-Pop. A lot of activity during a time when you could count on 2 or 3 solid releases a year from each act; instead of the 18+ month hiatus crap we get now. Here’s a less than complete breakdown of 2015 (GG perspective):

    – Releases from top groups: SNSD, 2NE1, T-ara, IU, f(x), BEG, Wonder Girls, Secret, After School, Red Velvet, 4minute/HyunA, Apink, Girl’s Day, Miss A, BoA, Kara, Sistar, AOA, mamamoo.

    – Personal faves still active in 2015: Nine Muses, Rainbow, Stellar, EXID, Dal★Shabet, Sonamoo, HelLOVEnus, Fiestar, Laboum, BESTie.

    – Other debuts in 2015: TWICE, GFriend, Lovelyz, Oh My Girl, April, DIA. Oh, and Minx *cough*Dreamcatcher*cough*.

    As busy as 2015 was, I very much remember when “Pepe” dropped. It was very charming, catchy, and infectious. I was excited for this new group. I watched several variety shows to learn about the members. Sorn was an instant bias.

    I very much looked forward to future offerings. Unfortunately, the next two years would be filled with a lot of “Huh, wha???” releases that never seemed to match the same level of magic as their debut. Then came “Hobgoblin” in 2017 and CLC experienced their “phoenix” phase.

    Much like their sister group Minx (Dreamcatcher), it would take a complete revamp to get them into the upper charts. CLC and Dreamcatcher would both go on to reach much greater recognition; though neither has ever been considered “top-tier” by the industry.

    While CLC is still active, they are not riding the wave as well as Dreamcatcher is, but.. ..fingers crossed. Maybe now that the pandemic is starting to settle down, and outdoor/open theatre promotions should be starting up soon, CLC can return to live stages; where, unlike Dreamcatcher, is their main draw for industry recognition and profits. You know what? Fingers AND toes crossed.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Still can’t believe 2015 gave us a full album from every single active group (plus BoA) in SM, including all three of their girl groups. I have to wonder if we’ll ever get that again.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’d love to blame the pandemic for the drought of full album drops, but, sadly, this is the way it’s been for the past couple of years.

        Remember those days? You’d get a full album of “mix n’ match” from an artist, then before you’ve worn out every track, along comes another album from either the same artist or another that you like. Good times, good times.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. This is an awesome feature! I can’t wait for more of these. CLC Pepe was my favorite song by CLC until no came out (I think it’s their highest charting song). With some of the following comebacks they leaned to much into the cuteness and the songs themselves weren’t very strong as a whole. Like No oh oh has a great chorus, but the verses do nothing to build up to it. The chorus has to build itself! Like wasn’t that catchy and also had a really “basic kpop girl group” instrumental. And high heels is what happens when you turn a clogs filled with feathers into a song. I actually don’t mind these songs all that much, but they couldn’t touch Pepe

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I’ve made some many comments already….. last one I promise. Are you gonna highlight disbanded, small bands on this feature? I’ve always felt like those groups with 1 or 2 songs from a small company help shape a fan’s kpop experience. Reviews on groups of that nature are ones I’ve been hoping to see you do for a while. You’ve done more recent ones like *tries not to throw up* Episode’s “Open My Door”, but groups of the past don’t seem to have many opportunities to show up on your blog.


  7. What an interesting feature! I always really like comparisons to debut songs. BTS No More Dream is an obvious choice for this one because of their astronomical rise and the concept 180 but there’s a lot of less obvious ones that come to mind, too. WJSN MoMoMo, Lovelyz Candy Jelly Love, IOI Dream Girls, Twice Like Ooh-Ahh, Red Velvet Happiness…

    I’m tempted to think of my favorite debut songs of all time, too. Seventeen’s Adore U, Wonder Girls’ Irony, Wanna One’s Energetic, and of course SNSD Into the New World… there is something special about a really good debut song that is such a pleasure to watch.

    It’ll be cool to see you talk about debuts that happened before you started this blog, too!

    Liked by 5 people

  8. I want to call this ‘the purfles problem’ wherein their debut song is SO STRONG that it’s hard to figure out the next direction (technically this would be the ‘pepe’ problem but this allows me to give Purfles their flowers) effectively.

    ‘Like’ was cute but it didn’t hold up to or match this song and they had to do a lot of stumbling to get somewhere (but they were thankfully at a place to get the space for this, unlike poor Purfles that only had 2 more digital singles and not a single mini album, sigh sigh). I still truly adore this song tho, it’s so clear in my mind and definitely a top debut song of all time to me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ll chime in to show some love for Purfles. For some reason, “1, 2, 3” slipped under my radar and my introduction to them was their second release, “A Bad Thing”; which for me was A GREAT Thing. I fell so heavy for that song that when I did go back to find “1, 2, 3”, it didn’t take first place. Maybe if I’d experienced it first then.. ..nah, “A Bad Thing” is my fave. It’s a damn shame that we only got three drops from this group.

      After disbandment, two of the three members (Eunyong, Wooyoung) never returned, but it was interesting to see Geonhee (Gunhee) added to Sunny Hill (along with Eunju), after Jubi and Misung left the group. Sadly, their return effort “Nom Nom Nom”, with its vaguely “Midnight Circus” vibe, wasn’t enough to propel the group upwards. Their subsequent release, “Adios Amor”, didn’t even get a music video, so.. ..yeah; not looking good for them either. K-Pop can be a cruel genre if the chips don’t land right.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Eunyoung seemed to return to cilivial life but Wooyoung has her own active youtube page of covers:

        and even released a mini album in december 2019:

        And now it seems like Geonhee is out of Sunny Hill? Really sad they couldn’t make it happen as a unit. 1, 2, 3 I think is sold on their charisma and sheer vocal power. Hearing them perform it live on shows, ESPECIALLY the bridge, really was electrifying. (also, the effectively sexy backup dancers LOL) . Truly with a different/more palatable name and more money I think they could’ve really gotten somewhere because 1, 2, 3 had EVERYONE buzzing

        Liked by 1 person

  9. This is one of my all-time favorite debut songs, and possibly still my favorite CLC song overall even though I love so many of their edgier songs and am profoundly glad that they made the sound/concept shift. They’re so underrated and I’m sad they never really got the success they deserved.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. Yay! If this will be an on-going series then I’m staying tuned.

    I wish CLC had stayed with the fresh concept like Pepe instead of going overly cute (anyone remember High Heels?) and then having to switch right to girl crush. They had EVERYTHING to be successful, the talent, the performance, the songs. It’s just that every time they start having a potential fanbase they switch again, and then lose that group of people.

    Yeeun’s Barbie also has a similar attitude to this and I hope the full group (the 6 people, since Elkie left already) returns to do something like this again at least once, please :((((

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Am stoked for your reviews on Like Ooh Ahh, Glass Bead, and Adore U! 2015 was a great year for debuts. Not to forget Happiness and Mr. Ambiguous the year before, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Man, I miss them. CLC has had a super varied discography, quality- and genre-wise.

    I discovered “Pepe” when I first was getting into kpop, and it was immediately one of my favorites. The vocal performance is super assured and the hooks are great. The production in retrospect is quite generic in comparison, but it’s still one of my favorite CLC tracks. I was shocked that it didn’t do well at the time.

    One thing I don’t really get is the preoccupation with things “not being too cute.” Gfriend and Apink made most of their early careers using an innocent, cute concept, and not many people consider them cringe. In my opinion, it really should be more about concept not overtaking music in (regardless of the concept.) Cuteness isn’t inherently bad if there’s a good song behind it.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Agreed on the cuteness argument.

      These days, when I say “cute” I’m mostly referring to vocal affectations rather than concept or image. I’m not a fan of the chirpiness that’s become predominant in many girl group performances these past few years.

      I feel the same way about the posturing that goes on in boy groups. I’ve never been a fan of affected singing, regardless of concept or style. I’d much rather hear the artist perform in their own voice, even if that voice may have some technical flaws. But as with anything, I can look past it if the song is killer.

      Liked by 2 people

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