At long last, YG Entertainment’s golden girls BLACKPINK have released their first full-length studio album, aptly named, THE ALBUM. Featuring eight tracks, including current hits “How You Like That” and “Ice Cream” (with singer-actress Selena Gomez); THE ALBUM is the deeper look into the musicality of BLACKPINK that we’ve been waiting for.
First things first, I’ll be the first to admit that my reception of BLACKPINK has been tumultuous throughout the years — and for good reason; but it doesn’t stop me from giving them chance after chance on the speedy trajectory of their career. At the end of the day, I want to see them win. That being said, as a Black woman who regularly listens to K-pop, I’ve made an artform out of weeding out entertainers and companies who try to learn from mistakes and grow greater cultural sensitivity over time from those who dismiss it as something that will blow over. It plays a huge role in who gets listened to and where dollars are spent.
It’s no secret that the world of K-pop has been riddled with instances of cultural appropriation and ignorance. As acts out of Korea have grown in global popularity, fans of all ethnicities have taken it upon themselves to bring awareness to the offenses by calling out idols and companies. It’s impossible to catch them all, mistakes are bound to happen; however, the best thing performers and their labels can do is to address the situation with a genuine statement and avoid repeating the party foul. As a hope for the future, even idol trainees have been getting crash courses in why cultural appropriation is wrong.
It has been proven time and time again that when the transgression is not ignored and is treated with the sensitivity it deserves, public response is positive — if it’s sincere.
BLACKPINK has unfortunately been repeat offenders when it comes to the out-of-pocket crossing of cultures; and when given a rare opportunity to address appropriation with Billboard, the response was as disappointing as the publication’s framing of it. The happenings got so bad that people expected them to disrespect an ethnic group with each new music video release; and more than once, they delivered. 2019’s “Kill This Love” showed rapper — and my BP favorite — Lisa sporting box braid pigtails that fans rushed to defend by saying it was part of her Thai heritage. Fans also tried to spread the message that they’re referred to as “Khao San braids”, which… they just aren’t. (Newsflash: Khao San braids are not a thing.)
The group has also been called out for disrespecting South Asian culture, both in the past and recently. The “How You Like That” video originally showed a scene in which a bust of Lord Ganesh on the floor in the background; however, after receiving a hard dose of backlash, the scene was edited to remove it. The edit seems to be the first time the issue has been obviously handled by their team, despite many previous blunders.
Perhaps it’s a topic of discussion in their upcoming Netflix documentary.
I’d like to believe it’s the first sign of BLACKPINK’s real turning point.
Onto THE ALBUM…
“Lovesick Girls,” the album’s title track, is an exciting, new sound for BLACKPINK; pulling notes from EDM, eighties rock, and pop. It plays wonderfully with the contrasting meaning behind the group’s name, breaking down the stereotypical idea of femininity by mixing sweetness with a fierce edge. The song, kicked off by Jennie’s distinctive vocals, covers the demise of a relationship; holding on to that crumbling love despite the pain it brings — even revelling in the hurt due to an inability to let go. Lovesickness, as defined, is being so head-over-heels that one ceases to behave rationally; a point illustrated in both BLACKPINK’s song and music video. They sing and rap about perpetual singleness, giving up love for an incurable “disease” and being destroyed by it; going down in a blaze of glory but not giving up.
The music video is the camaraderie between women that we love to see, as members Jennie, Rosé, Jisoo, and Lisa run through the city and fields; and dance through the night in grunge-inspired outfits. Denim, leather, and chains collide and clash with soft sweaters, flannel, and tulle. Flashes of fighting and mania blend with shots of BLACKPINK in a classic pink convertible and a smashed graffitied car. Jisoo is a beauty in a field of flowers before the shot cuts to Rosé in an apartment, smashing a guitar as the acoustic rhythms of the song gain prominence. They dance in front of a convenience store called “Crossroads” and a neon sign blinking, “Born Alone, Die Alone”; driving home the wayward feeling of love gone sour. Rosé throws black paint on a pink wall that matches the color of her hair, reminding viewers that it’s BLACKPINK through and through.
The change in tone for a BLACKPINK title track was a much-needed one; refreshing their sound without straying too far from what makes them familiar.
When we move from “Lovesick Girls” to the rest of THE ALBUM, that’s when one comes to realize that maybe the impactful change in tune doesn’t extend its reach very far. Over the years, BLACKPINK has done a great job in solidifying their sound. Their in-your-face dance tracks pack a punch; however, they tend to give off the same vibe, regardless of lyrical meaning — with the exception of a couple of tracks, such as “Stay” (Square Two, 2016), “Really” (Square Up, 2018), and “Kick It” (Kill This Love, 2019). The lack of variety was one of my biggest worries going into this album’s first listen.
Big names in music join forces with BLACKPINK from composition to features on THE ALBUM, such as chart-topping artists Ariana Grande, Cardi B, Selena Gomez, OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, the fabulous Victoria Monét; and producer-songwriters Tommy Brown, Brian Lee, and David Guetta.
BLACKPINK members Jisoo and Jennie even put pen to paper as both are credited as songwriters on “Lovesick Girls”.
Separately, the songs of THE ALBUM are irrefutable bops; exuding confidence and power as they tackle topics of love and haters alike. But when put together back-to-back on an album, they muddle. Even “Lovesick Girls” gets lost in the ranks after initially holding promise of a varied BLACKPINK sound prior to release. At first listen, if “Crazy For You” triggers a recent memory of another BLACKPINK song, you aren’t the only one to notice. “Crazy For You” and “How You Like That” have nearly-identical vocal inflections leading into the chorus. So similar that I thought the two songs were meant to fit together like puzzle pieces rather than two separate entities.
For a better idea of what BLACKPINK is capable of, their Kill This Love EP does a good job in diversifying the selection.
The second half of the album is definitively stronger than the first. That’s where the sound is given the most drastic changes; leading one to wonder if the album would have seemed less one-note if they’d put the songs into a jar and shook them up one more time to come up with the order. Give THE ALBUM a listen straight-through from start-to-finish, and then see for yourself if there’s a difference when played on shuffle. (In fact, it’s recommended.)
“Bet You Wanna” featuring Cardi B is one of THE ALBUM’s standouts; and other than “Ice Cream”, has the heaviest hands in its song production. Those hands likely contribute greatly to its ability to create its own identity amongst others on the tracklist. In addition to “Bet You Wanna” and “Lovesick Girls”, other must-listens include “Love To Hate Me” and “You Never Know”.
Four of the eight songs on the album are either all or primarily in English: “Ice Cream”, “Bet You Wanna”, “Crazy Over You”, and “Love to Hate Me”.
Overall, THE ALBUM isn’t bad. To say so would be to ignore the fact that it’s hard to not dance along and vibe to just about every track on it. The songs are objectively catchy; and can easily be played in the background of any party or movie soundtrack — as long as they’re kept separate or shuffled. Otherwise, you may forget that the song has changed at all from track-to-track.
Regardless of sound, THE ALBUM is likely going to do well. BLACKPINK has been fortunate in being an underdog story after years of much-anticipated music that was slow to arrive; building up the hype. Their fanbase, known as BLINKs, goes hard for them; no matter what. Additionally, the group has excellent global representation in media, including the United States; where they’re constantly pushed as a group to watch out for.
The hardcore, devil-may-care approach to their support may come at the detriment of the group’s ability to improve. It’s become a game of being told how great BLACKPINK is rather than being shown; and while they’re certainly talented, they aren’t the only girl group pulling off pretty-with-an-edge. It’s not wholly certain that they’re the force to be reckoned with that the media wants the world to believe. Accolades that the group very well could earn on their own merit are awarded prematurely despite numbers not adding up; such as the group’s 2019 People’s Choice Award wins, which included Best Concert Tour for a world tour that was scaled back as some shows ultimately had to be cancelled.
On the flip side, the ladies were the first K-pop group to perform at Coachella; which is indeed something to be rightfully celebrated.
I believe BLACKPINK could be exactly the group that their public narrative wants us to digest without the need to suspend disbelief. They’re fashionable, multi-talented, and have just been dealt a hard hand in their come-up. Once the group is allowed to organically grow, openly acknowledge mistakes (whether through the label or the members); and continue on the path of showing us rather than telling us, BLACKPINK could be exactly what the media wants us to see.
BLACKPINK’s THE ALBUM is currently streaming on all major music platforms. Their documentary, BLACKPINK: Light Up the Sky, hits Netflix on October 14.
Header: BLACKPINK (YG Entertainment)