K-Pop music has evolved in the past few years as it’s made its presence on a global stage, becoming a phenomenon that is this generation’s equivalent to the Beatles. K-Pop artists, like Blackpink, have been able to break through from just South Korea and go global, enjoying massive success as a result. Out of all the acts and idols in the K-Pop world, though, what makes artists like Blackpink and BTS make it? It can be hard to pinpoint, but for Blackpink, their energetic blend of Korean and English lyrics became the epitome of K-Pop; songs like ‘Kill This Love’ skyrocketed to success and became a formula for others to emulate.
With their first studio-length album, Blackpink rewrites their own formulas for success. Those who found the girl group before K-pop was the genre on everyone’s lips may not recognize the band they’ve grown to love. The Album teeters more into the pop world than K-Pop (which sounds like a distinction without a difference, but I assure you many fans of the K-pop genre will know exactly what that difference is.) Songs on the album are tailored for a global audience now, produced for radio and consumption around the world, and it feels a little burnt out as a result.
That’s not to say The Album is not catchy. It’s superbly so; every song on the album boasts Blackpink’s typical lyrics, ready to get stuck in your brain on repeat and demanding you listen over and over. All the flavor of Blackpink is there, especially in the vocals, despite the production the songs take feeling different in who it’s being marketed to.
‘How You Like That’ opens THE ALBUM and is the closest to previous Blackpink songs you’ll find on it. Korean and English blend beautifully, with the band brandishing its archetypal blend of swagger and girl power. The music video is a work of art in and of itself as well, taking notes from ‘Kill This Love’ and applying them to a new era.
After a strong opening, Blackpink take to collaborations to appeal to a wider audience, with Selena Gomez and Cardi B featuring. It’s a smart marketing move no doubt, with songs like ‘Ice Cream’ and ‘Bet You Wanna’ bringing together American pop/rap and K-pop/rap. ‘Ice Cream’ is, of course, the more mainstream and bubblegum of the two collaborations, despite it having the more provocative lyrics. Some have said ‘Ice Cream’ is like the ‘WAP’ of K-Pop — a hilarious and somewhat accurate statement of a genre that typically focuses on love letters rather than sexual innuendos.
Of course, ‘Ice Cream’ is catchy. It wouldn’t be on THE ALBUM if it weren’t made that way. It does, however, lack depth and soul. The same can be said for ‘Bet You Wanna.’ On both tracks, Blackpink are in full girl-group robot mode, programmed to sing their vocals and deliver them effortlessly. The same can even be said for Gomez and Cardi. In particular, Cardi’s verse feels emotionless in its delivery, a strange sound compared to her usual passionate spitfire raps.
The rest of the album’s tracks follow similar formulas with slightly different lyrics and beats. It becomes quite formulaic and almost predictable; with enough familiarity to the band, you can almost predict every step the tracks will take, from when Lisa’s rap will start, to when Jisoo will end a chorus, etc. So while THE ALBUM is full of great and enjoyable songs, they all feel a bit too much like any other song on the radio. It’s a delicate tightrope to walk, because K-Pop at its essence is highly manufactured: K-Pop isn’t full of bands but idols with perfect, synchronous choreography and lyrics that appeal to the masses. Perhaps THE ALBUM just needs a little more K in its Pop; by deliberately trying to manufacture the band for a world audience, it’s as if what put Blackpink on a global scale to begin with just got lost in the process.