How I entered the world of Kpop and became a fan when I am not the target audience is a simple tale: I watched this doc on Netflix. I was very much prepared to hate this group, because I hadn’t heard great things about Kpop in general. What I had heard is that it’s comprised of highly controlled young people who become, basically, chained to the billionaire companies that control their careers. And that’s kind of true in a way and kind of not. More will be revealed so, let’s go.
We open with a darkened room that looks like a lecture hall. The audience is filled with people on their laptops. “Coming soon!” says the webpage on one screen that we see. The room darkens entirely and lights come on over the stage as we see the legs of one woman, wearing really high platform leather ankle boots, walk out onto the stage. Followed by another woman’s legs wearing striped platform heels that look like something a stripper would wear. Then knee high flat boots. Finally, thigh high boots with lucite heels. “Today is the debut of YG’s newest girl group in seven years. Introducing Blackpink!” a man’s voice says. The room is silent except for the sound of keyboards clicking. The girls just stand there.
Crowds cheer as the girls are introduced to a gathered crowd at a mall. Fast cuts to the girls performing on various stages, as well as appearances on a couple of American television shows. Then a short video clip of their latest release inanely called “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du.” I refuse to apologize for liking this song. “Blackpink has become the highest charting Kpop girl group ever,” we hear a woman say. More clips of them performing. Winning awards. Performing, performing, performing.
Okay, it’s established. This group is doing very well. They are obviously breaking new ground in terms of success. Making waves in the very competitive American music market which is not easy to do. Up until Blackpink, the only other Kpop band that has had major success in the American market is the boy band BTS, as far as I know. So, this is the reason for the documentary, presumably. Blackpink are a first for female Kpop groups.
Seoul, Early 2020
We cut to the girls inside of a limo/SUV. They are talking about food because they haven’t eaten yet. They talk in English. Next, they discuss their new music that will be released soon. “Finally,” says one girl. They would like to experiment and release material that shows their range of styles. “We haven’t done anything really girly yet… like… helloooo,” the one girl says in a airhead voice. The other girls giggle.
We cut to a man in a music studio. His name is Teddy Park. He is the group’s creative director, producer and main songwriter. He wears a face mask so you can’t see what he looks like. We aren’t told this, but Teddy always wears a face mask when he’s photographed or filmed. A former Kpop artist himself, he no longer wants to be recognized like he was in his pop star days, I guess.
In English, he tells us the girls have a lot of music they have recorded. They are very particular about what they put out though. The limited number of song releases pisses off the fans, but Teddy prefers to stick to this formula. The girls come into the studio and he plays them their collaboration with Lady Gaga called “Sour Candy.” One girl calls him Oppa, an affectionate and deferential way of referring to one’s elder in Korea. It kind of means “older brother.”
In voice over, Teddy tells us about each member. Rosé is of Korean descent, but was born and raised in Australia. Jisoo was born and raised in South Korea. She’s the Unnie of the group, the female version of Oppa, the eldest. Teddy tells us she is pretty tough. She rarely cries and he thinks she’s book smart as well as street smart. Lisa was born and raised in Thailand. She’s kind of the cheerleader of the group. Teddy says she has a killer instinct when it’s crunch time. Not sure what that means. I guess we’ll figure it out later. Finally, there’s Jennie. Born in Seoul, she spent 5 years living in New Zealand from the age of 10 to 15. She’s the perfectionist. What did he say about Rosé? Oh, that she is a hard worker. Even when she should be sleeping, she’s at the studio working on her music. Teddy thinks their diverse backgrounds complement each other well and make them interesting.
We cut to Teddy being interviewed in his studio and he goes on a mini rant about not understanding why Kpop is called Kpop. “We’re just Koreans [making] music,” he says somewhat indignantly. He doesn’t understand why Korean music is given this distinct label. “The only thing is language. Why don’t they do that for every country…? What is Kpop?”
Well, whatever it is, it’s taking the US by storm the doc tells us. It’s a bona fide world-wide phenomenon. It’s been around for over two decades and if you want to describe what the music is like I would say it’s an intermingling of various styles of music performed by artists that can really dance. Altogether, it’s become its own sound though there is a ton of variety within the genre itself. So, considering the variance of sound that falls under the moniker of “Kpop,” Teddy is right. The music is mostly called Kpop because it’s music made by artists from Korea singing in Korean.
The majority of Kpop music is released by three major companies: JYP, SM Entertainment and YG. I think that might be starting to shift because there are other companies that produce Kpop music that are doing really well. But these are considered the top of the heap according to Google. YG created Blackpink. I say “created” because additional to being music labels, the companies have training schools. Young people audition and if they are accepted into the company they go under rigorous instruction in vocals and dance. They also take classes to learn to speak other languages–at least enough to communicate to a basic degree– but that is it in terms of traditional schooling.
Training can take years and the trainees are whittled down till there is only the best of the best. Groups are then formed by combining various trainees together until the grouping works. All the companies seem to follow this method. Some groups are small like Blackpink and some, like the group Loona, have 10 or more members. Once a new group has recorded some music and is deemed ready, they make their debut where they are introduced to the public and the media.
Who pays for the training? That’s what I want to know. The gossip on the net is that only the kids of well-to-do parents are able to become trainees as their parents pay for all the lessons. That seems so unlikely to me. Every trainee comes from a wealthy family? But then what young person would want to be racking up training costs if they don’t even know if they will make it? I guess it’s like most pre-professional performing arts schools. You pay tuition as long as you’re a student. Perhaps they give out scholarships as well.
We cut to footage of the girls at the YG company building in a dance studio year 2019, I think. They are in the process of picking out clothing they will be wearing while on tour. Jennie tells us that the tour fittings are one of the most creative aspects of their work. They get to choose what they will wear so that gives them creative control they don’t have elsewhere. That sounds kind of sad, really. To have such little control over the creative aspects of their job. However, we don’t feel sorry for Broadway performers, for example, who also have no control over what they will sing or dance. They don’t even get to pick out their own costumes. So, if you look at it that way, it’s less dire in my mind.
The girls are very complimentary of each other’s choices. Jennie and Rosé think Lisa can wear anything and look good in it. Rosé says that what she likes about fashion is that it is truly international. Jennie tells us the clothes have to be able to stand up to the wear and tear of their vigorous dancing so that “nothing flops out anywhere.” Then she cackles. She has her dog Coco with her who looks like a little fluffy brown bear.
We then cut to footage of the girl’s on stage performing the song “Boombayah” which is definitely one of their more intensely choreographed songs. It’s a work out, for sure. But then we do a quick cut to the girls in an empty theater. They are watching the footage on the big screen. “Where was this?” Jennie asks in Korean. “Coachella,” Lisa tells her. Jennie tsk-tsks herself and says she missed a note. Jisoo says that is the problem with watching old footage, you’ll always see the little mistakes. “We were so nervous,” says Lisa about performing at Coachella. Jisoo says performing there was overwhelming at first because of their nerves. Rosé says that their anxiety was due to the fact that it was literally their first time performing “in this unfamiliar place called America.” But she used to dream of performing world-wide in her trainee days. “This is what we wanted,” she says. “Ahhh, this is it,” says Jennie.
We cut to Jennie sitting in a chair in an empty, but nice looking room for her one on one interview. She’s wearing a dress with pink sneakers and no make up. She looks very different from her sexy stage persona, just youthful and pretty. She tells us she doesn’t like giving interviews where she has to talk about herself. We then cut to footage of Jennie’s music video for the song “Solo.” Two years after Blackpink debuted, YG had Jennie record this song. I think this is in part why there was gossip on the web that Jennie was the favored member of the group since she did this when no one else in the group did solo work. (That has since changed and Rosé released two solo songs in early 2021.) Jennie was, if I am not mistaken, the early favorite of their fan base when Blackpink first debuted. I am certain the execs of YG saw an additional money making opportunity with her.
We then cut to Jennie working with her Pilates instructor, Jessie. “She’s my friend,” says Jennie, “one of the few that I have.” That sounds very sad! I wouldn’t read too much into that other than it’s the reality for many famous people: few true friends. Or, it’s a cry for help! Who knows? Jessie tells us that at first, Jennie was very hard to get to know. Now that she has, Jessie can say that Jennie is sweet, kind and loyal. While she is talking Jennie is giggling while doing silly arabesques behind her. Jessie says Jennie is like a little sister and she often forgets that she is even famous at all until she sees her on TV or whatever.
Jennie goes through her Pilates moves and says that her body gets sore and achy during touring. Even more so than the other girls. And, as much as she enjoys singing and dancing, it can be hard. On tour it’s like doing a two hour work out every night.
We then segue to Jennie telling us a little about her childhood. She was born and raised in Seoul until the age of ten. It was just Jennie and her mom. During a vacation they traveled to Australia and New Zealand. Jennie describes New Zealand as “nice and peaceful.” During their stay, Jennie’s mom asked her if she would like to live there. Jennie makes it sound pretty casual. Like her response was, sure, why not? Even though Jennie’s mom would not be moving to New Zealand with her; Jennie would be living with a host family. I think that sounds awful. Imagine being ten years old and finding yourself alone in a new country where you don’t know anyone and don’t even speak the language.
We then see video footage of Jennie in New Zealand when she was a child wearing her school uniform and playing with her friends. She seems happy in the video, but I still say it must have been super tough making the adjustment. Jennie tells us the school she attended allowed for a lot of creativity and independent thinking and that is largely why she became the person she is today. Though she adds that she is super shy and has had to work hard to be where she is now in terms of that.
At age 15 Jennie’s mother decided to dump her in America. (I kid! I kid!) Rather, her mother had decided that Jennie should attend school there. The school and everything else had been settled “about 80 percent,” Jennie says, when she got the idea that she wanted to become a singer. “Like, I don’t know where it came from!” she says with a laugh. Probably from the desire to be near her mother living in Korea rather than be alone and having to start over in a brand new country maybe? Just a guess.
We cut to a very short clip of Jennie’s audition for YG in 2010. She’s cute and you certainly can’t tell that she’s shy or anything. She got in as a trainee right away and was impressed by how intense and passionate everyone was. She wanted to catch up with them. “That’s all I hand in mind,” she tells us. We then cut to footage of Jennie in a YG dance studio performing for the instructors. She’s singing The Weeknd’s “The Hills”:
I only call you when it’s half past five
The only time I’d ever call you mine
I only love it when you touch me, not feel me
When I’m fucked up, that’s the real me
When I’m fucked up, that’s the real me, babe
Methinks Jennie has a dark side.
We see that the girls are watching this clip of Jennie on the big screen in the theater. “So pretty!” says Lisa. “I used to sing a lot of dark and heavy songs,” Jennie says to them, “So, I often wonder a lot these days, ‘What am I doing right now?’ ” Oh, damn. Well, I guess that is one Blackpink member that might have some negative things to say about her career in YG thus far. If she was allowed to really let it blow, I mean. I am sure it’s somewhere in their contract that they can’t flat out trash the company they work for. We cut back to the footage of Jennie and she is starting the rap section of the song. “Ohhhhh!” say the girls. “You’re always so cool!” says Rosé.
We cut back to Jennie in the empty room doing her interview. She tells us that all the girls that were in her first training group didn’t make it. Then when Lisa came in Jennie says she thought “Wow, there are people born to do this.” She kind of chuckles in an enigmatic way after she says that. Not that it isn’t true of Lisa as we will see in a minute, but the little laugh is kind of mysterious.
We cut to the music video for the Blackpink song “As If It’s Your Last.” Lisa is rapping and dancing and she looks great. She has an overt charisma and the camera loves her. We then cut to Lisa for her interview. She is filmed as she heads to a vintage clothing shop. She says in voice over that her role in Blackpink is as a rapper and lead dancer.
In the shop, Lisa pulls out various items–like a box of Reese’s Puffs cereal–and gushes over them. “This is so cool!” she says in English about the cereal. It’s not really clear to what extent Lisa is fluent in English. She certainly understands it very well when it’s spoken, but she tends to go quiet when the group is interviewed in English indicating that she isn’t fully confident speaking it in all circumstances. What’s amazing is that she speaks with a flawless American accent. That’s just weird (in a cool way), because English is usually taught in schools outside of North America to be spoken with a British accent.
Anyway, Lisa tells us in Korean that her mother is the one that manages her finances. In English she mimics her mother telling her to stop shopping then says “I don’t really like, listen to her. I’m sorry, mom.” She pulls out a t-shirt with Tupac on the front. The label says it’s from 1997 (it kills me that that is now considered vintage) and Lisa tells us that was the year she was born.
We cut to shots of little Lisa as she tells us in Thai that she was born in Buriram Province in Thailand, but moved to Bangkok when she was three. She was always interested in singing and dancing so her mom enrolled her in dance school when she was young. We cut to footage of little Lisa in dance class. The kids are performing a very badly choreographed bit that requires a lot of energy. More footage of Lisa performing in various competitions and performances over the years. (The choreography never gets better.) While her early years were focused on dancing, Lisa did enjoy singing too. When she was about 14 she was able to audition for YG.
We cut back to the girls in the theater watching Lisa’s audition footage. She is enthusiastic and energetic, but her choreography is, unsurprisingly, not good. The girls are cracking up at everything from her dance moves to the outfit she is wearing. Lisa seems somewhat mortified though she laughs, too. “I was trying so hard to be cool!” In voice over she says that after the audition she had to wait two months before she heard that she had gotten in.
She didn’t speak any Korean. A mama’s girl, it really sunk in once she moved to Korea that she was now on her own. We cut to footage of Lisa and Jennie in a dance studio performing a rap for their instructors (and executives? Honestly, I don’t know who they are performing for in these clips.) It’s 2013, two years into Lisa’s training the doc tells us. She has changed a lot. More sophisticated and on trend with her dance moves. Lisa tells us that Jennie was the one she could talk to because Jennie was the only one who spoke English amongst all the trainees.
We cut back to the segment of the girls in the studio with Teddy. Lisa is about to go into the recording booth. She practices how she will sing her part. “However you feel comfortable,” says Jennie to her in English. Switching to Korean Jennie then says, “You choose how to sing it, because we’re all doing it differently.” As Lisa heads into the booth, Jisoo tells us in voice over that one of the group’s strengths is that they all are more concerned with what works for the group as a whole as opposed to what they want individually. They aim to strike a balance “that works for everyone.”
We cut to footage of Jisoo in the music video “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du.” She has a lower singing voice than the other girls and it’s very appealing. She doesn’t say this in the doc, but she is considered the “visual” of the group. That is Kpop speak for the one with the ideal looks by South Korean standards. There is no question that she is great looking and that her beauty meets the narrow definition of what that ideal is: the shape of her face, her great skin, even the shape of her eye brows. But in a video I saw on Youtube where South Korean young people were polled on who was the best looking in the group, Jennie won. And that’s show biz, folks! I’m just including this, because I find the subject somewhat fascinating–the idea of what is considered the ideal version of beauty country by country. According to Google, Kim Kardashian represents the ideal for America, in case you were curious.
We cut to the camera following Jisoo as she heads into a make up studio owned by make up artist, Myungsun. “Whazz up? Whazz up?” Jisoo says in English as she enters the studio. Jisoo speaks English infrequently. I get the impression she understands it very well from what I have observed in various videos I have seen and in this doc, but she prefers to speak in her native language, naturally.
Jisoo tells Myungsun that when she was little “my relatives treated me like an outcast because I was ugly.” Myungsun is surprised. As am I! What the fuck, relatives of Jisoo? “They called me monkey,” she says. Myungsun says it doesn’t matter now because Jisoo is the prettiest of them all. See what I mean about Jisoo being a physical ideal?
We see shots of little Jisoo and she is of course adorable so I don’t know what the fuck the issue was with Jisoo’s relatives. Anyway, Jisoo grew up in Gunpo city, Gyeonggi-do region. She has a sister and a brother though she doesn’t say if they are older or younger. We cut to Jisoo sitting on a couch/bench in the empty room as she tells us that she is living a very different life then the one she had thought she’d be living. She looks like a college student in this interview. Almost prim. But like Jennie (and all of the members of Blackpink) she transforms when it’s performance time.
We cut back to Myungsun and Jisoo is telling her that at one time she wanted to be a writer or a painter. She wasn’t any good at painting though. In 11th grade she joined the drama club and thought about becoming an actress. So, clearly Jisoo felt driven to pursue a career in the arts in some fashion. It was while doing general auditions, just to gain some experience, that she ended up auditioning for YG.
We see a video clip of Jisoo’s YG audition (in 2011) and she looks very nervous as she waits for the right point in the music to sing. Then she laughs at her own nervousness. Jisoo says that she never thought she would actually succeed and have the career that she has. It seemed too remote and unachievable back when she first started. She says that people who know from an early age what they want to do, because they feel they are meant for it, are very lucky.
We then segue to Rosé alone in a studio playing her guitar and singing a song that (I think) she wrote herself. She has a pretty and distinctive voice and a lot of fans think she is the best singer in the group. In voice over, Rosé says that she has trouble sleeping so working on her music is a form of stress relief. She tells us that she sometimes misses her training days, because they were constantly surrounded by music. Now that she is part of Blackpink things are much more hectic and the focus is often on other aspects of being in a successful group. So these days, she uses the time she normally would be sleeping to practice.
We then cut to video clips of little Rosé (full name Roseanne). She tells us that she was born in New Zealand but moved to Australia when she was eight. She has played piano since she was little and then later guitar. At her church she had a lot of Korean friends “but then at school, I was just a normal Australian kid.” She says that she liked that and she felt like Hannah Montana with two different lives.
Rosé is sitting on the same couch/bench that Jisoo was in the empty room the same as the others. She’s wearing wide legged baggy pants (very on trend) and has the longest hair. She has such a small frame that her hair practically swamps her and makes her look like a mermaid to me. She tells us that YG came to Australia to hold auditions and it was her dad that encouraged her to try out. Initially she was shocked at the idea, but her father told her she might regret it if she didn’t try to make something of her music. We then cut to a clip of Rosé auditioning in 2012 when she was 16. She is playing the guitar and singing “I Won’t Give Up” by Jason Mraz. She looks polished and confident though she looks way younger then 16.
She got a call back and was told to fly out to Korea within two months and just like that “my whole life changed.” For one, she dropped out of school, which was a big deal. She says again that she dropped out of school using a tone of voice that indicates she is still stunned that she did that. And, of course, she moved to Korea, away from her family which was very hard for her. She starts to cry talking about it. The very first night in the dorm she met Jennie, Jisoo and Lisa. Everybody else was asleep so, coincidentally, all four of them ended up spending the night singing songs while Rosé played her guitar until morning.
We cut to Lisa and Rosé talking about their early training days. Lisa tells us how she met Rosé and felt threatened by her at first. “Everything was gyeongjaeng [competition] at that time,” she says. Rosé says she just felt intimidated, because everyone around her was so talented. They became buds though “like genuine twins,” Lisa says. Rosé says that after awhile Lisa developed an Australian accent. “Nooo,” Lisa replies using a perfect Australian accent. Then she cracks up. This scene is sweet, but let’s move on.
We cut to Jennie who says that “what makes Kpop Kpop is the time that we spend as a trainee.” She says that it was similar to a boarding school situation. Rosé tells us that initially there were nine girls in their group. Jennie says they had to meet YG’s standard in terms of talent and skill. Jisoo tells us she took three or four dance classes a day as well as vocal lessons from three different teachers. She describes it as a “rough time.” Rosé tells us the girls only got one day off a fortnight. Jennie says it was 14 hours a day just training. Teddy agrees that the training period is tough, but they end up with skills that can be used for the next 10 years of their careers.
We cut back to Rosé and Lisa. Rosé says that she had to learn to dance, because she was terrible at first. Every month the girls had to put on a performance for “our boss and all the producers.” (Okay so that’s who they were performing for in the earlier clips.) Afterwards you were graded on your performance. Jennie says that she remembers having to send friends home because they hadn’t passed the test. Why was Jennie in charge of delivering the bad news? No idea. Rosé said that “everything that I did was wrong.” Jennie says that the criticisms were “really harsh.” “It wasn’t a very happy vibe,” adds Rosé. Jennie goes on to say that they also have strict rules they must comply with. They are not allowed to drink, smoke or get a tattoo. Or date, I don’t think, unless they get permission. Well, you never hear about these young Kpop artists dating anyone. Maybe they keep it really secret.
We cut to Jisoo who says that her parents were upset when they realized she never had the time to come home to visit because she worked all weekend. But, not being terribly protective, they encouraged her “to stay strong and get it done.” Rosé would call her parents in tears to complain how hard it all was and they would always tell her to “come home!” She didn’t want to hear that; she was determined to stick it out.
We cut to Jisoo singing and she sounds a bit off key to me. Then we cut to Jennie singing and she sounds so-so. She is kind of shout-singing over a backing track. These two clips weren’t impressive. Anyway, Jennie tells us she does not regret the time it took to become a singer and dancer, but she admits that she wishes she could have spent more time living at home. I think her mom would have probably shipped her off to some remote corner of North America so maybe she should just be glad she was able to stay in Korea. (I kid! I kid!)
We cut to Lisa who tells us that she was on the verge of just giving up, because she didn’t think she would make it. Rosé says it was “days on end… not knowing where this is going.” Jisoo would sometimes ask herself if she wanted to keep going, because it was “not easy.” Jennie believed in herself though. The harder it was, the more determined she became to make it through to the end.
We cut to Rosé performing for the producers. She is playing guitar and singing “Nobody Love” by Tori Kelly. Rosé tells us that her pride added to her determination to succeed. She would have been embarrassed to go home “without achieving anything.” We cut to Lisa rapping the song “Eyes, Nose, Lips” by Tablo. She’s come a long way, baby from that first audition tape. She tells us that she reached a point in training that she didn’t care how long it took, she was determined to make it.
Jennie tells us that the CEO of YG was the one that put the four of them together to see how they looked performing as a group. Jisoo tells us they were evaluated together, did screen tests and recorded demos. We then see the girls perform “Lean On” by Major Lazor for the producers etc., year 2015 (one year before their debut). In voice over as we watch the performance, Lisa says they “just clicked” as a group. Jennie says they got along “so well” without any of the squabbling that was common among other groups in regards to who would do what. She adds that “four girls in one group is not easy.” Jisoo says they had good synergy. That’s when she began to feel like they might make it. “When everyone is where they need to be, big things can happen.” The clip concludes with the girls singing the final lines of the Major Lazor song in harmony and they sound awful. Really off key. Which is an ironic conclusion to this segment.
We cut back to Teddy in his studio and we hear Blackpink’s song “Lovesick Girls” playing. This song is by far my least favorite of their releases. My insightful critique is that it’s just a lame and cheesy song. Anyway, Teddy tells us that sonically the four girls sounded the best as well as worked the best in terms of their character and personalities. We cut to Lisa who says that Teddy felt like a CEO to them. Getting to work with him was a very big deal.
We then cut to footage of Teddy performing with his group 1TYM back in the day. Teddy tells us he wished for guidance when he was a performer. Someone more on the outside of the situation to give him direction. He says, in so many words, that his intention is to help guide the girls in the fashion he would have liked during his performing days.
We cut back to the girls in the studio with Teddy. They chat about their first release “Whistle” and how it was an unusual choice because Teddy says, “it’s super minimal.” Teddy tells us that after they did their first photo shoot as a group he knew that working with them would be really fun.
August 2016, Blackpink’s Debut
We see TV clips of various people talking about the group’s upcoming debut. We then cut to the girls waiting for an elevator. Jennie is rehearsing what she has been instructed to say to the press and Lisa says she feels very nervous. We cut to the scene from the opening of the doc where the girls are walking out onto the stage in front of the audience comprised of members of the press. Each girl introduces herself and then Jennie says, “In the future we will work hard to show everyone Blackpink’s unique colors. Please love us!” she concludes aegyo-style. Am I using that word right? Probably not. “Aegyo in Korean refers to a cute display of affection often expressed through a cute voice, facial expressions, or gestures,” according to Wikipedia. They bow to their audience and say thank you.
The we cut to the girls getting prepped to perform their song “Whistle.” They’re performing on a show, but I don’t know which show it is. One of the hosts refers to them as the “the hottest rookies right now.” The performance goes well and we hear that 14 days after their debut, the song reached number one. Which, by the way, is the “shortest time ever by a girl group to reach number one.” Jisoo tells us they were very happy and excited watching it go to the top spot.
We cut to the girls in the movie theater talking about when the song was released and watching it climb the charts. Then we watch clips of the girls performing on various TV shows and crowds of fans gathered in various places. “Lisa, I love you!” one fan shouts to her. Some American girls say they like Blackpink’s style and think their sound is unique among Kpop groups. Another American girl thinks that the group being comprised of members from different countries is inspiring. A Korean fan loves their dancing. Some Dutch fans say they love dancing to their music. More Americans are interviewed saying that they like how strong the friendships are between the members. Some fans speaking in Spanish say that you can see their love of performing. A small group of American fans are interviewed and one girl says that Blackpink has a good vibe and they are the “baddest bitches alive.” Her friends giggle and look a little shocked at her saying that.
The impression I get about the fans is that they are comprised of just nice kids, basically. There is something wholesome about the crowds Blackpink attracts worldwide. I’m generalizing I know, but that’s my overall take. And yes, their fans are mostly teenagers, but isn’t that the case with most pop music stars? Lisa tells us she didn’t expect Blackpink to become so famous.
We cut to the girls getting ready to shoot some footage for a music video. Rosé asks Lisa how much sleep she got. “Three hours,” she says. I saw an interview on Youtube where a former Kpop idol said that the hardest part about that time of her life was the lack of sleep. Even in her training days she and her fellow trainees were only allowed to get four hours of sleep a night in preparation for what life would be like once they debuted.
We hear Rosé in voice over say that she was desperate to make it; she really wanted it. But after debut came the responsibilities outside of just making music. Jisoo says that is when the pressure started. How to stay fresh? “I felt like we were being chased,” she says. We then see clips of more music videos being shot, appearances, performances, award shows, magazine covers… An American TV reporter talking about the huge success of “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du” after its release. More reporters from English speaking countries talking about the incredible success of the group.
Then we cut to the girls taking a break on the set of a music video they are shooting. They look exhausted. Jennie is practically falling asleep on her feet. Rosé says that it gets overwhelming as it all speeds up. Then we cut to Lisa making an appearance at a mall in Thailand. The place is packed to the rafters with everyone chanting her name. She says that at that moment she wondered “if I was really good enough to be their role model?” Who did she want to be as a performer? How to not let down her fans?
Jisoo and Jennie are making Tanghulu, a traditional Chinese snack that’s hard to find in Korea, Jennie tells us. It’s pieces of fruit–like grapes and blueberries–dipped in melted sugar. I don’t see any strawberries. That is a mistake, in my opinion. Jennie says this is a way for her to teach Jisoo how to speak English and that Jisoo understands everything that she says. Jisoo takes a bite of fruit and concludes that the sugar was a bit burnt. Jennie says it doesn’t taste bad. “Not bad, but not good,” Jisoo jokes in English.
Jennie explains the concept of “Unnie” and “Oppa.” Jisoo says that this tradition doesn’t exist in other countries. She says that the competition between her and Jennie during their training days was fierce at times, but as the Unnies of all the trainees, many girls would come to them for guidance. I guess they bonded over that. Jisoo says she would offer advice, but often had to step up for the younger trainees when they were too shy to speak up for themselves.
We then cut to Jisoo in the empty room sitting on the bench. She explains that she does her best to take care of the girls in the group. So I think that tells us that the concept of Unnie is more than just a name denoting seniority; it comes with a sense of responsibility. Then we’re back to the dorm with Jennie and Jisoo. Jennie is eating a sugar covered grape. She decides that they were “semi-successful” in making the snack. It’s edible. They high-five.
The next scene is Rosé in a recording studio with music producer and songwriter, Joe “Vince” Rhee. Joe’s like this hip looking guy; he’s really cute. Rosé is in the booth experimenting with some music she wrote and coming up with a melody. Rosé tells us that she loves Joe’s work and having met him a few times, she asked Teddy if it was okay if she worked with him. She was scared about the whole thing at first and lacked confidence in herself, but she was determined to put herself out there with her music. We can see that Joe creates an arty and supportive environment where Rosé feels encouraged to take risks. This segment goes on a bit too long for me though.
The girls are packing for their upcoming tour. I cannot figure out what year this is. If it’s the 2019 world tour they are getting ready for or some touring they were planning in 2020? They are talking about what to pack when Coco bites Lisa because she is stealing his toy and his spotlight. There is only room for one star in this scene, Lisa.
The girls talk about the lack of regularity in the business they are in. They are either working their asses off or they are sort of laid off with nothing to do. Very feast or famine. Okay, they are talking about the 2019 tour they did the previous year so it’s 2020 in this scene. The 2019 tour lasted nine months and was world-wide. The North American portion was kicked off with performances at Coachella.
Rosé was thrilled when she first heard they would be touring outside of Asia, she tells us. Lisa says that they knew it would be a much more diverse group of fans coming to see them. Rosé says they wanted to bring them the best show possible. We get a quick scene with their show director giving them some feedback about their performance.
Huge stadium packed to the rafters. Jisoo tells us that she wants to do the best she can so that when she leaves the stage she feels good about her performance. She says to herself before the shows begin, “Don’t mess this up. You’ve got to nail this.” We then see the girls go out on stage and start their opening number, “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du.” The camera pans the crowd and passes by a young guy, maybe about 14 or 15, screaming his head off in excitement. So so cute and I mean that genuinely.
Quick cuts of the girls on various planes and performing in various countries around Asia: Jkarta, Hong Kong, Manila, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Taipei… Bit by bit the girls look more tired. Jennie says their bodies start to give out. Understandable given how intense the choreography they are doing is. Jennie says she is like a grandma and that she loses breath easier than other people. Rosé says she didn’t know what touring would be like and she thought it would be “all exciting and fun.” Cut to her and Lisa eating some takeout alone in their limo. Plus, she experienced what I have heard so many artists say about touring: after each show and after returning to the hotel room, there is a great feeling of emptiness. She adds that she felt like she had no personal life at all and there was “this big hole in my life.” She realized she was homesick. We cut to Rosé who has ordered a lot of food from room service: sauteed mushrooms, salad, soup, poached eggs… comfort food, but nothing junky.
The girls talk about Lisa as we see cuts of her being super jazzed before various performances. Jennie says she is the most constant and that she brings positive energy. Jisoo says that Lisa always tries to cheer someone up if they are in a bad mood. Lisa frets that she is too over-the-top sometimes. We cut to the girls in that limo/SUV from the beginning of the doc. The other girls tell Lisa she really helps them when it gets tough. “Really?” she asks, pleased. “Okay, I’ll keep doing that.” “Keep going,” the other girls say to her. “Keep going, Lisa!!” Lisa says to herself.
More cuts of the girls backstage at various places. We see Jennie sitting backstage and looking a bit tired. Then we cut to Jennie in the interview room. She says that “sometimes, when I look like I’m really tired and angry, that is my happy face.” Then she cracks up. Jennie is just… kooky. I mean that in the best way. She has an enigmatic air to her for sure, but she’s also funny and a bit silly. I like that. But I think that why she is saying things like how she gets tired easily and joking about looking cranky serves a point. There was some internet gossip about her for awhile saying she was lazy. On tour (I have no idea which one) she was marking some performances instead of dancing full out and some disgruntled fans on the net called her lazy. Turns out she had an injury and couldn’t dance full out. But the gossip that she was lazy, spoiled by YG management (as I mentioned previously) and had a bad attitude stuck around for a bit. In this doc she is nothing but likable so, hopefully those fans have gotten over that bullshit.
Blackpink in your area: April 2019
The girls are in Los Angeles. We hear Rosé introduce BlackPink on 97.1 AMP radio. The radio host tells them they are the first female Korean group to ever appear at Coachella. “Whaaat? Whaaat?” he says. Makes me wonder if it translated that he was saying that–American slang style–to express amazement in a positive way.
Speaking of radio interviews, I saw one on Youtube that made me cringe. For one, the girls looked completely jet-lagged which made me feel so bad for them. For two, their interviewer, a young guy, was insufferably dull. He obviously knew nothing about Kpop in general or Blackpink in particular as the first question he asked was what their songwriting process was. Rosé was tasked with answering that one. I made it through five minutes before I had to switch it off so I could take a nap. Yes, he was that boring. I don’t know how they made it through.
Anyway, Lisa tells us that because Coachella is such a big festival she was amazed they were performing there. We see clips of some of the big names that have appeared, like Beyoncé and Post Malone. We then cut to the girls arriving for rehearsal to the stage where they will be performing. “I’m so excited. This is cool!” Rosé says.
We watch the girls getting ready to rehearse as Rosé tells us in voice over that it was “really nerve-wracking” because they were representing their country. Jennie says they were “just so ready to tell the world that we have been waiting for this.” Lisa says she was nervous, because she didn’t know how the American fans would react to them. Rosé says that what added to their nervousness was being at a festival where the attendees had not come to see them specifically. Would anybody be interested in seeing Blackpink’s show? Jennie hoped they might have 100-200 hundred people in the audience, but she wasn’t thinking beyond that. For Jisoo, she had to deal with her back killing her. It hurt just to move, let alone dance. The girls say they were all worried about her. We aren’t told what Jisoo did about her back problem as we cut to the girls arriving to perform later that night. (Hopefully she received a painkiller or something that helped.)
The turnout is huge and the girls are surprised. “Why are there so many people?” Rosé asks nervously. The crowd really is massive. They do a pre-show huddle and tell each other to relax and have fun. I got kind of emotional at this part, because the crowd is so big and loud and the girls didn’t expect it. They step on stage and Lisa tells us that she was so nervous, but then she saw the huge crowd and the people cheering, “I got the feeling, ‘this is it!”
The opening song is “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du.” They are backed by a live band as well as singing along to a backing track. That’s not to say they aren’t singing live at all, just that they’re boosted on the choruses and have added vocal layers so it sounds more like the recorded release. The live band is a group of American musicians who call themselves The Band Six and they have toured the world with Blackpink: Omar Dominick on Bass, Bennie Rodgers II on drums, Justin Lyons on guitar, YungWorld on keys and programmer Brandon Finklea.
Jennie tells us she felt validated by the crowd and that it showed that people understood this wasn’t “just Kpop music.” She is glad to be part of an era that is open to new music and cultures. Lisa loved the diversity of the people in the audience. Jennie laughs about thousands of people at Coachella singing in Korean. Or at least trying to. Coachella was a moment that made her feel “really satisfied with our work. Like, all those training years were worth it.” Rosé says that audience size doesn’t matter as long as the atmosphere is right and they are all sharing the same vibe.
We see quick clips of the girls singing their hits, like “Playing With Fire” and “Boombayah.” They look confident and in their element. There is also a large group of back up dancers that have accompanied them on tour. So overall it’s a big group on the stage. The show comes to an end and Lisa tells the cheering audience, “We had so much fun. I think I will remember today for the rest of my life.” “We love you guys!” shouts Jennie. It’s touching. Everyone takes a big bow and walks off stage. Rosé has kind of a jaunty walk. Jaunty as in confident. She has this rock chick undertone to her vibe, I think.
We then cut to footage of all the American newspapers and TV shows talking about Blackpink’s performance at Coachella. They really made a huge splash. Jisoo says that after Coachella she figured out how to have fun on stage: focus on what’s happening around you, take in the crazy energy of the crowd and just feed off the passion. “Have fun. Have fun with this,” Lisa says.
Once they were done with Coachella (I think they performed over two weekends) they kicked off their North American tour: Los Angeles, Chicago, Hamilton, Newark, Atlanta… Then it’s on to Europe: Amsterdam, Manchester, London, Berlin… Oceania: A fan made a giant banner welcoming Rosé back home which made her cry. Side note: I saw a clip on Youtube where Jennie was very nicely asking the audience to not throw things on stage, because it gets scary when, out of the dark, objects come whizzing at your head. During this, Rosé spots a little stuffed Koala that a fan had indeed thrown on stage and she happily picked it up. It had little clippy paws so she was able to attach it to her microphone which canceled out what Jennie was trying to make the crowd understand. It was kind of unintentionally funny.
We watch the girls performing as we hear Rosé talking about their dreams and hunger to make it. “When you’re really invested in what you do, that’s what makes things happen.” Well, hopefully. Show business can be a brutal industry!
The tour concludes in Thailand. “We love you, Bangkok!” Rosé says to the crowd as the show comes to an end. She tells the audience she is sad that this is their last concert on this particular tour. Then she gets a bit teary when she says she is proud of the band and how hard they have worked. It gets tough, she says. Then she starts to cry for real as she talks about how hard it is to be away from home for so long. “Happy tears! It’s okay,” Jennie reassures the crowd. Not that they need reassuring. They have been cheering throughout this. Then Jennie starts to cry. Then Lisa. We cut back to the limo/SUV scene as the girls recall that it was like a train with one after the other breaking out in tears. Jisoo reminds everyone that she cried last.
We see various clips of the girls greeting fans after the shows. We hear Jennie say that she is “very proud of what we have created as Blackpink.” Rosé says “we grew into something we didn’t even know was possible.” Jennie feels like they have more to show as a group and that they are just beginning.
We then cut to the girls at a restaurant back in Korea. A cute waiter is serving and he tells them he remembers waiting on them when they were just trainees. “I didn’t give you good service,” he admits. “Is that why you’re so nice now?” Jisoo snarks. “Yes. Enjoy your food,” he says, knowing it’s time to get lost.
Over their meal, Rosé tells the girls that while she was in Paris, Halsey contacted her. “She talks just like us! She’s just like us!” Rosé says, amazed. I am not sure how to interpret that. They are alike in that they’re not yet jaded by fame? Not yet made cynical by the industry? Rosé says she thinks Halsey is from L.A. Lisa gets excited, “L.A.! Come on! L.AAA!!” Jennie says she wants to live in Paris for a year. So does Lisa! Jisoo tells Lisa she is Parisian already. Then Jennie and Lisa say they want to live in America and England, too. Jisoo thinks Lisa will be traveling all around the world. I think it’s sweet that Unnie Jisoo babies Lisa a bit because she’s the youngest.
Suddenly the conversation shifts to how eventually they will all be in their 40’s. Ohnoezz, lol. Jennie wonders if they will be married by then. Lisa says, of course. They’re not sure they will have children. That seems a definite maybe. One of them asks about making a comeback at that point in their lives. “We’ll injure our backs!” Jennie says. Fade out.
So what has been up with the girls since this doc? In 2020 they released a full length album called Blackpink’s “The Album” which included “How You Like That” and “Pretty Savage.” Two songs that are on my playlist when I’m at the gym. Then there is this kind of painful (if you’re a fan) yet very insightful critique made by a Youtuber by the name of Mera. It’s a take down of Blackpink’s failure to evolve musically from the formulaic sound of their debut in 2016. The responsibility for that is laid directly at the feet of YG and how the group is being managed creatively (that’s you, Teddy) rather than on the group itself. Whether you agree or not, it’s well done and worth a listen, imo.
In 2021 Rosé released two solo songs. “On the Ground” and another called “Gone.” The “On the Ground” video is pretty cool and Rosé looks gorgeous in it. Lisa is supposed to be releasing solo music as well, but, other than she is supposed to be working on it, I haven’t heard anything else.
Jisoo will be acting in a Korean drama called “Snowdrop” which will be aired in June of this year. I have no idea if American fans will be able to watch it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it shows up on Netflix. I don’t know why there has been no talk of Jisoo also doing solo work, but perhaps it’s because she would rather focus on acting when she has the time to do so.
So, let’s talk YG Entertainment. I haven’t a clue how much money or what percentage of the cut the girls get from all the hit songs and touring. I do know that their contract with YG was supposed to expire in 2023, but I read on the net that it has been extended. Until 2028 to be exact. So whatever anyone else thinks of YG management, the members of Blackpink are happy with it? Right? I mean if they wanted to move on and make music elsewhere they would have been able to do so? I just don’t know how that all works.
Individually, all of the girls have contracts as brand ambassadors with various companies: Jisoo for Dior, Jennie for Chanel and Calvin Klein, Rosé for YSL and Lisa for Bulgari and Céline. They are brand ambassadors for other companies too, but these are the ones that they post the most about on their Instagrams. And, as a group, they are the face of Pepsi for the Asia Pacific region of the world.
Finally, in early 2021 Blackpink put on a live stream pay per view concert called “The Show.” (You will find a recording of it if you do a search on Youtube if you want to watch it.) It was weird because they had no crowd energy to bounce off of, but it gives you an idea of what seeing them perform in concert would be like. I will review that soon.
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