On Oct. 2, Blackpink released their first full-length debut album, simply titled "The Album." Not really a surprise as they had been gearing up for its release since they debuted their comeback song on June 26, called “How You Like That," earning the most views any YouTube video has ever acquired within 24 hours of its release (BTS would soon retake that title with their song, “Dynamite”).
To prepare you to understand the significance of this album, let me bring you back to the early 2010s. If you are something of a Korean pop music (K-pop) fan, you probably remember the time — specifically 2009, when groups like 2NE1, f(x) and 4minute all made their debuts, with Miss A joining them one year later. Considered the third generation of K-pop, these groups were the epitome of the Hallyu Wave.
Before these groups, there was the second generation of K-pop, comprised of Wonder Girls, known for their song “Nobody,” or Girls Generation, responsible for “Gee” – bands remembered for their soft pop blends and happy dance rhythms. These cute, catchy tunes showcased groups of teenage girls fawning over a boy or hanging out with friends. Their messages were all on-brand and rated PG.
At the time, I think their audiences were largely comprised of teenagers happy with singing along to these easy melodies, but to reach a larger audience, K-pop had to evolve. Around this time, 2NE1 began releasing music. Their songs, “I Am the Best,” “Fire” and “I Don’t Care” were the precursors to some of the more hard-hitting electro pop beats that you hear today.
In “I Am the Best,” probably what I would consider most similar to “Pretty Savage” on Blackpink’s "The Album," Park Bom and Minzy were in charge of the rapping-style verses of the song. The level of sass and diva-like attitude might seem cringey today but really was a humongous change from the previous generation’s cuter, poppier tunes. In essence, they changed the industry and invited electronic dance music (EDM) and hip-hop elements into their songs.
If you thought the leather jackets and spiked-and-bedazzled outfits of 2NE1 were a little much, then 4minute’s song “Crazy” serves as another great example of a K-pop girl group going against the mold. With their heavy use of the twisted horn hooks and siren-like synths, the track was a badass hip-hop, trap-infused single, featuring raps from Hyuna and Jiyoon.
Their trailblazing track undoubtedly paved the way for similar songs and concepts. No longer were the cutesy, adorable pop blends the only way that K-pop groups could thrive.
YG Entertainment, a South Korean conglomerate that is one largest entertainment production companies in Korea, only rivaled by JYP and SM Entertainment, is the label for both 2NE1, before they disbanded, and Blackpink. It’s no wonder then that Lisa and Jennie, the two resident rappers of Blackpink, took inspiration from their predecessors.
The first song off Blackpink’s album is “How You Like That.” Bass-drop heavy, the song is reminiscent of their previous tracks “DDU-DU DDU-DU” and “Kill This Love.” As much as K-pop is all about being a revolutionary blend of Western music influences and the Korean language, its also really all about dancing. For a banger that gives you a catchy dance move, like finger guns or fist bumps, Blackpink never disappoints.
Groups are formed and, largely, succeed due to their dancing abilities. So while some songs have genuinely catchy verses that give you goosebumps, like Blackpink’s new song “Love to Hate Me,” they tend to drop the beat right before the chorus to allow for a more visual presentation of their abilities.
Musically, I think this makes it hard for K-pop groups to do more with their lyricism or melodies. “How You Like That” seems to be another repeat of the EDM tracks they became famous for, but this album surprised me by introducing a couple of tracks reminiscent of strong female groups that weren’t so focused on hard-hitting tracks.
“Lovesick Girls” reminds me of a track from Mamamoo, another K-pop group that debuted in 2014, called “Starry Night,” or singer Taeyeon’s “I.” It’s the kind of song you play in the car with the top down and the ocean breeze flying by. Featuring bubble pop synths in the chorus, this quick-tempo song juxtaposes its sadder theme of finding yourself alone or in an ending relationship with the genuine over-it attitude of the girls singing.
They also tried to go for a Girls Generation or Twice vibe when they sang “Ice Cream,” the track featuring Selena Gomez. With its lilting vocals and overly catchy “Ice cream chillin' chillin' / ice cream chillin'” lyrics, this song isn’t my favorite track of the album, but is a cute incorporation of an American pop artist into the world of K-pop.
It does feel like a slightly strained combination, with Gomez’s verse kind of inserted without much flow between the artists.
Instead, I think “Bet You Wanna,” featuring Cardi B, is actually a better alternative to adding an American star onto a K-pop track. Much like Halsey in BTS’s “Boy With Luv,” I think Cardi B does not lose her typical bravado and strength in the song but actually makes a great addition to the overall track.
Going the complete opposite direction as all the other songs on this album, “Crazy Over You” blends unexpected sounds in the background, what is described as a “Balkan whistle coupled with surf rock guitar sounds.” Although I appreciate their efforts to experiment with their sound, the song has no real build up and mostly falls flat.
Another problem with sticking to just one trap concept all the way is that it doesn’t allow for the vocalists to show off their abilities to a large extent. What easily makes this whole album worth the listen is the last track, “You Never Know,” where vocalists Rosé and Jisoo sing some of the toughest falsettos they have ever done.
It also speaks to the ability of Blackpink that they are so able to expertly intertwine and rhyme English lyrics with Korean. Jennie lived in New Zealand for a time and Rosé was raised in Australia, but all the members are able to speak English pretty well. These effortless blends are what made me think their last song of the album deserves more praise and attention.
The whole album is a genre-defying experiment on the part of Blackpink as they try to go for these poppier themes and tracks, but they never truly lose sight of their ability to be independent, bright young women with a message to share.