Let’s be honest, it shouldn’t take 4 years for a K-Pop group to release a first album. Despite debuting back in 2016, touring the world, having their music predominantly made by Korean-American rapper and record producer, Park Hong-jun aka ‘TEDDY’ (YG Entertainment’s go-to producer and the reason why most of BLACKPINK’s songs sound all the same), BLACKPINK only released their first full album this month. Why?
I have come to realise that YG Entertainment purposefully market on pure hype. Their logic is that if you withhold content and provide little to no updates, frustrated fans will campaign (market for you) and hunger for more music.
This was evident back in December 2019 when Blinks paid to send trucks with giant screens to the YG Entertainment’s building, where the screens repeated BLACKPINK’s (at the time) miniscule discography, whilst also demanding for frequent comebacks by the 4-member girl group, solo projects, active broadcasting and entertainment activities, and the group actually attending Korean music award ceremonies.
Trucks were sent again in May 2020 with pretty much similar demands, and more recently in June 2020. But this time, the trucks were sent for YG Entertainment to protest the mistreatment and provide attention to BLACKPINK member Rosé, who still surprisingly after 4 years (even though she’s the main vocalist) does not have a solo song. In Korean music, it is perfectly normal to still be part of a group and have your own solo songs. As such, I reiterate – it shouldn’t take 4 years. But it has. Most probably due to the undeniable dedication and support from fans, Jennie, Lisa, Jisoo and Rosé have finally released their first full album blatantly titled ‘THE ALBUM’. Considering the long amount of time that we’ve had to wait for this album, was the wait worth it?
‘THE ALBUM’ consists of 8 tracks, but only 6 of them are new to listeners, considering that both ‘How You Like That’ and ‘Ice Cream’ were released as singles prior. ‘How You Like That’ is catchy, repetitive and sounds like everything else that BLACKPINK has released before, but not in a good way. This time, the onomatopoeia is tiring. What was forgivable and fun before with previous hits ‘Ddu-Du Ddu-Du’ and ‘Kill This Love’, now with ‘How You Like That’, feels exhausting and obnoxious. I would have said that the song is the K-Pop girl group’s weakest release, but then they released ‘Ice Cream’. And with lyrics like “Snow cone chilly / Get it free like Willy / In the jeans like Billie / You be poppin’ like a wheelie”, I really want to know who wrote the English lyrics of this song, because we need to talk.
Now onto the new tracks! ‘Pretty Savage’ is the first new song and contains unmistakable TEDDY production siren sounds that honestly, I am tired of. The song pretty much states that BLACKPINK are ‘bad bitches’. That’s about it.
‘Bet You Wanna’ featuring renown rapper Cardi B is a much better track with the nostalgic, playfully sexy feel and sound of a 90’s Janet Jackson R&B song. Although a little bit cringy (not nearly as cringeworthy as ‘Ice Cream’ with Selena Gomez) with the Shakira reference “Every time I walk / My hips they don’t lie”, the song is pretty much about promising your partner a good time “from the club to the tub” until that person is ‘hooked’. The song is near pop perfection with a simple beat and focusing more on the impressive vocals. Cardi B shines in this track with her concise lines, as does Rosé with her sweet vocals effortlessly hitting those high notes. The song is the shortest on the record, spanning 2 minutes and 39 seconds, but this is forgivable, considering it is one of the better tracks off the album. You won’t even notice that it’s completely in English because you’ll be enjoying listening to it too much.
‘Lovesick Girls’ is the perfect song to hero the album as it feels anthemic and empowering. The song is also the first time that any BLACKPINK members have had any creative input in their music, with both Jisoo and Jennie contributing to some of the lyrics of the song, although we don’t know exactly how much they actually contributed. This anthemic track infused with acoustic guitar and EDM, sounds somewhat different to other tracks in BLACKPINK‘s catalog (despite TEDDY still being in the production chair) and is intended to address dealing with pain after heartache. But with lyrics like “we were born to be alone” and “everyone eventually leaves”, the song is deceptively joyful and one would think that the concept of the message is better than its execution.
‘Crazy Over You’ is a hypnotic trap song with a retro hip-hop arrangement that practically shares the exact same message as ‘Bet You Wanna’, but without Cardi B’s rap lines and it isn’t as good. The tone of the completely English track suits Jisoo’s voice the most and showcases her impressive vocal abilities. Unfortunately, the song ends too abruptly and feels too short.
‘Love to Hate Me’, a song addressing a turbulent relationship and dismissing a jealous ex, is BLACKPINK’s third song off ‘THE ALBUM’ that is also completely in English, and for me, sounds a bit too similar to BIGBANG unit GD&TOP’s song ‘Zutter’ (also under YG Entertainment, also produced by TEDDY) with the melody and rhythm of lines “Wake up / Yeah / Make up / Maybe / I need you / Nah / I been good lately / Blowin’ / up / Workin’ / busy…”. The only difference is that GD&TOP’s song ‘Zutter’ is a little bit faster paced, but not by much. The song is also the final TEDDY produced track of the record.
Last but certainly not least, final track ‘You Never Know’ is not produced by TEDDY at all (thank-god) and is an emotionally charged ballad. Equally showcasing each member’s impressive vocals, the song is also the only one with any real depth on the record. With a perfect balance of both Korean and English lyrics, the song has beautifully poetic lines such as, “Even though the whole world is changing, I’m the same” and “You’ll never know my tangled strings”. Despite the song being the slowest on ‘THE ALBUM’, it is also the most powerful.
BLACKPINK’s ‘THE ALBUM’ is purposefully curated to appeal to its International market, specifically to its Western audiences more than anyone else, but it feels incredibly forced. They already have the attention of the world and are a global phenomenon, given that they are currently the biggest girl group in the world. I honestly love the girls, but under the guidance of YG Entertainment and the lack of creative input from the members themselves, apart from a few lines here and there for only one song off ‘THE ALBUM’, the record feels incredibly oppressed and extremely hollow. It is all bells and whistles but lacks personality and heart.
As a BLACKPINK fan, I can’t exactly say that the wait and all the campaigning has been worth it. I feel that after 4 years, BLACKPINK, under YG Entertainment’s rule, are very good at attracting new fans to both their music and K-Pop in general, but aren’t great at retaining them. While ‘THE ALBUM’ may be good for a little while to keep fans fed, it is more likely that the majority that know better and understand K-Pop (including myself) are unsatisfied.
I can’t help but wonder, if YG Entertainment keep using the same formula, if they keep making the fans beg and do all of the work, how long will BLACKPINK’s phenomenon last before the bubble bursts?