‘The Album’: The Long-Awaited Debut of BLACKPINK

The massively popular South Korean girl group busts down international barriers further with their long-awaited debut, a tight set of entirely self-assured, trap-tinged hip-pop.

"BLACKPINK in your area," they declare in the opening seconds of their 2016 debut. 

BLACKPINK? In my area? It was a thrilling idea – even if no one knew who they were. Yet.

Four years since riding their Honda Motocompos onto the music scene with their boastful, bada-bing bada-boom-filled "Boombayah", they still haven't left – nor will they anytime soon.

To understand BLACKPINK's reign is to appreciate the way the stage was set: while the superstardom the group's achieved wasn't promised (or precedented), the foursome was primed for success to a degree by following in the footsteps of their YG predecessors, the since-disbanded, much-beloved 2NE1. (Never forgotten, long may they reign.) Their debut also came after boundary-breaking crossover attempts made by veteran acts like Wonder Girls, BoA, Girls' Generation and PSY in years past, and right in the middle of the entirely game-changing global rise of BTS, all of whom contributed to the overall push of South Korean pop in the world. 

Singing and dancing pop star skills aside, the girls – Jennie, Jisoo, Lisa and Australia's own Rosé – possess a powerful, strong-but-sweet attitude as a unit, a heartwarming sense of camaraderie, and a fierce individuality in their solo ventures as influencers and headline-makers. One week, Jennie's (literally) going "Solo", the next, Lisa's gone viral (again) with her legs and her "SWALLA" dance moves, made famous by plenty of Twitter fancams. Of course, Jisoo's upcoming gig as the lead role in K-drama, Snowdrop, is garnering much attention and the promised release of Rosé's long-awaited solo project remains front of mind for Rosénators.

While many K-pop girl groups opt for cute concepts, the BLACKPINK brand is fairly consistently in-your-face: they deliver ample cockiness, even at their bubbliest ("Give you all of this baby, call me pretty and nasty," Lisa snarls on "As If It's Your Last").

The hip-hop and trap influences in their music also fits in nicely in territories like America, which also helps to explain why they've been able to crossover so well stateside. Whether they were prepared for this kind of acclaim – from Tonight Show appearances to headlining Coachella to a Netflix documentary – is another story, but they surely seem down for the ride thus far: they are the most-followed group on YouTube, period. The members of BLACKPINK are the four highest-followed K-pop stars, period. They are, quite simply, the biggest girl group on the planet in 2020.

As a result, BLACKPINK essentially have had the music industry wrapped 'round their fingers, from Dua Lipa to Lady Gaga. The A-list assists on The Album's tracklisting alone should speak for themselves: it's BLACKPINK's world, and we're all just trying to join in on the fun.

The Album, to that end, is the culmination of four years of hard work (way longer, counting the years of training before their debut) in the form of a short but sweet eight-song set of straight-to-the-point, cocky, hip-pop and danceable bops for the masses.

"How You Like That?" kicked off the campaign as a pre-release earlier in the year, showcasing the group's tried-and-true style – melodic verses, militant cries, bass-shaking beat drops and bratty raps, following similar hits like "DDU-DU DDU-DU" and "Kill This Love".

"Now, look at you … now look at me," they scoff. To be fair, they're right: how could we compare? While not reinventing the BLACKPINK wheel, it did further cement the brand – and shatter some more YouTube records in the process.

A few months later, right in time for the stickiest part of summer stateside, the girls teamed with their newest BFF, Selena Gomez, for a flirty scoop of "Ice Cream", supplying a more laidback vibe as the girls traded off trap-tinged teases between the Rare singer. (All that s-"Sour Candy" with Lady Gaga, and they still managed to have a sweet tooth.)

Although their plans were slightly thwarted by the pandemic, the fierce five still managed to pull up in their ice cream truck and make the Victoria Monet and Ariana Grande co-penned link-up feel like a fun escape at a time when real life has felt anything but breezy.

The song is almost entirely in English, which would unknowingly be a hint of what would come on The Album. While it's standard for a smattering of English phrases to show up in K-pop songs, this record is heavily in English, and feels way more deliberately crafted with a broader audience in mind to match the global demand beyond just their Korean-speaking fans.

Like much of their discography, the record was largely helmed by acts within YG subsidiary The Black Label, including Teddy Park, Vince, R. Tee, Løren, Danny Chung and 24, as well as longtime collaborator Bekuh Boom, plus a few surprise superstar features thrown into the liner notes.

"Lovesick Girls" is not only the record's title track (the focus track of the album, basically), but perhaps the biggest behind-the-boards surprise: it was co-crafted with BLACKPINK members Jisoo and Jennie themselves, as well as "Titanium" superstar David Guetta.

Drifting along a propulsive guitar strum, the song celebrates the general futility of romance and bursts forward with a general restless energy, à la Icona Pop's "I Love It", as the girls throw their hands up and resign with a yell: "We are the lovesick girls!"

The song bursts with a bubbling electro-pop energy, recalling some of Guetta's own '10s collaborations like "Where Them Girls At", as the ladies toss and turn through their tumultuous feelings – and they're aware of their own contradictions, at least: "Everyone eventually leaves / I've become numb to crying / Hurt over and over again ... but we're still looking for love". Oh, the hypocrisy of the human condition!

Deeper into the album, they cheer up and go after that love – or lust, anyway. They turn on their charms on the seductive "Crazy Over You", which winds and weaves its way through a kind of early '00s-style exotic Middle Eastern beat (punctuated by silly squeaky stuffed animal noises, for an added cheeky touch), setting their sights on a man and sending other girls "to wishing wells".

"I know I'll have enemies long as you're into me, but I don't care, 'cause I got what I need," they confidently declare. What competition, honestly?

The Album is full of superstars, including arguably one of the year's biggest names in music: Cardi B, still riding high from the top, making it drop, and leading to bucket and mop shortages 'round the world off the global No. 1 success of her inescapable "WAP" with Megan Thee Stallion.

Although the thought of BLACKPINK teaming up with the Wet Ass Popstar herself on "Bet You Wanna" might have initially provoked an eyebrow raise, as it turns out, Bartier Bardi is keeping things pretty PG. The catchy cut was co-written with hitmaker Ryan Tedder, as well as Melanie Fontana (BTS, CLC, Britney Spears), recalling the breezy, tease-y uptempo fun of acts like Meghan Trainor, Demi Lovato and Little Mix.

In fact, if anyone's providing the scandalous lyricism on this album, it's BLACKPINK themselves.

"Pretty Savage" is pretty appropriately titled: the song finds the girls in their most jaw-droppingly badass form, cockily purring over a drippy beat and sawing synths, dropping instantly quote-worthy gems left ("Born skinny bitch") and right ("Stay mad, we not alike"). It's a pretty gasp-worthy display of savagery, especially considering the squeaky-clean standards of K-pop. BLACKPINK, however, don't play by the rules.

From their all-female collaborations thus far to their lyricism, there's also a distinct feminist energy flowing through The Album. And even if they're (begrudgingly) looking for love at times, they sure aren't making a man a priority over their own happiness and success. Sisters are doin' it for themselves – a modern take on the rallying cry of "Girl Power!", if you will.

"Wake up, yeah / Make up, maybe / I need you? Nah / I been good lately," they proclaim on the unbothered, no-drama anthem, "Love to Hate Me," a trap-tinged kiss-off to a dud or two that don't deserve the affections of these booked and busy queens.

Prior to this album campaign, at least, the girls weren't ones to reveal their vulnerable side too often but their closing moment, "You'll Never Know", offers just a glimpse into the more somber side of celebrity. The girls face their naysayers and stand tall in their truth with an assured sign-off, pushing past the self-doubt.

"You'll never know unless you walk in my shoes / You'll never know…'cause everybody sees what they wanna see / It's easier to judge me than to believe," they croon on the collection's sole slow, swaggering selection, allowing their voices to shine without all the bells and whistles.

The most impressive part of The Album isn't really any one specific sound or song, but what it represents by its mere existence: the superstar writers and entertainers that line the credits; the self-assured lyrics, largely sung in English to reach their increasingly global audience of BLINKs; and the four, empowered young women (okay, lovesick girls) together on top of the world – one in which girl groups often have to fight hard for their moment to shine, no less.

The Album might technically be the formal "start" for BLACKPINK, but really, it's just the next step in their revolution.

This article was written by Bradley Stern, catch him on Twitter here.

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