To call Blackpink the biggest girl band in the world is no overstatement. Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé, and Lisa—a quartet of pop behemoths who double up as some of fashion’s most in-demand stars, sitting front row at shows from Celine to Burberry—have had a marathon-like journey to the top.
First launched in 2016, and part of K-pop management company YG Entertainment, the girls have spent four years releasing EPs and singles that have broken world records cementing them as stars, selling out arenas and stadiums everywhere from Tokyo to Paris.
If you haven’t heard of Blackpink, their achievements are a list of firsts and mosts. They’re the first K-pop group to play Coachella, and have two music videos with one billion views on YouTube. They’ve broken the record for the most-viewed music video in 24 hours on YouTube (twice), while also being the most-followed girl group on Spotify.
This week marks the long-anticipated release of their debut full-length, Korean-language studio album, aptly titled The Album. (Technically, their 2018 Japanese language offering, BLACKPINK In Your Area, was their first.) Semantics aside, it’s an eight-track sonic voyage through the badass behaviour one must possess to be a hugely famous K-pop idol. Slickly produced, sweet at times, but always bursting with energy, it’s Blackpink through and through. Here’s everything new fans (and returning ones) need to know about it.
It all came together over lockdown
Written and recorded entirely in lockdown (perhaps the first time in years Blackpink have had time to sit still), the pandemic offered the girls the rare chance to make music in one place for a while. It’s intended as a gift to their fans who’ve been waiting for a new body of work.
Interestingly, both Jennie and Jisoo have written the lyrics for one of the songs, Lovesick Girls. The focus, instead of quantity, was on quality. “That’s been a big thing for us,” Rosé said to presenter Zane Lowe on Beats 1. “Not only giving people a lot of songs, but we’ve been trying to work on a few songs that we can complete and give our best performance with.” The result is probably the most bombastic lockdown record you’ll hear this year.
The collaborations are massive
Half measures are an unfamiliar concept to Blackpink: their work rests on the idea of maximalism and perfectly preened pop. So when it comes to collaborators, they’re understandably picky with who jumps on their songs. Having linked up with Dua Lipa on the super-deluxe edition of her first record for Kiss and Make Up, and then with Lady Gaga for Chromatica’s Sour Candy, the features on this record are just as impressive.
Not only does Selena Gomez make an appearance on Ice Cream, but Cardi B also features on groove-laced track on Bet You Wanna where she raps about having the upper hand in a relationship: “One of a kind / you can’t replace me.” Two chart-smashing entities at the top of their game on the same track—what’s not to love?
The K-pop sound shares similar characteristics across the board: dance-heavy, EDM/pop designed for big stadium settings. But on The Album, Blackpink forego that recognisable sound to create their most diverse body of work to date. While past EPs have honed in on jaw-dropping dance breaks and huge choruses, remaining cohesive throughout, this new project shows every facet of Blackpink’s potential. Sledgehammer trap-pop like How You Like That segues into the dreamy electronica of Lovesick Girls, an ode to being bored of chasing affection that features hollers of “We were born to be alone.” There’s a snakecharm, N.E.R.D-feel to Crazy Over You that sits in stark contrast to the final track, an almost-ballad called You Never Know. This is Blackpink embracing eclecticism, and flexing their ability to do something different.
Ariana Grande and David Guetta are in the liner notes
It’s become customary for tracks written by western pop’s biggest names to make their way to Korea, a market that favours the kind of pop that’s fallen slightly out of fashion with our own hip-hop obsessed audiences. In the process of translation (most songs here slip between Korean and moments of English), the song’s lyrics are switched up with melodies and production remaining. That’s why you’ll see some familiar names if you look at the liner notes of The Album.
Ariana Grande and her co-writing queen Victoria Monét are behind the catchy hook on Ice Cream, while Adele’s go-to collaborator Ryan Tedder (of OneRepublic fame) has a credit on Bet You Wanna. What’s more, David Guetta has lent his radio-ready production skills to Lovesick Girls, transforming it into a liberating, club-friendly banger.
Great things come in small packages
In the age of the long and drawn out pop releases, formulated to soak up every spot on the charts, there’s something refreshingly brisk about Blackpink’s debut LP. Just eight tracks and barely 30 minutes in length, and doing everything it wants to within that time frame, it’s a reminder that good things still come in small packages. Free of fluff, it’s also the perfect intro to both K-pop and Blackpink more specifically.
If you’ve found the scene overwhelming, either for the vast number of artists in that arena or for the hypercharged visuals and sounds, The Album acts as a pleasant middle-ground for beginners. While it carries those famous K-pop codes (huge singalong hooks, EDM-leaning production), it’s also one of the most accessible K-pop records to date.
Blackpink’s meticulous focus on melody and production has allowed the group to make nods to trap and hip-hop culture on its tracks, too. That versatility alone makes this the K-pop album for the genre’s new age of dominance. Listen now before the household hype fully sets in.