From Bad Bunny to BTS, we’re in a golden era of global sounds dominating American culture. There’s never been a more diverse moment in pop music, but it is always important to remember that the artists involved in this movement are not a monolith. They all represent their own paths, their own narratives, and their own ambitions. Even in the K-pop world, the swoony funk-pop of recent BTS hits has a very different appeal than the more cutesy bubblegum of Twice, who in turn stand apart from the fierce confidence of Blackpink. It’s easy for casual music listeners to lump them all together, but on Saturday night at Los Angeles’ Banc Of California Stadium, Blackpink demonstrated themselves to be a singular talent that can’t easily be boxed in.
For one, Blackpink’s music and aesthetic is less defined by K-pop as many of their peers. While their affiliation with YG Entertainment as well as their formation and years of training follow the same path as many of their K-pop counterparts, at this point, their interests seem to be more about putting their own spin on an American representation of pop, rather than the other way around. This puts the four women — Lisa, Jennie, Rosé, and Jisoo — in a unique position, where they can push boundaries and forge their own path in both their music and the way that music is portrayed. On Saturday night, that included everything from all four artists having a twerking competition to Lisa showing off her pole dancing skills. It was hardly R-rated, but definitely stood in contrast to their more all-ages-appropriate contemporaries.
Their push for Western appeal has been a smashing success. After being the first female K-pop group to perform at Coachella in 2019, they’ve found themselves playing at this year’s VMAs, covering Rolling Stone, and with their recently released Born Pink, topping the Billboard 200 chart. Saturday night was another milestone that the women noted: their first US stadium gig. The quartet was emotional throughout the set when they’d reflect on their journey, so much so that Jisoo had to turn to her native Korean to properly express herself. But with the expert choreography, pyrotechnics, and a guest appearance from Camila Cabello (performing her own “Liar” with Jisoo), Blackpink proved more than up for the task.
Whereas many K-pop groups feature more members than you can count on one hand, the focused nature of Blackpink (much like one of their inspirations 2NE1) allows for each of the women to hold their own in the spotlight and stand apart. Jennie has been maybe the most visible presence in American culture so far, something that will only increase when she appears with The Weeknd in HBO’s The Idol, where Jisoo holds the distinction of being the member who has yet to release a solo single yet — and feels most rooted in Korean heritage. But live, it is Lisa and Rosé who are the biggest standouts. Lisa’s dancing skills impress in their ease, with the Thai singer/rapper able to hold her beaming smile while making the moves look effortless. Rosé, on the other hand, was clearly the strongest vocalist of the bunch, oftentimes handling the reaching pre-choruses before the entire group would join in for a refrain. While no one wants to think about an eventual breakup, there is already movement from most to have their own solo careers, and all seem to have their own unique formula that could find standalone success.
But the best moments of the performance were when their camaraderie showed. During a between-song banter session, the four women strolled from one side of their stadium-spanning stage to the other, seemingly offering an off-the-cuff acapella version of the just performed “Typa Girl.” It was playful and kind of snowballed on itself, with Blackpink laughing through it and eventually noting “I just love that song.” And in the encore, the carefully scripted performance became loose, with the stars galloping around the stage with cameras following them, playing both to the audience in front of them and those watching on the massive screen. The strongest songs, including “How You Like That,” “Heartbreak Girls,” and “As If It’s Your Last” all went over perfectly, but it was often these moments between the songs and outside the choreographed perfection that best brought their fans into their world.
With these being the final dates of a relatively brief American tour, Blackpink could still find more peaks to hit in their continued quest for world domination. They still haven’t landed that ubiquitous smash hit in America or Grammys success or many of the other benchmarks that come with the level they are operating on. The ingredients are there, though. It all feels inevitable.