BLACKPINK Are Making One Giant Step for K-Pop in North America, So What's Next?
The highest-charting K-Pop group in Canada are reaching for the sun (baes).
BLACKPINK have emerged as an unavoidable force in the K-pop scene, and the new group is already making moves worldwide. Last year, BLACKPINK became the first K-pop girl group to debut on the Canadian Hot 100 with the single "PLAYING WITH FIRE", which features a synth-heavy backing and vibrant visuals. The girls switch tongues on the track, blending Korean verses with an English chorus. Internationally, the group's four music videos on their YouTube channel have amassed nearly 200 million views, proving their popularity knows no borders. Unlike many other K-pop groups, most of BLACKPINK's members did not grow up in Korea. Only Ji Soo was born and raised in Korea; Jennie was born in Korea but raised in New Zealand, Rosé born in New Zealand and raised in Australia, and Lisa lived in Thailand until Korean age 15.
"While living in New Zealand, I usually made or found Korean food nearby, so when coming back to Korea it was just like coming back home. I lived in Korea when I was young, so it was great to be back, close to my family," said Jennie. "Getting to know a whole new culture and fitting in was hard but having my members as friends and having them help me throughout everything was always such a blessing. I think I've definitely settled in now," said Rosé.
Social media has been key to amping up anticipation for BLACKPINK's releases. The group's initially mysterious Instagram account gained tens of thousands of followers soon after it was launched in June 2016 thanks to shoutouts from iconic labelmates like G-Dragon. A month later, their debut was received with huge enthusiasm by both loyal YG Entertainment fans and general audiences. The group's first singles "BOOMBAYAH" and "WHISTLE" topped Billboard's World Digital Songs in addition to Korean charts. The formula of YG's marketing influence combined with the girls' undeniably catchy singles, captivating stage presence, strong vocals, and beautiful looks has molded an ideal pop appeal that audiences worldwide can buy into. YG drew out the wait for their new girl group for about four years, but after revealing the members' names and photos in late June audiences were quick to respond with feverish excitement."There were times of anxiety and difficulties but our members made it through together," said Jennie of the anticipation until their debut.
"It was challenging but also definitely worth the wait. Although the wait felt like forever, for some reason, the longer it took the more motivated we became … In fact, I'm very grateful that we were given that time to invest in ourselves and our craft before we were exposed to the public," added Rosé."I feel like I'm still a trainee training on a real stage. The only difference is people recognize me and I kind of like it," said Lisa.
It seems BLACKPINK's debut came at an ideal time. K-pop is generally on the rise among Canadian audiences, as reflected by the growing popularity of events like k-pop conventions in Toronto and Vancouver. BLACKPINK's foothold on Canadian and international charts spells good news for the group, who have been struck by how well "PLAYING WITH FIRE" is doing. "It's amazing to see that our music is taking over charts not only in Korea but in various countries all over the world. I kept thinking to myself, 'is this really our music?'" shared Ji Soo.
Jennie mentions Alessia Cara's "Here" as a Canadian favourite and she and Rosé are both fans of The Weeknd. As for Canadian locations on their travel list, Ji Soo looks forward to enjoying the country's natural and historic sites, Jennie mentioned Niagara Falls, and Lisa wants to visit Vancouver."It would be a dream come true to explore such an amazing country and I can't wait to visit someday," said Rosé.
The girls describe their connection with fans who don't understand Korean but still love their music as "an unfathomable feeling" that speaks to music's power of communication. "It's really not just about the language, but the mutual understanding that we're all capable of sharing whether you understand the words or not."
Arguably, despite their own merit, the stage for BLACKPINK's debut chart success was set by their YG Entertainment predecessors like k-pop heavyweights BIGBANG and 2NE1, who the girls claim to be inspired and humbled by. These groups' past international success has built a lot of the hype surrounding the label and created a platform that was ready to launch BLACKPINK into instant success. Although the girls know it is going to be challenging to reach their "sunbaes"' (more experienced labelmates) standards, Lisa shared they look forward to mentoring future groups themselves. They are focused on displaying the best of their own group, and they cite their fans as their main motivation to do well.
"Sometimes when I felt like I couldn't do it or it felt impossible, I always took the time to kind of meditate on the core reason as to 'why' it was important to me. Whatever it is that I do, it's a lot easier for me to accomplish it when I truly feel the need for it. Sometimes you forget. But all you have to do is stop, re-think, and put it all back into perspective," said Rosé.
Diyana Noory is a writer based in Ontario. Follow her on Twitter.