Words by Teresa Tran
One could argue Blackpink never left, given how prevalent and unmistakable their presence have been on the front row of runway shows for major fashion houses, on the front cover of major print magazines, and on the top of the internet trends with two buzzy solo releases and one controversial K-drama debut over the past two years.
But first and foremost, Blackpink is a pop group—the biggest K-Pop girl group in the world, to be precise. Their sophomore album Born Pink is made up of the well known fearsome foursome, led by rapper/singer Jennie (Kim Jennie), rapper/dancer Lisa (Lalisa Manobal), singer Jisoo (Kim Jisoo) and singer/guitarist Rosé (Park Chae-young).
The album, released Friday, Sept. 16, suffuses pop-rock and rap anthems about unapologetic girl power and themes of sex positivity, mixed in with a couple of the requisite ballads about heartbreak and fears of vulnerability. If this description sounds familiar, it’s because Born Pink treads the same ground as the group’s first album, The Album, and to an extent, their earlier EPs and debut singles, both lyrically and tonally. The sound and iconic imagery that originally made the group stand out and caused them to soar up the Billboard charts now feels somewhat trite and overdone with this second effort. As much as I wanted to love their sophomore release, Born Pink ultimately left me disappointed about Blackpink’s lack of musical and artistic growth after so much fan anticipation, and overall confused as to the musical narrative the album was trying to impart on the audience. Still, I found some highlights:
The Standout Tracks:"Yeah, Yeah, Yeah;" "Hard to Love;" "Happiest Girl"
You can argue with me, but I think Blackpink are at their most complex and pleasantly surprising when they’re at their most personal. Blinks, think back to “Hope Not” (2019) when Rosé sings “For you, I’m okay with being hurt/ ‘Cause when we were together/ I only gave you scars…” to the tune of a gentle, acoustic ballad. Now we have its partners in “Hard to Love” where Rosé once again croons “You want all of me/ I can’t give that much/ So don’t fall too hard ‘cause I’m hard to love” and in “Don’t make us saints, we’re wards of pain/ The past and a perfect picture/ There’s no one else to blame this time” in “The Happiest Girl.” While the new tracks do feel out of place in an otherwise hard-edged album, they are some of the only songs where we get a peek behind the carefully crafted veneer of Blackpink’s tough outer shell and are allowed to relate to them. “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” works in a similar way, but is contrasted against a happy, synth-pop melody that immediately throws me back to the ‘80s and feels fun to dance to.
The Fun Same Old, Same Old: "Shut Down;" "Typa Girl;" "Ready to Love"
Blackpink are not the only artists to sing about their confident independence and brag about their fame and riches. In fact, “Shut Down”’s lyrics reminded me a lot of Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings,” where Jennie raps “See these dresses? We don’t buy it, we request it” and “Catch me when you hear my Lamborghini/ Go vroom, vroom.” This message is consistent with their Blackpink aesthetic, which if you’re not tired of, will be right up your alley. “Typa Girl” is a great song for rocking out at the club with your girlfriends and it sounds the most sonically and structurally cohesive of all the tracks, whereas “Ready to Love” is unfortunately nothing brand new—musically so similar to “Forever Young” (2018) I almost thought I had heard it somewhere else before.
The Songs That Didn’t Work for Me: "Pink Venom;" "Tally"
As the first lead single drop since their last album in 2020, “Pink Venom” had so many expectations riding on it, and that pressure might have been its enemy. It’s admittedly catchy and intertwined with a good combination of rapping and singing, underlined by a nice hip-hop beat and a typical display of the women’s cool, edgy personas. But on a production level, it sounds disjointed and lacks solid cohesion. The music video for it also utilizes the same formula for their past lead singles. On the other hand, in “Tally,” the “fuck it” energy of the lyrics, although fantastic, contradicts the slowness of the song and leaves you simply bewildered by what mood you’re supposed to be in.
The Surprise MVP: Rosé…and Jisoo?!
Without a doubt, Rosé is the solo that breaks through the monotony of the album, but to my surprise, it’s Jisoo whose vocals stand out to me the most. Particularly in “Shut Down” and “The Happiest Girl,” her singing ability oscillates between deep vibrato and sweet high notes layered to an expert level and gives the album a much needed boost. Basically: More Jisoo solos please! Where is my Jisoo solo album?!
My big questions remain: Is this all there is to Blackpink? Forever dropping music about the coexisting duality of “black” and “pink” and never the intersection of the two? After finishing my umpteenth listen, I am still wondering about the story Blackpink was trying to weave with this new album. Are there no new lessons and experiences from the past two years that these women can sing and rap about? Do they have any new musical narratives to tell beyond having to put up a strong front and being afraid to let their walls down? I’m also pondering: Is it fair to demand more songs and better quality from Blackpink simply because of how hypervisible they are in the industry? After all, the biggest girl group in the world have declared their return and given us their new chapter after much demand. But we are still left eagerly waiting for their next evolution.
Published on September 20, 2022
Words by Teresa Tran
Teresa Tran (she/her) is an American-born Vietnamese writer and filmmaker based in Atlanta, Georgia, with a background in theater and community organizing. She has a B.A. in English and Women’s Studies and a B.S.Ed in English Education from the University of Georgia and studied British Literature at the University of Oxford. She is currently writing and directing her own short films and working on her debut novel. You can find her on Twitter at @teresatran__.
Art by Ryan Quan
Ryan Quan is the Social Media Editor for JoySauce. This queer, half-Chinese, half-Filipino writer and graphic designer loves everything related to music, creative nonfiction, and art. Based in Brooklyn, he spends most of his time dancing to hyperpop and accidentally falling asleep on the subway. Follow him on Instagram at @ryanquans.