Blackpink Offer High-Octane K-Pop Excess on ‘The Album’

Among the most unanticipated developments in music over the last decade is the international ascent of K-pop. The boy and girl bands of the early aughts seemed surely gone for good, only to be reenvisioned on a whole new scale in the far east. BTS have already exploded and made history, but now it’s time for the girls. Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé, and Lisa make up Blackpink, a Korean girl group that catapulted further to fame after their Coachella performance last year. Their showcase of animated, high-gloss pop and hip-hop, replete with consummately choreographed dance routines, demands attention. Blackpink had already built a devoted base of fans, known as Blinks, and released several EPs, live records, and uniquely South Korean single albums, but only now have unveiled their full-length debut. Simply titled, “The Album,” it is closer in length to an EP, but packs plenty of personality into its eight tracks of hyperactive pop perfection.

The album kicks off with lead single “How You Like That,” which made history with its number of YouTube views within the first day of its release over the summer. The girls get straight to crooning over colorful sound candy that builds into an epic break, and launches into an amped up trap beat that recalls Diplo’s most energetic productions. The lyrics are playful fare, with the taunting titular question leading into nonsensical snippets like “bada bing, bada boom,” clipped from the groups 2016 hit “Boombayah.” By the end, the track transforms into a relentlessly upbeat riot of clanging drums and animated antics. “Ice Cream” defaults to another hard-hitting trap groove, and finds the girls joining forces with Selena Gomez. They run through lines boasting about a sweetness hidden behind an icy exterior, flexing with hip-hop posturing of the most feminine variety, and drawing from a dynamic mix of pop culture, with moments that echo everyone from Gwen Stefani to Nicki Minaj.

Although they don’t segue seamlessly, the tracks are sequenced in a way that runs like a hyperactive DJ mix, keeping energy levels high, building and releasing tension in quick spurts. When Jisoo mentions the group’s catchphrase, “Blackpink in your area” just as the drum track kicks in on “Pretty Savage,” it’s easy to visualize a stadium full of raging fans mobilizing. Meta references keep coming, as the girls throw in the gunfire gibberish, “Ddu-du Ddu-du,” from last year’s track of that name, featured in the video game “Let’s Dance.” While the band often opts for beats that would have sounded fresh about ten years ago, it’s hard to imagine musical stylings that would better suit their particular act, as the flashy, shape shifting sounds on display mirror the singers’ cartoonish excesses. “Bet You Wanna,” the first song entirely in English, focuses some of the manic energy into a more streamlined, glossy pop track. A flirty and feisty succession of sugary hooks gives way to a quick feature from Cardi B, who puts her stamp on the track, but surprisingly comes across as a bit tame, compared to the spurts of rapping on earlier tracks from Blackpink themselves, who can take the wild spontaneity that characterizes rappers like Cardi to new heights. 

After four tracks of braggadocio, “Lovesick Girls” suggests a certain vulnerability in its chorus of “We were born to be alone / But why we still looking for love?” Based on the sprightly delivery, however, something might have got lost in translation. The song appears a celebration of independence, with the refrain of “We are the lovesick girls” coming across as a boast. Club-ready snares cue a bubbly EDM hook, and the girls take turns switching between English and Korean vocals, keeping things consistently high octane. “Crazy Over You” is an onslaught of infectious hooks, with a snake charmer melody working its way in between verses, along with a musical turnaround that recalls Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack.” Feisty, spitfire rap verses launch into condensed, belted melodies, and coy utterances build to climactic declarations of infatuation, carried by a festive dancefloor romp.   

“Love to Hate Me” is instantly infectious, with hushed speaking interspersed with beaming singalongs. Razor sharp snare triplets splattered through the song make for an especially propulsive number, and Lisa raps a verse with an attitude that brings the taunting title home. The girls continue to call out haters with cool confidence on, “You Never Know,” but trade in their usual frivolity for a more sentimental tone. The song reveals a new side of the group, finally retreating from the frenzy, and slowing down the pace after seven tracks. While none of the four singers has uttered a shabby syllable on the album, they all especially show off their vocal chops on the closing number, as its more conventional structure features freely flowing melodies that allow them to soar. 

It’s fitting that Blackpink chose to title this record “The Album,” as it’s in line with an automaton quality that the group can give off. The effortlessness with which the four girls emulate disparate styles and run through hooks can seem rather machine-like. They absorb Western music and beam it back amplified to new levels. The Korean influence makes its way not only into the lyrics but into the deadpan manner in which they take on cartoonish excesses, never wincing for a second. Everything is consummately executed, from the flourish with which the singers belt out choruses to the accuracy with which they nail cadences in their rap verses. It’s a celebration of manufactured music that could only come from Korea. Blackpink keep their lyrics frivolous and flirty, and fill their music with constant contortions, cramming more high octane adventure and catchy choruses into a twenty-four minute running time as most artists would offer over the span of several albums. Their full-length debut is an energetic onslaught from four colorful personalities that capture the spirit of K-pop in all its glory.

The Album” releases Oct. 2 on Apple Music