K-pop’s decadelong ascent in the U.S. will crest with one sure bet this year: “Born Pink,” the brand new album from megastars Blackpink.
Lisa, Rosé, Jennie and Jisoo made history with their 2019 Coachella set, hit No. 2 on the Billboard 200 with 2020’s debut “The Album” and racked up fans from pop’s A-list (most recently Taylor Swift, who was filmed dancing to single “Pink Venom” at the VMAs this year).
But while the group has a U.S. arena tour lined up this fall (including two dates at the Banc of California Stadium on Nov. 19 and Nov. 20), some Blackpink fans fret that the eight-song “Born Pink” could be the end of an era for the group responsible for some of the genre’s all-time finest tracks, “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du” and “How You Like That” among them.
Here are five takeaways from the new LP.
1. Is this an end — or the end — for Blackpink?
In the 2020 Netflix documentary “Blackpink: Light up the Sky,” Lisa said, “It doesn’t matter if we grow old and get replaced by a new younger generation…because they will still remember how we shone so bright.” They had just walked offstage from their 2019 Coachella performance as the first female Korean group to play there — a highlight of anyone’s career. However she meant it — capturing a peak achievement, or acknowledging that her genre churns quickly — Blackpink seemed to have an end in sight.
One particular ending may come in 2023, when their contract with Korean label YG (which fans often accuse of mismanaging the group) is set to expire. Will they renew it, go solo, disband forever, take a hiatus or reconfigure at a new label? “Born Pink” would be a short, somewhat slight valediction, so let’s hope this is just a turning point.
2. Platinum with no features.
Since 2018, Blackpink have been the go-to collaborators for pop stars who wanted to liven up a single and get in on the ultra-devoted K-pop audience. It made sense that Selena Gomez (“Ice Cream”), Lady Gaga (“Sour Candy”), Dua Lipa (“Kiss and Make Up”) and Cardi B (“Bet You Wanna”) would turn to this foursome that, more than many peers, felt attuned to the aesthetics of Top 40 pop and hip-hop. If they’d wanted to call in the cavalry for a star-packed LP, they certainly had the Rolodex to do so. But “Born Pink” is undiluted Blackpink — the album sports zero high-profile features. If it goes platinum, it might be time to update the J. Cole meme.
3. An 1800s rock star inspired them.
“Shut Down,” the album’s second single, makes unusually jaunty use of waltz time. While the production is all sub-bass grime and nimble, ferocious rapping, that regal little string riff comes from a sample of composer Niccolò Paganini’s “La Campanella.” In the early 1800s, Paganini shacked up with a rich Tuscan mistress while he learned guitar, and Blackpink have some fun with that precedent here: “A rock star, a pop star but rowdier…Praying for my downfall, many have tried, baby / Catch me when you hear my Lamborghini.”
4. Love him or loathe him, Teddy Park is all over this record.
Blackpink’s longtime producer Teddy Park is a divisive figure for some devoted Blinks. His vision for K-pop’s future — smashing Pharrell-style drum loops, a travelogue of string samples and cascades of synth-pop together — can sound either exhilarating or obvious. He has a hand in four of “Born Pink’s” eight tracks, including lead single “Pink Venom,” which used every one of his old tricks. He’s also behind the charmingly yacht-rockin’ “Hard to Love” and the EDM powerhouse album closer “Ready for Love.” Is the Electric Daisy Carnival wave of 2011 far enough in the past to be nostalgia yet? Given the fast metabolism of K-pop, it might be.
5. New Wave, still cresting
‘80s new wave has begun to replace disco as the dominant retro-sound of pop. Tracks from Dua Lipa, the Kid Laroi and most famously the Weeknd hit chart heights with sparkly arpeggios, one-handed keyboard licks and four-four thumps. Blackpink try their hand at that well-tested formula on “Yeah Yeah Yeah,” a song that feels tailor-made for confetti cannons and a sea of light sticks, with the welcome spin of being the most heavily Korean-language song on the record. It isn’t a single yet, but it feels like a sleeper fan favorite when they come to town in November.