“BLACKPINK in your area!” goes the group’s mantra. However, for the last two years, the biggest girl group in the world has not, in fact, been in your area. Their last album, aptly titled THE ALBUM, was released in October 2020. In the K–Pop world, it’s unfathomable for a group, assuming they’re not suffering from low popularity or management issues, to wait two years for a comeback.
Of course, the group didn’t actually disappear off the face of the planet. 2021 spawned two solo releases from group members Rosé and Lisa with –R– and LALISA, respectively. Rosé showed the world her girl–with–a–guitar persona through “On The Ground” and “Gone,” both of which she co–penned. Likewise, Lisa embraced her Thai and hip–hop roots through the self–titled “LALISA” and “MONEY.” In addition to new music, the girls made occasional appearances through their fashion brand sponsorships — Rosé with Yves Saint Laurent, Lisa with Celine, Jennie with Chanel, and Jisoo with Dior. It was high time, however, for the group to make a proper comeback with original music.
Finally, after two years of long and agonizing wait, we’ve reached the end of the long hiatus. BORN PINK presents new material that the world was dying to hear. However, given that the album is mostly in English and consisted of only eight tracks, the wait was not worth it. Instead, we should be alarmed at the group’s hard steer into the Western market and their lack of creative growth, signs of the group slowly losing their K–Pop identity.
The problem with the album starts right at the beginning. Pre–release single “Pink Venom” is quintessential BLACKPINK and follows the “TEDDY Formula,” a renowned style of music by YG Entertainment producer Teddy Park. Dramatic instrumental opening? Check. A nearly identical singing sequence with the members? Check. An anthemic chanting final chorus? Check. The group checks off all the tick boxes of a stereotypical BLACKPINK song, not too dissimilar from previous songs like “DDU–DU DDU–DU,” “Kill This Love,” and “How You Like That,” signaling a clear artistic stagnation with the group. Even a Rihanna interpolation could not save the song from sounding like a carbon copy of their previous hits.
Album track “Typa Girl,” sung completely in English, continues the group’s brand of badass, in–your–face music. It also is vaguely similar to a track from their previous album, “Pretty Savage,” a song with the same messaging but a different sound. The sound change, however, makes the song feel like any stereotypical American hip–hop–inspired pop song. The braggadocious track about being the “typa girl that you wanna take back to your mama house” comes off as uninspired.
This trend is very concerning for this rising K–Pop group. With the two–year gap, it is a perfect period for potential growth or possible experimentation. TEDDY famously said in the BLACKPINK: Light Up The Sky Netflix documentary that the group is “very particular with what [they] put out” and acknowledges that fans wanted more music from the group.
However, with a whopping 32 songs throughout their six–year career, including solos and collaborations, TEDDY’s statement feels like a slap in the face. Rather than providing anything new to the table, they offer us more of the same in BORN PINK, completely with prolonged hiatus in between. With competing groups like TWICE and newer groups like IVE and NewJeans constantly offering fresh sounds and ideas into the ever–evolving K–Pop industry, there is no excuse for BLACKPINK to stagnate artistically.
It doesn’t help that TEDDY produces nearly all of BLACKPINK’s music, leaving him responsible for their lack of musical growth. The girls have limited chances to work with other producers, and even if they do, YG has the ultimate power to choose what music to release. Ryan Tedder, frontman of OneRepublic and renowned American producer, revealed that he worked on a couple of songs with the group. Yet, none of them made the final cut for BORN PINK, and listeners lost the chance of hearing fresh and innovative material from a different producer.
That’s not to say the short album is full of complete duds. “Hard To Love,” a Rosé solo, is arguably the best song from the project. Emulating a mix between Carly Rae Jepsen and Taylor Swift, the Aussie–raised songstress earnestly warns a lover to not “fall too hard, ‘cause [she’s] hard to love,” behind a groovy guitar and bassline. The song captures Rosé's yearning juxtaposed with her reluctance, and the funky production allows her voice to soar.
The album’s only ballad, “The Happiest Girl,” is another standout cut from the album. The girls have struggled with ballad songs in the past, with songs like “You Never Know” or “STAY” never quite hitting an emotional peak. “The Happiest Girl,” however, is the girls’ saddest performance. One could hear the desperate ache of longing as they sing “my heart only wants you / the moment you say no.” The production gives room for the girls’ vocals to occupy space, and when the final chorus hits and the drums finally enter, the emotional impact comes into full force.
The group’s concept has always been simple. BLACKPINK represents two sides of their personalities, a darker and edgier black side, paired with a sweet and bubbly pink side. For an album called BORN PINK, one might have expected more of the pink, but their singles were completely in the black. Most of their promotions give off a dark aura, complete with hip–hop–styled clothing and dramatic performaces. It is hard to tell what the album wants to focus on. If one didn’t check out the rest of their short album, they wouldn’t hear the pink tracks like “Hard To Love” or “The Happiest Girl,” highlighting the contradictory messaging the girls are portraying.
This brings us to the most consequential problem of BORN PINK—the group is continuously being rewarded for their lukewarm efforts, or at least, what their company allows them to put out. BORN PINK became the group’s first number one album on the Billboard 200 albums chart, and the album broke streaming records after streaming records. Music rarely rewards artistic stagnation, and if any other artist, K–Pop or not, puts out sonically similar material to their past projects, they would be bashed by fans on Twitter. Is it right that YG, the group’s entertainment company, can get away with pushing out mediocrity?
It’s also hard to determine if the album is even K–Pop anymore. With the album being more than 50% English, Billboard qualified the album as an English album, sparking some fan disgruntlement as dismissive of the K–Pop group. While many K–Pop releases have English sprinkled throughout their releases, none has made their Korean releases so English–forward. “Tally,” track seven on BORN PINK, was at one time a song meant for American singer Bebe Rexha. Even Korean cuts like “Pink Venom” have an entirely English chorus. This blatant appeal to the Western market is making BLACKPINK lose their K–Pop identity, and without it, what really makes the group all that different from other girl groups like Fifth Harmony or The Pussycat Dolls?
Fear not, as the title track “Shut Down” offers a glimpse of what a musically evolved BLACKPINK could be like. Sampling Paganini's "La Campanella," the song captures the group’s badass style while not sounding like a carbon copy of their previous anthemic tracks. Instead, “Shut Down” has a mystic and ambitious sound that matches the group’s rising status, complete with lyrics like “praying for my downfall, many have tried, baby.” This type of confidence doesn’t contradict the group’s K–Pop origins, and its music video pays homage to their past releases while shutting them down to make room for the future. The hope is, then, that this blossoming K–Pop group would actually break new ground with their upcoming projects, whenever they decide to make another comeback.