Pop

Blackpink’s Campy, Club-Ready Debut Is Stuffed With Hip-Hop Beats, K-Pop Hooks, And Plenty Of Swagger

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Blackpink are officially in your area.

Even though the K-pop girl group released a Japanese studio album named after that signature phrase back in 2018, mostly as a means of collecting all their singles to date, this past Friday marked their formal debut full-length, ceremoniously titled The Album. Kicking off said album with the highest-charting female K-pop single to date, “Ice Cream,” a collaboration with Selena Gomez released in late August, the record is already having a huge impact during a year where pop stadium tours have been placed on hold due to the pandemic.

Following the examples of Charli XCX and Taylor Swift before them, Blackpink wrote and recorded The Album during the pandemic, with all four members, Jennie (Kim), Lisa (Lalisa Manoban), Rosé (Chae-young Park), and Jisoo (Ji-soo Kim), singing in English, save a few Korean verses here and there. Though American and other English-speaking audiences are growing more and more accustomed to singing along to pop songs in other languages — due not just to the influx of Latinx pop, but other K-Pop groups like BTS — the increased accessibility of lyrics can’t hurt. Not that anything was holding them back in the first place, it’s almost hard to keep up with the speed at which the group’s songs break and set records when it comes to most streamed and most watched.

Aside from the success of their solo singles, like their record-breaking 2019 hit “Kill This Love,” or the widely-remixed and insanely-catchy “DDU-DU DDU-DU,” co-signs from American pop stars have been pouring in all year. After a huge feature on Lady Gaga’s Chromatica for the hypnotic single “Sour Candy” earlier this year, their Gomez-featuring hit “Ice Cream” includes co-writing credits from both Ariana Grande and Victoria Monét. The cherry on top, when it comes to massive guest stars, comes in the form of one Cardi B, the first rapper the group has collaborated with.

“Bet You Wanna” is a delicious, swaggering hit that combines an acoustic guitar, twinkling harmonies, and a top-form Cardi verse delivered in signature raunchy fashion. It’s no “WAP,” but even with all their own pull on the charts, it never hurts to have the reigning queen of hip-hop show up on your debut album. As The Grammys noted in an interview with the group around the project’s release, they’re often referred to as “the biggest girl group in the world,” and that’s not a title they take lightly. But the reason Blackpink is so easy to fall in love with is because of the obvious diva influences they wear on their sleeves, and because a thick layer of campiness helps confirm that though they’re deadly serious about making excellent pop music, they never take themselves too seriously.

It’s easy to imagine running back the beginning of the chorus on “Crazy Over You” to double-check if that’s another hidden Selena feature or Jennie and Jisoo, as even the phrasing is reminiscent of Gomez’s staccato pop hits (“Cut You Off,” “Let Me Get Me”). Elsewhere, the girls channel Lana Del Rey’s whisper-rap cadence on “Love To Hate Me” and borrow from Gaga’s signature sing-talk rhythms all over the record. None of these references ever come off as derivative or heavy-handed, as the group’s four vocalists often execute these stylistic choices better than the stars they’re drawing from.

Frequently bringing up the dichotomy between the two colors that make up their name in interviews, The Album is definitely full of darker moments that contrast with the campy and clubby technicolor pop elements. The record’s first song, “How You Like That,” relies heavily on trap beats and ominous, warped horns for the taunting chorus, and one of the project’s earliest singles, “Lovesick Girls,” is anything but hopeful when it comes to love. Pop music devoted to discussing toxic relationships never goes out of style, so all these songs hit harder than ever during a year marked by isolation and disappointment, but to their credit they’re never heavy enough to deter singing along at the top of your lungs.

What’s perhaps most interesting about Blackpink, though, isn’t the contemporary pop music they trade on, but the way they incorporate hip-hop. Even the most bubblegum-y songs here lean into a heavier beat or some simmering, trap-centric synths from time to time, anchoring this record in rap and R&B as much as pop, including a full-on rap verse from Lisa on “Love To Hate Me.” She’s no Cardi, but it’s not a bad verse by any means. As the post-internet globalization of music and flattening of genre leads us deeper and deeper into a new amalgam of styles and sounds, it’s possible that soon Blackpink won’t just be the biggest girl group in the world when it comes to pop, but hip-hop, too.

The Album is out now via YG Entertainment/Interscope Records. Get it here.

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