The day before the showcase, the ladies of Blackpink are ensconced in a hotel suite high above downtown L.A. Lisa, dressed in a gray fleece and a checkered coat, spies the Hollywood sign through a corner window and bounds off a couch for a closer look. Her bandmates, cozied up in brightly colored sweatshirts and cardigans, admit they weren’t expecting Los Angeles in February to be so chilly. During some rare downtime the previous day, they went shopping in Santa Monica. “It was supposed to be for fashion,” says Jennie, “but we ended up just grabbing anything that was warm.”
This is Blackpink’s first trip to L.A., but it has been almost a decade in the making. The group’s members came to Seoul from all over the world starting in 2010 to take part in YG’s rigorous recruitment and training process. The company and its competitors hold tryouts both within and far beyond Korea (Rosé traveled to Sydney from her home in Melbourne), seeking recruits who are typically preteens or teens, ethnically Korean and fluent in the language, though these qualities are not mandatory. Lisa, who auditioned in her native Thailand in 2010, didn’t speak any Korean when she began training in Seoul in 2011.
For all four women, joining YG meant enrolling in a kind of full-time pop-star academy that Jennie calls “more strict than school” and that Rosé likens to The X Factor with dorm rooms. For 12 hours a day, seven days a week, the future members of Blackpink -- along with, by Jennie’s estimate, 10-20 other aspiring singers who cycled through the project -- studied singing, dancing and rapping, taking part in monthly tests designed to identify their strengths and weed out subpar trainees. “Somebody would come in with a piece of paper and stick it on a wall, and it would say who did best, who did worst, who’s going home,” recalls Jennie, whom YG initially steered toward rapping because she spoke fluent English. “You get a score -- A, B, C,” Lisa explains. “Lisa would always get A’s for everything,” adds Jennie with a laugh.
The process was lengthy. Before Blackpink debuted in 2016, Jennie spent six years in training, Lisa and Jisoo five and Rosé four. For the members who had left behind life outside South Korea, the pace of training on top of the culture shock was sometimes tough. “I’d call my parents crying,” recalls Rosé. “But as much as it was hard for me to cope with all of that, it made me more hungry. I remember my mom would be like, ‘If it’s so hard for you, just come back home.’ But I’d be like” -- she mimics a surly teen’s glare, much to the others’ amusement -- “‘That’s not what I’m talking about!’” Lisa credits her future bandmates with easing her transition. “Jennie would speak English to me, and Jisoo helped me out with my Korean,” she says. Rosé was the last of the bunch to enter training, but she remembers the four of them bonding during an all-night jam session when she arrived. “We just clicked,” she says.
That’s clearly still the case: Rosé sometimes puts her hand on Lisa’s knee when translating for her, and at one point Jennie and Jisoo huddle close together to silently adjust one of their necklaces, displaying the intimacy of close friends. “We don’t really have a day off,” says Lisa. (Once every two weeks, Rosé clarifies.) And because their families are so far-flung, they often spend their time off with each other anyway. “We’re stuck together,” says Rosé, laughing.