Blackpink is in your area — and the K-pop girl group means that literally.
The quartet’s catchphrase has become something of prophecy as they take steps to become global pop superstars through their deal with Interscope Records and their upcoming world arena tour, as detailed in Billboard’s new cover story.
For their first major sit-down interview in the U.S., the group opened up about the years of pop-star training they put in before debuting in Blackpink, their involvement in the creative process and their bonds with each other. With five different covers, tons of photos and exclusive videos to go along with it, there are plenty of Blackpink goodies for the Blinks — as their fans call themselves — to pore over. But in case that’s not enough, here’s what else we learned while hanging out with the group:
A full-length album is still important to them.
Since debuting in 2016, Blackpink has released nine songs via one-off singles and mini-albums. While plenty of artists have taken to parceling out new music in the streaming age, the members say a proper full-length is now their top priority. “We have so much we want to show that we’ve worked on, and [putting out] a few songs just doesn’t satisfy us,” Jennie says. “We want to make a full album to really express ourselves. To have a story in an album could be fun, something we haven’t tried yet. We’ve been working on it very hard.” What the tracklist will look like — and whether older songs will appear on it — is up in the air for now. “That wouldn’t be decided until we release it,” Rosé explains.
They held onto “Forever Young” for years.
One of the highlights of Blackpink’s 2018 mini-album Square Up is the reggaeton-tinged “Forever Young,” though the group says it was done and ready to go long before its release. “When we released ‘As If It’s Your Last’ [in 2017], we had ‘Forever Young’ as an option too, and we thought that could have been the song we released at that time,” Jennie reveals. “We had ‘Forever Young’ since way before our debut,” Rosé adds.
“Ddu-du Ddu-du” helped Jennie with her confidence.
As part of a get-know-you-exercise for new American fans, I ask the members of Blackpink to choose which of their songs best represents them. Lisa picks “Whistle,” saying, “I love hip-hop, and it’s hip-hop-based, so I think it’s just me.” Rosé picks “Playing With Fire”: “It covers the warmth of me, and it’s also not so hardcore — it’s pop, but it’s nice and warm and dark.” Jisoo picks “Forever Young”: “Everytime I listen to it, it refreshes me. Whenever I’m down, it makes me happy.” And Jennie picks “Ddu-du Ddu-du,” which she says helped her get through a period of self-doubt. “I had a hard time trying to figure out what I like and what I want to give on stage before we released the song,” she says. “I had a lot of pressure: What if I don’t fulfill the fans? What if they don’t like it? But it brought back my confidence — fans will support you no matter what you do, as long as you enjoy it, and I like what I’m doing.”
They have secret English versions of their songs — sort of.
When Blackpink producer and creative director Teddy Park, who was born in South Korea but grew up in the U.S., and some of his English-speaking co-writers work on new Blackpink music, the first version they put together is often in English. “When we make demos of our songs, we do our demos in English — the whole song’s in English,” Jennie says. “We actually start off in English before [we record] any Korean lyrics.”
“It feels like we have songs of our own that only we know about,” Jisoo jokes of these alternate versions. But because they’re rough takes, the group doesn’t plan on ever releasing them. Whenever they do decide to make English-language music, they want to do it right. Says Rosé: “Changing the lyric is not just changing the language, it’s really changing the expression.” Adds Jennie: “It changes the song, it changes the tone, it changes our vocals. If we were to put out a song in English, we would have to put in lots and lots of effort.”
They record songs with a global audience in mind.
While making the final Korean versions of songs, Park and the band still include some English phrases and verses as entry points for listeners everywhere. The hooks of Blackpink songs are also often to sing along to know matter what language you speak. “Teddy knows there are a lot of fanbases around the world that are just waiting on our songs, so I’ve seen him try to target those people,” Rosé says. “Lisa spits out English raps, and he always comes up with cool phrases, because we’re trying to take care of everyone listening to our music. I really respect that about our producer.” Says Jennie: “He’s very considerate of our fans around the world.”
The group says Jisoo is the queen of harmonies.
Lisa credits the training process with helping the members discover their talents: “We all tried rapping, we all tried singing, we all tried different kinds of styles and performances, so we naturally found our perfect spot.” Jennie, however, likes to joke that she was the one who discovered Jisoo’s knack for harmonizing when they were working on an arrangement of an R&B song for one of YG’s monthly tests: “Jisoo would be the quiet one, but then she’d be like, ‘How about this?’ She’d make this harmony, and we were like, ‘That’s so good!’ She’d stay quiet and act like nothing happened, and then in an hour she’d say, ‘How about this?’ And she’d have another amazing harmony. Even to this day, I’m like, “I can’t find the harmony, Jisoo what is it?’”
Having simultaneous solo careers was always part of the plan.
Last fall, YG announced that the four members of Blackpink would release individual tracks on top of new music with the group. But that wasn’t a big surprise for the women, who worked on solo performances in addition to group work while they were in training. “We all had to know how to perform on our own, that’s always been there,” says Jennie. “And when we started recording with Teddy, he said, ‘You can’t always depend on each other — you have to know how to fill up a song by yourself.’”
The group says releasing solo music makes them stronger together.
According to Blackpink, the main draw of having solo careers is that they can hone and explore different skill sets they can eventually bring back to the group. “We’re always waiting to discover new parts of ourselves,” Rosé says. “These solo projects are the biggest steps to discovering them.” For Jennie, working on the “Solo” music video taught her a lot about the group’s approach to fashion. “I really enjoyed putting all the outfits and the whole look together,” she says. “That’s what I learned a lot about — putting outfits together for the dancers and myself. How will it go with this song? What could I do different? It’s not just about the song, it’s really everything else within.”
Their solo tracks will surprise you.
The group is tight-lipped about what to expect from the other members’ solo releases. “That’s too much of a spoiler!” Rosé says, laughing. “That’s all to be imagined. I feel like there will be lots of surprises, because we’ve all got things we haven’t shown to the world yet.” Adds Jisoo: “When people mention our solo projects, people start guessing: What will Rosé do? What will Lisa do? I enjoy watching fans speculate.”
Their favorite part of their live shows is the fan interactions.
When the group first started doing shows outside of South Korea, Lisa says she was stunned at the response: “All of our songs are in Korean, so I was really surprised that all these foerigners were singing along to a Korean song.” But the biggest surprise has been the gifts fan give them between songs. “Whenever we go to different places,” Jisoo says, “fans in each country prepare something before we go on stage for our encore.”
“They try to make moments for us,” Rosé says, before adding with a laugh, “Fans throw a bunch of meaningful things [on stage]. Sometimes they throw a chipmunk because they think I look like a chipmunk! Or fan letters. Holding [those things] is just holding a part of them as well. It’s great to see fans express themselves towards us…They try to make moments for us.”