If you’re obsessed with K-pop group BLACKPINK’s new Netflix documentary, Blackpink: Light Up The Sky, it’s likely not just because of its addictive soundtrack. It’s the prismatic women behind the music, who finally get the chance to show every one of their different hues. “It doesn’t matter if we grow old and get replaced by a new younger generation. As long as there is still someone talking about us — because they will still remember how we shone so bright," says BLACKPINK’s Lisa in the film.
In 2020, at a time of unease and unrest, the four-piece’s light is shining particularly brilliantly after years of tireless work. Members Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé, and Lisa have seen unprecedented success in the four years since they debuted as a group — shattering YouTube records, joining forces with other pop divas around the world, and making history with every step — despite the fact that until recently they had fewer than 20 songs in their discography.
But while BLACKPINK’s accolades are certainly flashy, many in the media (read: Western media) get easily blinded by it, exoticizing BLACKPINK as an unexplained marvel to gawk at and reducing the women to 2-dimensional veneers of themselves. Light Up The Sky, however, puts a spotlight on the foursome behind the hype and the name — it’s not harsh, but rather a soft glow, letting them show the world who they really are in their own words, on their own terms. There’s Rosé, the Australian-Korean vocalist who’s building her confidence in songwriting; Lisa, the affable Thai dancer whose unflappable nature lifts others up; rapper and vocalist Jennie, whose honesty and drive kept her going through nearly six years of training before hitting the stage; vocalist Jisoo, who, while a jokester, takes her role as unnie (oldest) of the group very seriously.
Most groups in the K-pop industry like to (lovingly) pelt their fans with content. They’ll release new EPs a few times a year, create their own reality shows or livestream regularly. BLACKPINK, however, have mainly kept things quiet and mysterious. The Album, released on October 2, is the group’s first full album to date, and their fans, called Blinks, are constantly petitioning their management company, YG Entertainment, to get more out of the group.
In a phone call with Korean-American director Caroline Suh, (Salt Fat Acid Heat), Suh told Refinery29 that this endeavour was a sort of leap of faith on everyone’s part. “They hadn't been part of anything like this before, so I think there was a little bit of a learning curve at the beginning in terms of getting them to feel comfortable and understand what we were doing,” she says. “And I think people are surprised that once YG agreed to do the film, they really stepped back and didn't interfere at all.” The documentary succeeds in giving us a keen sense of not only who BLACKPINK are, but where they’ve been.
Through archival footage, we follow each individual thread — starting with childhood when each member first picked up a microphone or walked on a stage all the way through their gruelling years-long training processes and eventual nerve-wracking debut in 2016. Then the threads intertwine in the present, showcasing their close, sisterly bond. There are heartwarming moments when they support each other as they work on their music in the studio and spend time being regular twentysomethings fumbling around a kitchen; there are also those in which they struggle with their homesickness, insecurity, and fear of not being seen for their true potential. “I think when you see them and they're very bubbly and sweet and friendly,” Suh says. “Before I spent time with them, I didn't realise how tenacious and strong-willed they are. And fierce. You have to have that in order to withstand all the challenges that come with doing what they do. I was surprised by that.”
The training process as Jennie says “What makes K-pop, K-pop.” And though this is a unique part of the industry that people like to fixate on (the infamous “dark side of the K-pop industry,” as it’s often dramatically referred to) it fosters talent and growth in a way that makes artists akin to Olympic athletes. And watching BLACKPINK go through that gruelling process — in which they must wake up every day and fight for their dreams — and see them come out the other side even stronger and more determined gives you a sense of not only how much they love what they do, but also how much they love each other. Going through an experience like this many years has bonded them in a way that few people can relate to. “Korea is well suited to this kind of grinding work ethic and competition, but what struck me is that the four of them really do see that they're part of this whole and not the whole is more important than the individuals,” says Suh.
This is one of the things that fans love most about BLACKPINK. They’re a family. And they’re confident, but they’re not invulnerable. “When I talked to fans, the fact that they’re ‘strong’ kept coming up. People see them as brave, and true inspirations because of that,” says Suh.
The rest is simple: fans are here for BLACKPINK's music, and in Light Up The Sky, you’ll hear samplings of the group’s bold, confident sound cradle their stories throughout. It’s no doubt that the documentary will make fans out of many who watch it, so ahead, we’ve compiled a list of essential BLACKPINK songs that made the cut (and a few that didn't) to help those on their Blink journey.
"마지막처럼 (As If It's Your Last)'"
Released in 2017, this song emcompasses the duality of BLACKPINK: saccharine, but with a bite.
"불장난 (Playing With Fire)"
The group’s second single has that synthy melodicism that helped cement their early success.
"뚜두뚜두 (Ddu-Du Ddu-Du)"
Square Up’s single is likely their catchiest hook — and international breakthrough.
"See U Later"
From the 2018 EP Square Up, this song is the ultimate ode to all the lovers scorned. Sorry, ex-who?
As mentioned in the documentary, “Whistle” was a risk as a debut single, but it definitely paid off.
"Kill This Love"
To understand the impact of the lead single for the group's second Korean-language EP, Kill This Love (2019), you just have to wait until the end. Trust me.
This is the second single off of The Album: come for the cheekiness, stay for Jennie’s iconic “purr.”
"Love To Hate Me"
This English B-side off of the The Album has one of the fiercest pre-choruses of the full-length: Wake up, yeah, make-up, maybe / I need you? Nah, I been good lately.
From Square Up, “Really” shows off BLACKPINK's ability to also be laid-back, but never without swagger.
"Bet You Wanna ft. Cardi B"
Technically not a group song, 2018's "Solo" let Jennie serve her signature straightforward honesty with a side of enviable haute couture.
The Album’s lead single is not only the best representation of present-era BLACKPINK, but also the perfect sad girl autumn mood.