By Emlyn Travis
To a casual New Yorker passing by the Ed Sullivan Theater on February 11, the crowd of people huddled across the street from the stage door of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert was a not-so-subtle hint that someone popular was visiting the late-night talk show. But the celebrities creating such furor weren’t household names for most Americans — at least not yet. It was Blackpink, Korean company YG Entertainment’s latest girl group who, that night, made their U.S. television debut with their punchy single “DDU-DU DDU-DU.”
To say that Blackpink is popular is to put it lightly; the group have a massive, dedicated fanbase that has grown exponentially since their debut in 2016. On April 4, the group’s music video for their latest single “Kill This Love” became the most-watched music video in a 24 hour period in YouTube history, clocking in with 56.7 million views and seizing the title that was previously held by Ariana Grande’s “Thank U Next.” Just three days later, the video smashed another record when it became the fastest music video to hit 100 million views on the platform.
And that’s just one single; in a short amount of time, Blackpink has made a name for themselves in the States as one of K-pop’s brightest stars, and they’ve done it all without even releasing a full-length album. The group’s popularity stateside has been building since debut, but it reached a fever pitch in January when they were announced as part of this year’s Coachella lineup. As the first female K-pop act to play the festival, Blackpink began to pique the interest of listeners both in and outside of the K-pop sphere, and since then the hysteria surrounding them has increased tenfold. After a short stint in America in February, the group was nominated for a Kids Choice Award, posed on the cover of Billboard Magazine, and announced and subsequently sold-out their North American tour.
So what is it about Blackpink that’s captivating men and women around the world? With only 14 tracks to their name, it’s obvious that fans (called “Blinks”) are connecting with the group on much more than just their title tracks. To discover what about Blackpink draws in prospective fans, MTV News caught up with six Blinks to discuss what the group means to them.
On August 8, 2016, Blackpink made their official debut with two title tracks — the fist-bumping, EDM-heavy “Boombayah” and sweet, hip hop-infused “Whistle.” Both songs shot straight to the top of the Korean music charts and caught the attention of global K-pop fans with their addictive choruses, charismatic rapping, and “girl crush” concepts. Put all together, it was a recipe for success and Blackpink became the fastest rookie K-pop girl group to secure their first win on weekly music program Inkigayo just 13 days after debuting with “Whistle.”
From left to right: Jisoo, Jennie, Lisa, and Rosé
“Blackpink breaking records and setting standards despite lack of promotions can only be explained by what differs them from other girl groups,” says Ilke Esmeroğlu, 19, who became interested in Blackpink after she saw their pre-debut teasers. “People are looking for something new, and Blackpink always keeps it fresh with the diversity of their music and concept.”
The group’s “girl crush” concept seen in their music videos was another interesting aspect. Where other girl groups might opt for a cute concept for their first release, Blackpink projected what would later be defined as “pretty and savage” energy into the world as they spat fiery raps, did donuts in an empty parking lot, and daintily sat on the Earth like they owned it. That confidence and effortless style was well received by fans, who quickly became obsessed with K-pop’s new girl gang.
“Before Blackpink, I wasn’t really into K-pop that much, but something about their music and concept was different from the other girl groups I’ve seen,” says Alyanna Cabalbal, 18. “They showed a fiercer side to the normal bubblegum pop that most girl groups showed. Not that cute concepts aren’t good, it’s just that Blackpink’s vibe just pulls you in.”
“Even though they sing in a language I may not understand they are interesting enough to make one look past that. They are a refreshing talent,” adds Klaudia Stefańska, 18, who’s been in love with Blackpink since she heard their summer single, “As If It’s Your Last.” “Their image and how they carry themselves is what drew me in.”
With new mini-album Kill This Love released nearly 10 months after their last comeback (or, new release), Blackpink has solidified themselves as something separate from the typical K-pop paradigm that drives groups to push out releases every few months. Though the group’s sound generally stays within the realms of hip-hop, R&B, or EDM bangers (and sometimes a mixture of the three all at once), Blackpink takes their time to release music that is wholly their own.
“Back then, and even now I think, K-pop’s defining characteristics are usually its loud, psychedelic beats à la 2NE1’s ‘I Am The Best’ or Big Bang’s ‘Fantastic Baby,’ catchy bubblegum pop melodies like SNSD’s ‘Gee,’ Wonder Girls’ ‘Nobody,’ and Twice’s ‘TT,’ and explosive choreography like BTS and EXO — all very in your face,” says Toni Kho, 24. For the last three years, Kho spent her weekends tirelessly translating Blackpink content from Korean into English to help further the group’s global popularity.
She continues: “K-pop isn’t usually associated with groovy, suave, soulful beats. But Jennie’s rap in ‘Whistle,’ and Blackpink’s rendition of ‘Sure Thing’ showed me that this was a soulful K-pop group, and I was just floored.”
It’s also the stylistic elements that Blackpink’s members bring to the table that intrigue fans too. Each member has a unique vocal tone; Rosé is known for her raspy vocal quality, while Jennie bounces back and forth between rapping and singing. As a rapper, Lisa’s deep voice complements Jisoo’s sweet tone perfectly, especially on the group’s more bombastic tracks like “See U Later.”
“I loved [‘Boombayah’]. I also loved the diversity of the song. With Blackpink, it’s always like five genres in one song, but it’s not messy,” answers Esmeroğlu. “The members each have very individual, distinctive voices and styles that don’t sound weird when you combine them all. It’s harmonious in a way I can’t explain.”
Aside from their music, Blackpink’s biggest charm and incentive to stan is the personalities of its members. Jennie, Rosé, Lisa, and Jisoo have appeared on multiple Korean variety programs, including their own reality show Blackpink House, and hold frequent livestreams on V Live and their personal Instagrams. By sharing their world and connecting with fans online, the members have become a huge source of inspiration for Blinks.
For some, Blackpink have inspired them to be courageous. “I relate most to Rosé and Lisa, since I also left home to study and work. I find their courage and perseverance in pursuing their dreams in the face of hardships and loneliness very admirable and inspiring,” says Kho. “Last, apparently [Jennie’s] mom wanted her to be a lawyer at first, but she told her mom that she wanted to pursue her dreams to be a singer. That is courage that I don’t think I have, and courage that I would like to have when facing uncertainty in the future.”
For others, the members’ lifestyles and activities have inspired them to make a change in their own lives. “Lisa does kickboxing which inspired me to sign up for classes, and I love the activity now,” Sova Adams, 21, reveals. Rosé has also become her style inspiration, because she has a similar body type and can influence outfits for Adams to rock next.
The biggest reason fans connect with Blackpink is because of their authenticity; their candidness about everyday life makes them feel more like longtime friends than untouchable pop stars.
“A lot of the people in this fandom can relate to these girls because of their backgrounds and the kind of personalities they have,” says Jawwad Kiani, 24, who was recommended Blackpink’s pre-debut dance practice videos on YouTube and has been a fan ever since. “For instance, Rosé is super talented and has leadership qualities. She is super shy, but when she’s needed she steps up and delivers. Jisoo is like a big sister everyone wants who takes care of her loved ones more than anything. Jennie is the girl every girl wants to be like in Korea and Lisa, she’s the ‘it’ girl, and so many people relate to her story of leaving home and family to follow [her] dreams.”
With members raised in New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, and Korea respectively, Blackpink is the definition of a multicultural girl group. Three of its members — Jennie, Lisa, and Rosé — speak English fluently, which has helped fans who would normally have to deal with a language barrier feel closer to the group than they would with other K-pop acts.
“Being able to understand and communicate properly with your celebrities plays a major role, too, because all of them can pretty much understand English. Three of them can communicate, too, so it makes it easier to understand and build a connection with them,” adds Kiani. “For instance, I’ve seen every video there is of Blackpink and most of it is in Korean with hardly any translation, but because the girls speak English [to each other] I was able to grasp as to what was happening in videos.”
Blackpink use English not only to chat with their foreign fans, but also to introduce them to bits of Korean culture, too. “At the same time, [Blackpink are] very respectful and aware of all the different cultures they straddle, and they encourage fans to understand the salient differences between each culture,” adds Kho. “For example, during one holiday in Korea they took the time to explain in English what the holiday was about even for just a short while.”
That level of inclusivity stretches into their concerts too; the group have shown their support for their LGBTQ+ fanbase by holding rainbow flags whilst on tour in the Philippines. Aside from openly gay idol Holland, K-pop and LGBTQ+ representation aren’t exactly synonymous (same-sex marriage is currently prohibited in South Korea), so these small moments make fans feel accepted, proud, and loved.
“Their music is based around female representation and confidence boost, ‘girls wanna have some fun,’ you know, and there’s a certain stereotype around female singers that are impactful in the pop culture to be known as ‘gay icons.’ I am bisexual myself and I think their feminine and sassy energy draws us in,” says Esmeroğlu. “They also held up the pride flag in one of their concerts which made me so proud. We definitely love calling them feminist queens!”
What Does “Blackpink” Mean to You?
When Blackpink debuted, YG Entertainment explained their name came from the idea of contradicting the perception that the color pink represented “prettiness.” Thus, Blackpink became the group that defined itself on the principle that prettiness wasn’t everything, but hard work, talent, and perseverance was. As the group’s popularity continues to grow, what it means to be Blackpink has evolved as fans attach their own personal perception of what the group means to them to it.
“To me, they mean the entire world. These girls have helped me through a lot, I’ve spent countless of hours keeping up with everything that’s been going on with them. I don’t only love them as artists but as people too. I feel like I know them on a personal level even if we actually haven’t talked face to face you know?” says Cabalbal. “Their presence and their cute little gestures of going on V Live just to talk to Blinks. It’s those actions that make me feel that I’m a part of something and feel less alone.”
“Although they’re around my age, they’re all still older than me and that allows me to look up to them as role models. Blackpink are a group of interesting, talented girls with good music, who promote individualism,” says Adams. “They’re all very different from each other and have different [strength and weaknesses], and I think that shows fans that it’s OK to be different because you can still be successful.”
“For me, they feel like someone I can trust,” says Kho. “If you strip away the fact that they’re famous artists and watch their videos and follow their posts, especially Rosé’s, they feel like real 20 to 23-year-old girls who love Disney, cry over Korean dramas, love shopping and eating good food, like sleeping in, lazing around and playing games, and who go crazy over cute and fluffy things like their pets.”
As what it means to be Blackpink continues to change, one thing does not: the level of love and dedication that Blinks have for Blackpink. It’s perfectly summarized by Kiani: “I want nothing but the best for all of them, and I will continue to support them through thick and thin. They deserve all the happiness and success in this world.”