Blackpink, “Album” (Interscope)
Since emerging about four years ago, this K-pop girl group has racked up billions of streams, sold countless pieces of merch and set a YouTube record of more than 80 million views in 24 hours for “How You Like That.” Yet the quartet’s speedy ascent has come at a moment when Blackpink’s approach feels almost entirely out of alignment with pop music’s prevailing trends.
Where other young artists like Billie Eilish are bleary and improvisational, Blackpink is polished and crisp. And where other acts use social media to emphasize their rough edges, Blackpink keeps its audience at a strategic remove with elaborate costumes and choreography that look back to an earlier, more constructed idea of pop stardom.
As arguably the second-biggest act in K-pop behind South Korea’s obsessively followed BTS, the members of Blackpink — Jennie, Jisoo, Lisa and Rose, all in their mid-20s — hold some built-in allure for the curious Western listeners with lyrics sung partly in English. But Blackpink’s music, with its muscular EDM synths and its precision-geared choruses, can seem downright old-fashioned compared with the scrappier, more idiosyncratic stuff near the top of Spotify’s charts.
Blackpink’s new record features cameos by two more modern types: Cardi B and Selena Gomez. Indeed, “Ice Cream,” the song with Gomez, is the most gratifyingly stylish track here: a throbbing electro-rap banger with skittering percussion and many sexed-up double entendres.
Eager though Blackpink may have been to adapt, “The Album” still plays like a transmission from a previous era. “Crazy Over You” rewinds to the hip-hop exotica of Timbaland’s late-’90s heyday. Trappy Blackpink songs like “How You Like That” and “Pretty Savage” merely evoke the layers of technology and hours of rehearsal required to create them. There’s something vaguely oppressive about “The Album,” which hardly ever provides a sense of what Blackpink’s members are all about. The sureness of its success aside, it fails the test of old pop as well as the test of new.
Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times
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