Blackpink is the most successful girl group in South Korea. A Netflix documentary shows their rapid rise, but hides the darker sides of the K-pop scene.
May 24, 2019 is a mild early summer day. At temperatures over 20 degrees, you can sit outside in a burger restaurant in Berlin’s trendy Prenzlauer Berg district. On the other side of the street, there is a line of people that soon stretches around the whole block. In addition to excited teenage kids – mostly girls – there are also many parents waiting.
For some fathers, their solidarity with their offspring even culminates in the fact that they put on a T-shirt with the group’s logo on them. The band Blackpink will appear in the nearby Max-Schmeling-Halle. In the burger shop, however, only questioning faces: Blackpink? Never heard. Shortly afterwards, booming basses that are seldom heard here boom across the street.
— BLACKPINKOFFICIAL (@BLACKPINK) October 15, 2020
First South Korean band with Coachella
Blackpink make a stop in Berlin on their first world tour, barely three years after founding their band. The rapid development of the girlie quartet from South Korea is documented by the Netflix production “Blackpink: Light Up the Sky”. Behind the extremely successful group, whose current YouTube clips are clicked by over 500 million fans, lies a rapid rise.
The K-Pop band is currently setting a new sales record with their new long player “The Album”. In the USA she appears in the late night shows of James Corden and Stephen Colbert and appears as the first South Korean band at the Coachella Festival in California.
Blackpink sing in Korean and English, sprinkling short rap parts here and there, dancing in sophisticated choreographies to perfectly produced, but in the long run somewhat monotonous, glossy beats. Jennie, Lisa, Jisoo and Rosé have good voices and master instruments that do not even appear in their hits.
Behind this is an extremely tough career, which is only superficially discussed in the Netflix film: For years, the singers trained with other young girls in the program of the entertainment company YG Entertainment, which wants to put together a new girl group for its record company on the drawing board. Dozens of girls prepared for a possible career with 14 hours of training a day – as if they were participating in the Olympic Games.
Fourteen hours of training a day
The focus of the documentary is on four young women between the ages of 23 and 25, for whom the lengthy preparation has paid off. Those who cannot withstand the tough selection process remain in the shadows.
Many who come to the academies as young people with the dream of fame, drop out of school and leave friends and families behind, fall by the wayside – because the talent is insufficient. In the worst case, they are stigmatized as not having made it.
From training to the finished product, everything is completely orchestrated in K-Pop. After being put together, the new girl band presented itself shyly to the South Korean press in 2016 with a showcase. Four years later, the four young women have already completed a world tour.
At this point in time they recorded the successful song “Sour Candy” with world star Lady Gaga and already released their second album, on which Selena Gomez and Cardi B. appear as guests. As influencers, the Blackpink singers are popular advertising faces for the electronics group Samsung and brand ambassadors for popular fashion labels.
No tattoos, no partners
K-Pop is not a completely new phenomenon. It was created two decades ago. And his greatest success so far was already a few years ago: In 2012, Psy achieved a world hit with “Gangnam Style”, the video of which has meanwhile been the most viewed in YouTube history.
While Psy had danced with it internationally, Blackpink is only just about to start. Producer Teddy Park, once a successful rapper himself, formulates the goal in the film quite clearly: “Single, success, single, hit.”
The documentary does not grant critical insights, probably also because Netflix has a business relationship with YG Entertainment and has already produced a series with them. The dark side of a life on the road to success do not match the squeaky clean image with which the young K-Pop stars are marketed: no scandals, no alcohol, no cigarettes, no tattoos.
Sandara Park, member of the now defunct girl group 2NE1, recently reported in an interview about a five-year dating ban that YG imposed on her after making it into the band after years of training. Against this background, the title of the current Blackpink single has a certain ambiguity: “Lovesick Girls” – lovesick girls.
Dark shadows over the K-pop
There is no provision in K-Pop to break out of the ready-made role model. The stars are perfectly staged and should appear untouched. As soon as they step out and express their own opinion that does not meet the high moral expectations in South Korea, they are threatened Bullying on social networks.
To avoid controversy, the stars hold back, also politically. All the more astonishing was the solidarity of the boy group BTS with the “Black Lives Matter” movement, combined with a donation of one million dollars.
The pressure of having to function perfectly at all times was so heavy on some artists that they im suicidesaw the only way out. And behind the scenes of the people who pull the strings, things are not as clean as the image of the stars is polished. 2019 came YG Entertainment hit the headlines with prostitution scandals and sex videos.
Tears on stage? Tears of joy, of course!
“Blackpink: Light Up the Sky” is more of a long music video than a documentary, garnished with harmless interview sequences and recordings from the studio. It remains open whether the singers are now friends or just form a commercial community of convenience.
Are these young people happy? When Rosé said on stage during the last appearance of the world tour that she was missing a lot and had been away from home for a long time and finally began to cry, the others quickly shouted into the microphone: “Tears of joy!” Sure, of course…
Deutsche Welle reports cautiously on the subject of suicide, as there are indications that some forms of reporting can lead to copycat reactions. If you are having suicidal thoughts or are in emotional distress, do not hesitate to seek help. You can find help in your country on the website https://www.befrienders.org/ . In Germany, the telephone counseling can help you on the free numbers 0800/111 0 111 and 0800/111 0 222.
Author: Torsten Landsberg