In the west, taking four years to release your debut album isn’t that big a deal, but in the world of K-pop that time feels like a lifetime. The Korean music industry is one that’s built on a steady stream of releases, often seeing artists put out multiple singles, EPs and full-length albums within months of each other. For BLACKPINK, though, who emerged in 2016, releases have so far been scarce. Before they started rolling out pre-release tracks from their long, long-awaited first LP, they had just three EPs and one single to their name. No wonder their fans (known as Blinks) have been calling on their label YG Entertainment to give them more and sate their appetites.
At long last, then, BLACKPINK’s debut album arrives, loaded with four years worth of anticipation. Despite only sharing a handful of material in that time, the band have become one of the most talked about K-pop artists on the global stage. They’ve collaborated with household names like Lady Gaga and Dua Lipa and, last year, became the first all-female K-pop group to perform at Coachella. Naturally, expectations are high.
Unfortunately, ‘THE ALBUM’ doesn’t quite reach the heights it should for a band of this stature. There is gold buried within its eight tracks, but it’s far from overflowing. The hip-hop-influenced, swaggering ‘How You Like That’ might have sounded jarring upon its release in June – like several different songs stitched together – but time has been kind to it. As the record’s opener, it sounds majestic – a fun, experimental piece that charts a journey from hitting “rock bottom” before rising victoriously back up. By the time rapper Lisa spits: “Bring out the boss bitch” in the final bridge, its fiery attitude has your heart racing and eardrums thumping.
Title track (K-pop parlance for the main promoted song) ‘Lovesick Girls’ shines as the record’s glowing highlight and, happily, features writing credits for BLACKPINK for the first time (Jennie and Jisoo contributed to the lyric writing, while Jennie also worked on the composition). Vibrant dance-pop in a similar vein to Rihanna’s ‘We Found Love’, it’s built to be blasted in the back of an Uber with your best mates, on the way to make new stories.
“We are the lovesick girls,” the group declare in its chorus, moments later throwing in the sucker punch: “But we were born to be alone/But why we still looking for love?” Female empowerment has become a big part of the band’s brand and, here, they deal it out subtly, turning singledom and the search for love into an adventure rather than a need that must be fulfilled to make them whole. Even as the standout track from the album, though, here lies flaws. Rapper Jennie’s verse feels forced and stunted, like she’s trying to find the attitude she needs but got lost on her way. For a band known for bodying tracks with badass energy, it’s surprising and a little disappointing.
The record’s two giant collaborations – the divisive pre-release single ‘Ice Cream’ with Selena Gomez and ‘Bet You Wanna’, aided by Cardi B – offer early highs. The former is saucy and sweet, a series of ice cream-based puns served over minimal, refreshing pop that slowly carves a home in your brain until you wake up one morning rapping: “Mona Lisa kinda Lisa needs an ice cream man that treats her”. The latter, meanwhile, is sleek and soft, capturing the confidence and excitement that comes with mutual desire. Cardi’s verse is tame by her standards, refusing to pull focus from BLACKPINK’s gorgeous vocals.
Where there are peaks, though, there are also troughs. ‘Pretty Savage’, with its horror movie circus melody, tries to do something new but lacks a spark that makes it stand out. ‘Crazy Over You’ mixes Eastern and Western influences, matching melodies and rhythms played on traditional Asian instruments with hip-hop beats. It sounds good in the moment, but is too understated to leave any lasting impression.
Being memorable is a problem that besieges the latter half of ‘THE ALBUM’. ‘Love To Hate You’ states the importance of knowing your worth and refusing to settle for someone who doesn’t lift you up over minimal pop that’s pleasant enough, while closer ‘You Never Know’’s subject matter is similarly more interesting than the song itself. “You’ll never know unless you walk in my shoes,” sings Rosé over stuttering strings. “It’s easier to judge me than to believe.”
As debut albums go, ‘THE ALBUM’ is perfectly fine, with range, fire and fun packed within its eight tracks. It’s a good foundation to build on and, hopefully, BLACKPINK will do just that on album two, harnessing the dynamism that would make them great and secure their place as one of the biggest girl groups in the world.