Released just under two weeks after their first-ever studio album “THE ALBUM” hit streaming, BLACKPINK’s new Netflix documentary has taken the world by storm, offering insight into the best-charting female K-pop group of all time. Directed by Caroline Suh, “BLACKPINK: Light Up the Sky” presents a new side of the record-shattering group, giving us the feel of the members’ individual stories and their path to success.
K-pop has become a worldwide cultural phenomenon. Be it through the dedicated fandoms, elaborate dance routines, flamboyant music videos or the music itself, K-pop’s popularity has reached unimaginable heights as the genre overtakes the English-dominated mainstream.
Yet, there is an inevitable distance between the carefully-polished groups and their ordinary listeners. K-pop idols are adored by fans, but their perfect image leaves little space for flaws, the genuine, the human. BLACKPINK’s documentary is an attempt to show a different side of the group. When the lights go down, these idols are four humans in their twenties with dreams, vulnerabilities, fears and hopes, just like everybody else.
As BLACKPINK member Jennie says, what makes K-pop so notorious is the time spent as a trainee. One of the goals of the documentary was to demystify the K-pop training schools and perhaps change the often negative Western attitude toward them. All the BLACKPINK members spent anywhere from four to six years in training before their debut. “Everything was competition at that time," remembers band member Lisa. Even though it was a harsh world where the girls were away from families, worked 14 hours a day and had to send their friends home every month, they managed to come together as a group. The friendship that emerged from their shared dream and the support the members had for each other is truly admirable. Four separate paths came together as one to create something they had never even imagined for themselves. The backstage footage of Coachella, for example, shows just how surprised the girls were at the huge crowd singing in Korean when they had hoped for just a few hundred people.
Jisoo, Jennie, Rose and Lisa — the idols behind BLACKPINK — came from very different walks of life. Rose was born in New Zealand and moved to Australia when she was seven; Lisa came from Thailand; Jennie lived in New Zealand for five years; Jisoo spent her life in South Korea. The international nature of the group resulted in both a strong sense of individuality and a collaborative uniqueness.
The documentary does a great job of introducing each member’s personality though the long individual interviews. We get to know what drives each of them and where they find peace from the constantly moving world where, as Jisoo puts it, they feel like they are being chased. Choosing the path of a trainee at such an early age meant losing the normalcy of teenage life, such as making memories with friends and being with family. Before the debut, the girls had to deal with the harsh criticism during the monthly evaluations, and there were moments where they simply tried to keep it all together. “Everything that I did was wrong," said Rose.
But as the girls say, the tough treatment, high standards and the difficulties of living together did not stop their drive. They kept going and debuted.
With debut came responsibility and immense pressure. A sense of “What now? What do we do?” was overwhelming. The process of presenting oneself as a role model clashed with the inner identity.
What happens on stage is a completely different dimension. The music, the energy, the crowd and the passion create magic together. “That is when I feel most alive," said Rose. It is as if this finite dream on stage is worth it. After the concert, however, they get back in the hotel room and feel empty, which I initially found unusual. But when you give so much of yourself to the world, won’t you inevitably come to a moment where you feel as if there’s nothing left for yourself, that the person on the poster has overtaken you, because that’s who the world asks for? The movie helped me see a different side of their fame.
At the end of the documentary, I felt like the BLACKPINK girls were not so far away anymore. They became people I could relate to, and even though the members expressed their worry about Blinks — their fans — accepting them as they are, I loved to see the human side of them. I loved how they failed at making snacks. I loved them eating fast food in the car after the show. I loved them becoming vulnerable and speaking that vulnerability through music.
One of the memorable scenes for me was Rose’s late-night jam session. “I have trouble falling asleep,” she says. It is as if the thoughts just accumulate during the day; in constant action, they cannot find their place. In a dark room at night, wearing a cozy sweater, with a guitar in her hands, she goes to music for the world around her to “just make sense”.
The documentary also revealed parts of an unreleased song, as well as hints of a solo from Rosie. As we get to know from producer Teddy Park, they create a lot in the studio, but are very particular about what they release. BLACKPINK still has a lot to show the world. As Jennie says, “it is just the beginning.” The fans all around the globe are excited for what will come. If anything, the documentary offered Blinks slices of the members’ lives that made us love them even more. It is only going to last for so long, so the girls and their fans will stick to each other while embracing this amazing journey.
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