I was both shocked and excited when I saw a tweet from @Netflix announcing that BLACKPINK — a K-Pop girl group with four members: Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé, and Lisa (who, by the way, are now available to be Netflix profile icons) — would release a documentary, called Light Up the Sky, on Oct. 14. I haven’t been keeping up much with ‘the Pinks’ (what many of us BLACKPINK fans, given the name ‘Blinks,’ call our girls), so I had no idea they were even working on a documentary. Score! What a nice way to take a break from this oddly stressful Module System we’re all dealing with.
I almost knew what to expect from the documentary going into it. I knew they were going to talk about their trainee days, which are an essential period of time for idols-to-be, who spend any number of years in their company taking dance, vocal, rap, etc. lessons to prepare to enter the K-Pop scene. I also knew this documentary would highlight BLACKPINK’s sisterhood and their accomplishments — which is what the documentary started out with. We quickly learn (or are reminded) that BLACKPINK’s entertainment company, YG Entertainment, had not debuted a girl group in seven years by the time BLACKPINK was ready to hit the stage. The Pinks were following in 2NE1’s footsteps — a very popular and rather iconic girl group that debuted in 2009. That’s a lot of pressure for the Pinks to take on, but they clearly handled it well: a ton of wins at music shows, small and large, three music videos with 1 billion views, a song (“DDU-DU DDU-DU”) breaking chart records and becoming the most viewed K-Pop music video in 24 hours, being the first K-Pop girl group to perform at Coachella. “Seeing so many people love our music motivates us to try something new and different,” said Jisoo.
Following the introduction of BLACKPINK’s achievements, the documentary cuts to a very comfortable scene; the Pinks are in the car discussing what concepts they would like to try next. Then, they are walking into their studio and immediately start teasing Producer and Songwriter Teddy Park, who they have worked with on every song since their debut. Rosé complains briefly about being sleepy, and Lisa slaps her wrist to wake her up. Teddy Park starts playing “Sour Candy,” a song by Lady Gaga featuring BLACKPINK, and they’re all singing and dancing (as much as they can, sitting down) along. They vibe together the way a group of best friends, or sisters, would.
For a time, Teddy Park speaks, mentioning, as he has worked with BLACKPINK on every song they have released so far, that they are “very particular about what we put out,” perhaps a jab at demanding fans who constantly want more music out of BLACKPINK. For the record, they are releasing a relatively small amount of music for a K-Pop group; take Stray Kids, who debuted in 2018 and already have six mini albums, two full albums (plus a repackage), a handful of both officially released and unofficially released singles and solo songs, Japanese albums, and more. Compared to BLACKPINK’s three mini albums, one full album, Japanese versions of these albums, and four singles since 2016, it’s somewhat understandable why fans are pushing for more. K-Pop moves fast, but perhaps Teddy Park is arguing that it really doesn’t have to. Just look at BLACKPINK’s success; that can’t be rushed, can it?
At the end of this sort of introduction, Teddy Park brings up another good point about K-Pop, and the sort of stigma surrounding it, especially now that it is sweeping the U.S. and other countries all around the world: “We’re just Korean people trying to do music, so if Korean people make music, it’s K-Pop? I don’t even get it. It’s Korean pop. The only different thing is language…. Why don’t they do that for every country? What is K-Pop?”
“I think what makes K-Pop, K-Pop is the time that we spend as a trainee,” said Jennie. Life as a trainee in Korea is very unique, and very difficult. Trainees can start as young as 11 years old, and they live together, Jennie said, “. . . sort of like a boarding school, like a trainee version.” It’s a long, competitive process. Each BLACKPINK member spent at least four years training; Rosé was the only one who spent that amount of time in the program. Lisa and Jisoo spent five years each; Jennie spent six. Save Jisoo, who emphasized how blessed she felt to have started training at a slightly older age, therefore having the opportunity to make memories in high school, the Pinks didn’t really get to live out their teenage years as teenagers. “A lot of people make lots of memories as a high school student, but I never had that,” said Jennie, sounding solemn.
As a semi-avid fan of BLACKPINK, there were things Teddy Park, in his time speaking, and that the next thirty or so minutes of the documentary showed, that I already knew about. What I didn’t know, though, and what many other average fans probably didn’t know, was how much Lisa, the mood-maker, loves vintage items, and how much money she spends in any vintage shops she can find, denying her financial manager’s — her own mother’s — advice to quit shopping for a while. The average fan wouldn’t know just how much Jennie, the perfectionist, goes through physically: “I’m like a grandma,” she said, in reference to her body just giving out on her sometimes — running out of breath quickly, getting hurt easily, relying on pilates to keep herself healthy. Back before their debut, Jisoo, the rather stoic member, was the oldest trainee, and she shouldered the responsibility of taking care of the other girls on top of juggling the crazy life of a trainee, which is detailed a little further into the documentary. Rosé, always such a hard worker, often cuts into her sleep time just to be able to enjoy music again. She shared with us, “I actually kind of miss my trainee days because, back then, we were surrounded by music all the time. These days, we’ve got a lot of work, so I actually have to make time for this, so that’s why it’s always at night, when I’m supposed to be sleeping;” this being singing an acoustic version of one of BLACKPINK’s songs, “Hope Not,” and playing guitar to pair. This is something I can relate to; I would consider writing as my passion, and here I am, at 6:00 in the morning, after spending a couple hours watching and rewatching Light Up the Sky, taking notes to make this review cohesive. That’s what makes BLACKPINK, BLACKPINK. They are relatable, honest, and real.
The hard work, sleepless nights, and the essential lack of life as a teenager, really paid off for the Pinks.
Arguably one of their greatest achievements as a group, and the one that Light Up the Sky highlighted, was their Coachella performance. Everything about it, they said, was so unexpected, from the invitation to the amount of people that showed up in the crowd. “Why are there so many people?” Rosé asked backstage, amazed; just minutes before, Jennie had talked about how they just hoped for 100 or 200 people to show up at least, so they weren’t performing to no one. The audience was packed, and, although they had their hardships — their bodies being so sore, being in the midst of a world tour, and their nerves shooting off the charts, it was still, they said, a night they’ll never forget.
Just like that, the Pinks had made their mark on North America.
The documentary shows that BLACKPINK is almost more of a group of friends than a group of coworkers. From their immediate connection after their first night rooming together, just the four of them, to raising a puppy, Coco, together at the dorm they share, to how often they help each other out (Jennie teaching new trainee Rosé how to survive dance practice; Jennie teaching Jisoo English as they cook together in the dorms; Jennie speaking to new trainee Lisa in English because that was the only language they shared — Jennie is an angel, isn’t she?), it almost seems like BLACKPINK were fated to come together. ‘Fate’ and ‘family’ are two of the most common words in the documentary — BLACKPINK also believe that the four of them were meant to come together and be something amazing, even if they never imagined just how much of an impact they would have on the K-Pop industry.
If their sisterhood isn’t enough of a sign of fate, their debut sure was. Their debut song almost wasn’t “Whistle,” as people working on their debut thought it was too risky, or sounded too empty. In the end, they decided to just go with it — it had to be “Whistle.” Cut to two weeks after their debut: “Whistle” had charted at #1, the fastest a girl group’s debut song had ever charted that high. Fate is very kind to sweet, hard-working people.
Yet, the girls still have their struggles. Lisa is worried about how she can be a good role model to her fans in Thailand, many of whom are teenagers who look up to her. Jennie struggles physically, trying to keep herself healthy through long plane rides and new environments that, she said, do eventually take a toll on the body. Rosé struggles with vulnerability; she is shy in the studio, and many of her personal songs are like diary entries that she is nervous about sharing with the world. Jisoo is quite a closed off individual, but she, like the rest of the Pinks, wonder where they can go next — how can they continue to show fans something new and exciting? They are confident that they will figure it out, but they know it won’t necessarily be easy. Still, if there’s anything BLACKPINK can handle, it’s a challenge.
Near the end of the documentary, and on their last stage of their 2019 World Tour, Rosé reminded us that we only really see what they present on stage and in interviews. The Pinks go through a lot behind the cameras, as any celebrity does. Even this documentary is particularly filmed and edited; it was a nice reminder that we still don’t know everything, despite how many fans will claim to know their idols on a personal level. It wasn’t a very obvious jab at these fans, but it was still an important message. We see what they want us to see, but they still value Blinks as fans. “We grew into something that we didn’t even know was possible, and as much as fans are surprised with the outcome, we are as well, so it feels like a journey they’re on with us,” said Rosé. They don’t know where they’re going to go, and Blinks don’t, either, but we all know they can continue to go up from here. “This is just the beginning,” Jennie promised.
Featured Image: Courtesy of Seventeen