Inside Blackpink’s Global Domination

Chanel Fine Jewelry. On Rosé: Blazer, tights, pumps, Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello. Necklace, Tiffany & Co. Center, on Jisoo: Vest, trousers, Dior. Bracelets, rings, Cartier.

The arena goes dark for a full 10 seconds. Then, pop! A neon-pink cube lights up a giant LED screen, and nearly 20,000 bodies rise, screaming, their hands clutching pink heart-shaped light sticks. A minute or so goes by, but it feels like 15. The glowing Rubik’s Cube–like block solves itself to spell out “Blackpink in your area.” Another 45 seconds pass. The Korean teen next to me starts crying and hugs the Puerto Rican woman to his left. Earlier I learned they’d met online, that the woman flew from San Juan specifically to be here, to see her group. Another woman behind me says that Lisa, Blackpink’s tall, glamorous rapper with blunt Cleopatra bangs, is her favorite. Finally, the K-pop quartet emerges from risers inside the stage floor, inciting a reaction as if four Taylor Swifts had materialized at once. In addition to Lisa (Lalisa Manobal), there’s fellow rapper Jennie Kim and singers Rosé and Jisoo (born Chae Young Park and Jisoo Kim, respectively). A stampede of girls rush the stairs to get closer to the pop stars, easily bypassing the mesmerized, or maybe confused, ushers.
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It’s a “Beatles arrive in America” moment, if the Beatles had Instagram and landed at Newark, New Jersey’s Prudential Center in 2019. If this connection weren’t immediately obvious, it becomes so about five songs in, when Rosé steps forward and sings, “When I find myself in times of trouble….” Every teary-eyed face in the sold-out crowd knows that Blackpink is the biggest girl group on the planet, but that one was for the parents. Rosé wanted them to know, too.”Rosé, Jennie, Jisoo, and Lisa are going to set the standard for the new girl group in America. We haven’t had anyone like them since Destiny’s Child.” -Bekuh Boom

In addition to the obvious Beatlemania comparisons, Blackpink’s clear-cut empowerment message places it within the lineage of great girl groups past. The Spice Girls come up a lot. Being compared to a group “whose contribution to pop culture and music was so intense and massive is an honor,” Rosé says. “But it was never like, ‘Let’s become this or them.’ ” Bekuh Boom, an L.A.-based songwriter and frequent Blackpink collaborator, agrees. “[Rosé, Jennie, Jisoo, and Lisa] are going to set the standard for the new girl group in America. We haven’t had anyone like them since Destiny’s Child. [Blackpink] is going to fill that void.”

Over a Zoom call with the group in mid-July, Rosé tells me that meeting face-to-face with their international fans during Blackpink’s inaugural world tour, which ran from November 2018 through February of this year, felt “real and genuine, not like we were watching it on a screen or getting feedback on Instagram—it was literally right in front of our eyes.” Jennie jumps in to add, “We felt the energy, and that’s the best feeling.”

Talking about concerts with anyone at a time like this feels bittersweet, but with Blackpink, there’s an added pang. Its fans (aka Blinks) don’t know it yet, but in two weeks’ time the group’s management (YG Entertainment) and U.S. label (Interscope Records) will announce October 2 as the release date for THE ALBUM, the group’s debut full-length studio album. (In case you’re unaware of just how highly anticipated this release is, let it be known that fans once rented a video billboard truck blaring “Blinks Demand for Blackpink” in both English and Korean and had it circle YG’s Seoul headquarters.) The bitter part: It could be several months before it will be safe for the group to tour again due to the COVID-19 pandemic. From left, on Jisoo: Dress, blouse, Dior. Earrings, ring, Cartier. On Rosé: Blouse, Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello. Ring, Tiffany & Co. On Jennie: Dress, belt, Chanel. Earrings, ” data-vars-ga-product-id=”2c6262f3-57ce-41bd-afe7-5125c700e1d6″ data-vars-ga-product-price=”0.00″ data-vars-ga-product-sem3-brand=”” data-vars-ga-product-sem3-category=”” data-vars-ga-product-sem3-id=”” href=”https://go.redirectingat.com/?id=74968X1525074&xs=1&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.chanel.com%2Fus%2Fhigh-jewelry%2F&sref=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.elle.com%2Fculture%2Fmusic%2Fa34031183%2Fblackpink-interview%2F” target=”_blank”>Chanel Fine Jewelry. On Lisa: Blouse, Celine by Hedi Slimane. Earrings, rings, Bulgari.

The band may have taken its time to release a full-length album, but that hasn’t affected its meteoric rise. Since debuting in Seoul in 2016, they’ve amassed billions of streams on Spotify, despite having only 15 songs (including “SOLO” by Jennie) to their name. Granted, every song has been an instant hit—engineered to be sung along to regardless of language, and supplemented by videos conjuring hyperfeminine bubblegum-pop utopias, cut with a dash of hip-hop swagger. The video for “How You Like That,” a trap-pop track that serves as the group’s “comeback” single (a colloquial term in K-pop referring to a new release), broke three Guinness World Records after receiving 86.3 million views in a 24-hour period back in June. On YouTube, Blackpink is the most subscribed-to music group across genre and gender, with 44.3 million followers as of this writing—surpassing Ariana Grande and the mega-popular K-pop boy band BTS.

In addition to selling out arenas, collaborating with superstars like Lady Gaga (“Sour Candy”), Dua Lipa (“Kiss and Make Up”), and Selena Gomez (“Ice Cream”), and serving as brand ambassadors for the likes of Celine, Chanel, Dior, and Saint Laurent, Blackpink was the first K-pop girl group to grace the Coachella stage last year, where the band shared a tent with Jaden Smith. “Will Smith was backstage,” Jennie says. “He said, ‘You guys are so great.’ That was a starstruck moment for me, definitely. Like, Will Smith knows us. Wow.” The group’s Coachella performance also serves as the dramatic finale to a new Netflix documentary, Blackpink: Light Up the Sky, directed by Caroline Suh (Salt Fat Acid Heat), launching October 14.

Blackpink is a contradiction, to be sure, a global pop phenomenon without household-name recognition (yet), the future in the present. The group thrives in a digital world and an American market that’s grown less hesitant to embrace non-English singles—the same shift that has benefited artists like Rosalía and Burna Boy. This is partly because K-pop fans, in general, are a highly coordinated, digital-native lot. Some might recall how they mobilized alongside TikTok teens this past summer, claiming to have registered for tickets to President Trump’s Tulsa rally (and then not showing up). Blackpink’s fans are equally zealous. Within seconds, Blinks can make their favorite group trend worldwide—or turn an image of Lisa dancing in thigh-high boots into a “sexy legs” meme. “We’re moved by our fans,” Jisoo says. “We feel their sadness and happiness. We’re deeply connected.” If there was ever a pop group primed to break out when all of our social interactions happen via screen, it’s Blackpink.

Hee June Kim