Pop music, short for ‘popular music’, is known for its deliberate flexibility. Able encompass elements of either rock or country or R&B or rap, the one undeniable and identifiable factor about the genre is its accessibility to the widest audience. Artists and labels alike would aim to create music that can appeal to the lowest common denominator, striving for chart dominance.
In a clear-as-day attempt at achieving these goals, THE ALBUM ends up reeking of corporate intervention. From its criminally short runtime that’s meant to game streaming services, to the disjointed tracklist where the record’s best songs are incoherently placed at the start for maximum exposure, to the constant retreading of past popular pop production; everything about THE ALBUM feels manufactured for the best possible commercial results.
Fortunately BLACKPINK still manages to somewhat stick the landing, giving us a short but sweet collection of throwback pop songs that mostly nails the influences they tried to emulate.
In under 4 years, BLACKPINK had managed to become the biggest girl group in the world off the power of only 17(!) songs. Storming onto the scene with the 1-2 punch of “BOOMBAYAH” and “Whistle”, the group’s assertive and charisma-filled sound (plus with the heavy backing of their label – YG Entertainment) made them stood out amongst the ever-saturating scene that is the K-Pop industry.
However, even if they’ve separated themselves from the pack, the overuse of the same formula in their music feels like they’ve saturated their own discography. There are 3 types of BLACKPINK songs – the aggressive banger (“DDU-DU DDU-DU”, “Kill This Love”), upbeat electronic pop jams (“AS IF IT’S YOUR LAST”, “PLAYING WITH FIRE”), and stripped back ballads (“STAY”, “Hope Not”). These are guaranteed mainstays on any BLACKPINK album and their debut album is no different.
“How You Like That” kicks things off with a monumental bang that’s sticks close to the aggressiveness that the group is known for, even if the loud horns and twangy production reminds me a bit too much of “Kill This Love”. The song still serves a great first impression for the group’s attempt at global recognition.
“Pretty Savage” is another in the same vein with its distorted synths and haunting pianos, featuring an impeccable first verse from Jennie and Lisa while also having the best beat drop on the album. Still, the similarities between the two aggressive bangers are a bit too close for comfort, and are pretty much a prime example of what the ‘BLACKPINK formula’ is.
Then we have “Ice Cream”, my favourite of the 2 pre-release singles for the album. A bubblegum pop collab with Selena Gomez that drenches everyone in vocal processing but still manages to inject a whole lot of fun into the track, even if it’s hard to really tell anyone’s vocals apart. Fortunately the rest of the upbeat pop jams on THE ALBUM don’t suffer from this issue (they have other problems instead).
“Lovesick Girls” is a throwback to early 2010’s stadium pop with its heavy Icona Pop influence – the bombastic, vocal-layered chorus is pretty much a dead giveaway. Still, the track is by far BLACKPINK’s best effort at channeling the sound of early 2010s Western pop and also the best single from THE ALBUM so far. “Bet You Wanna” is another throwback as Cardi B delivers a “Girls Like You”-quality performance on a clearly “Girls Like You”-inspired song. There’s fairly generic production and performances all around, but it’s also a refreshing palette change when compared to the songs that came before it.
Every track mentioned thus far wears its influences on its sleeve and that’s not a bad thing in my opinion, as BLACKPINK still manages to make them their own through their trademark style of vocal performances. Though a criticism against them could be the lack of originality, but that shouldn’t distract us from the fact that this 5-song run is some of the best material the group has ever put out – especially “Pretty Savage” and “Lovesick Girls”…even if their scattershot placements on the tracklist ruins the experience a bit.
However, I can’t really hold the same praise for the final 3 tracks.
“Crazy Over You” can’t implement the ‘BLACKPINK formula’ more ham-fistedly if it tried. The group sounds like they’re on cruise control as their performances borderline on tediousness. Its only saving grace is the production which, funnily enough, feels like if Lisa’s Arab-culture-inspired set in the “How You Like That” video was converted into a beat.
Meanwhile, “Love To Hate Me” is standard pop fare, from its production to the vocals, but it does feature arguably Lisa’s best rap verse of her career so far. The extensive time she’s given (at least for a BLACKPINK track) allows the verse to have enough room to breathe, hammering home how impressive her technical ability can be.
“You Never Know”, however, is just plain boring. The only stripped back ballad on the record, there’s nothing here that they haven’t done better before. “STAY” still remains their best attempt at this sound, while “Hope Not” from the Kill This Love EP was already a subpar retreading of the same sound. In the end, “You Never Know” ends up sounding even more redundant when compared to the rest of their discography.
Finally, the biggest issue I have with THE ALBUM is its godawful lyrics, especially on the English-heavy tracks. Prioritising catchiness over lyrical depth, it’s disappointing that a project that’s been reportedly years in the making comes up so…lacking in content. Still, I guess it shouldn’t be too big of a surprise since their label would want to focus on ruling charts instead.
THE ALBUM feels like a product that’s meticulously crafted to protect BLACKPINK’s global brand while aiming to expand it at the same time. Hence, the project’s reliance on past pop sounds that have been proven to be popular, guaranteeing bottom line success even if it doesn’t push any sort of boundaries.
Is it the BLACKPINK album I always wanted? Not really. But it is a decent pop album that celebrates 2010s pop music and the established BLACKPINK sound that I fell in love with in the first place.