As the standard bearers of K-pop’s “girl crush” style, Blackpink eschews schoolgirl innocence and embraces a harder, femme-fatale edge. Pioneered by their predecessors and labelmates 2NE1, this dark streak—the “black” referenced by the group’s name—manifests itself in the quartet’s hard-hitting choreography, edgy fashion, and braggadocious verses. With a scant 13 songs to their name over the course of four years, however, Blackpink’s approach has been at odds with K-pop’s prolific comeback-centered business model, as the group’s slim output attests to their prioritization of production quality over quantity.
True to the hype, Blackpink’s The Album features big-name producers from all over the world, crafting a catchy mix of pop, EDM, and trap. But at a spare eight tracks, and in light of the years-long wait, it seems more like an appetizer than a main course. The track “Pretty Savage” serves as The Album’s thesis, uniting all the essential elements of Blackpink’s empowering brand of K-pop: an addictive melodic motif; a powerful, arena-ready chorus; and an onomatopoetic refrain that transcends language barriers. It follows the Blackpink blueprint to a tee, though its loyalty to it feels predictable.
The “pink” of Blackpink’s performance ethos peddles sweet, light-hearted songs that sidestep the stifling cuteness that many Korean girl groups lean into, but these sugary offerings lack verve. With its thinly veiled innuendos, the playful, Selena Gomez-assisted “Ice Cream” attempts to channel Red Velvet’s oddball exuberance, but the song’s reluctance to expand on its three-note hook quickly becomes tedious. On “Bet You Wanna,” Rosé’s belts distinguish her as the group’s most gifted vocalist, but the song sounds like it was unearthed from the world of 2010s pop, reminiscent of something from Katy Perry’s Prism. And Cardi B’s appearance on the track feels canned, a conspicuous attempt to appeal to American audiences.
Blackpink’s greatest talent, for better or worse, is making toxic love sound glamorous. An addictive Balkan whistle and an explosive trap coda infuse “Crazy Over You” with the bombast of YG labelmates Big Bang. Lisa exudes so much swagger that she’s able to pull off clumsy lines like “Never the regular degular/Would clean my mess up/But I rather mess up.” And when the four women gleefully chant, “We are born to be alone,” on “Lovesick Girls,” solipsism and singlehood have never sounded like such a good time.
Still, these odes to love’s highs and lows ring hollow when compared with Blackpink’s image of unshakeable composure. The K-pop industry aims to groom idols like flawless demigods, leagues away from the mere mortals who consume their music. But the catalogs of artists like Jonghyun, BTS, and late-era 2NE1 prove that shows of vulnerability are quite possible, even refreshing, amid K-pop’s manicured perfection. “You Never Know” sees Rosé, Jisoo, Lisa, and Jennie grappling with feelings of sadness and inadequacy—if, admittedly, with lyrics that were penned by other YG songwriters. Such authenticity is an anomaly on the album. Crammed chockfull of crowd-pleasing EDM pyrotechnics and cheeky one-liners, The Album is undeniably a product of a well-oiled, state-of-the-art pop machine, but it feels stuck looking back to tried and true trends in both K-pop and Western pop music.