Aside from BLINKS, the official name given to their most dedicated fans, few people in the crowd had likely heard of Blackpink when the four-woman K-pop group stepped onto the stage at Coachella in 2019. While Blackpink had taken blogs and social media by storm, they hadn’t made it into the U.S. pop mainstream. But by the time their short set was over, Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé and Lisa had won over the notoriously fickle Coachella crowd, with their diva-style vocals, animated rapping, and tightly-choreographed dance moves.
Now, they’re back with their long-awaited debut full-length album (the group had previously released a handful of EPs and shorter “single albums”). Simply titled The Album, the eight-song set is a slick, confident and wildly entertaining release from the biggest girl group in the world. Written and recorded in Korea while much of the country was quarantining under Covid, the album is at once an instant adrenaline shot for 2020 and a rallying cry for everyone to party again once the pandemic is over.
The album kicks off with “How You Like That,” the rowdy, genre-defying first single, which broke the record for most-viewed clip on YouTube within 24 hours of its release when it came out over the summer (the record was later broken by fellow K-pop group BTS, when they released their music video for “Dynamite” in September).
From there, the album sprints across a brightly lit playground of sonic influences. The songs are unmistakably pop, while drawing liberally from EDM and hip-hop, with a sprinkling of South Asian beats and FM rock for good measure. The mixing of genres is a K-pop signature, and something Blackpink do extremely well. “How You Like That” starts off as a straight-up trap song, before the beat drops and it inexplicably and wonderfully spirals into a pulsating club track that leaves you catching your breath. “Pretty Savage,” meantime, is the sassiest kiss-off track since “Thank U, Next,” with the girls warning haters to “check your attitudes” and “run, run, run [away]” over chanted vocals and a skittish, staccato-style beat.
The lyrics get more pointed on “Love to Hate Me,” with the girls dismissing a jealous and “stupid” ex. “Stressing over nothing baby relax / Why you getting angry? Ima kick back / Only thing I think about is big stacks.” If you still think all K-pop groups are soft-spoken and demure, it’s time to check your stereotypes. Themes of independence and self-assurance flow throughout the album, which breaks free from some of the more formulaic tracks and lyrics that have plagued other K-pop acts trying to crack the U.S. market. “Love Sick Girls” turns a familiar lament about being alone into an anthemic dance track that’s just begging for a lightstick and clubs to reopen. “Didn’t want to be a princess, I’m price less / A prince not even on my list,” the girls declare.
Much of the pre-release buzz surrounding The Album was focused on the two high-profile guests on the LP. The Selena Gomez-featuring “Ice Cream” is a shimmery pop confection that’s as delicious as its title suggests. Cardi B slides in for a rap break, meantime, on the Ryan Tedder co-write, “Bet You Wanna,” a seductive come-on disguised in a schoolyard-friendly bop. While the girls sing about “all night hugs” and “taking [a partner] to paradise,” the lyrics (even for Cardi) are more flirty than filthy, helping Blackpink successfully avoid the schlocky sex appeal of the early Aughts girl groups they’re often (unfairly) compared to.
If there’s one downside to the album, it’s that it’s too short. At just eight tracks, the high has barely kicked in before the party is over, and The Album leaves you wanting more: more grit, more experimentation, and yes, more than eight songs. All eight tracks are uptempo ones too, and it would have been nice to hear some of the emotional complexity the girls displayed in ballads like the raw, minor chord-leaning “Hope Not” (an underrated gem on their last EP), and the countrified, Kelsea Ballerini-style vocals of “Stay,” off Blackpink’s 2016 single album, Square Two (did we mention they don’t like working within the confines of genres?). Blackpink excel at leaving their audience wanting more, and if The Album is any indication, they’ll likely have plenty of schemes and surprises in store for us.