Jennie on Blackpink’s Unique Brand of Hip-Hop and What People Get Wrong About Her
D uring breaks from her recent Rolling Stone photo shoot, Jennie Kim could more than once be spotted walking arm in arm with staffers from YG Entertainment, Blackpink’s label and management company. “I talk to her often about my own problems,” says stylist Park Minhee, who’s known Blackpink since before their 2016 debut. “She’s full of warmth.”
The group’s main rapper, Jennie grew up in Seoul, South Korea, and Auckland, New Zealand, before joining YG in 2010 — the first Blackpink member to sign on as a trainee. She was the first member to release a solo single in 2018: “Solo” was a chart-topper on the Billboard World Digital Songs chart in the U.S., and has more than 800 million views on YouTube.
There’s no leader in Blackpink, but sometimes Jennie feels like one, calm and collected, often answering more difficult questions on behalf of the group. Sitting in an empty dance studio at YG headquarters on this April afternoon, Jennie is friendly and candid, with minimal makeup and recently dyed orange hair. She’s about to hop on a flight to attend Coachella and stop by the L.A. flagship store for the eyewear brand Gentle Monster. (She’s an ambassador for the brand, as well as for Chanel.) But first, speaking Korean and English, she opens up about everything from overcoming stress to how she uses her science brain in Blackpink.
(In celebration of Blackpink’s appearance on the cover of Rolling Stone, we’re publishing individual digital covers with each member of the group; check back throughout this week for more.)
It’s easy for people to form quick opinions about someone who’s famous. What are some misperceptions about you?
When I was a kid, people often said I was too timid. I wasn’t bright and bubbling with energy; I was shy, even about saying hello. Nowadays I realize I have to [say hello], otherwise it’s gonna come off wrong, so I’ve broken out of that shell. When I was a trainee, I often heard, “Why does Jennie always look pissed?” At the time, that hurt my feelings. I’m not pissed. I’m just shy in front of other people. Rather than being hurt, I accept it and try harder next time.
Publicly, Blackpink is known as a group of powerful women — bad girls with swag. Who are the women of Blackpink that you actually know and love?
We’re no different from the girls in our age group. Sure, there are times when we talk about what kind of influence we could have, what we should bring on our next comeback. But what we actually love is talking about our cats, dogs, good food, and pretty places. More than anyone, we want to be ordinary girls — and what we happen to love in common is our work, cool things, music; these balance out to form a coexistence of Blackpink with our human, girlish sides.
You were the first member to release a solo single, “Solo,” in 2018. How would you describe your music outside of Blackpink?
I’m still discovering my own color. I love vocals, rap, dance — I can contain all of that in a single song. I have that diversity. Jennie in Blackpink has a limited image, but I have so many other things I like. There’s a lot of things I can do. The Jennie you’ve seen so far has been practice.
Who is the public, Blackpink version of Jennie?
Someone really forceful. Someone really solid. Aggressive, in a good way. My actual personality isn’t like that; so Blackpink Jennie has become a character to me. I’m looking forward to bringing my actual personality into music for my solo stuff later on. For example, I’m curious about what kind of vocals I’m capable of. [In the trainee days] I used to practice with R&B and more soulful songs. I like mellow, quiet music, too. I want to try a lot of different things.
And who was Jennie as a child? What did you dream of becoming?
I didn’t dream of being a specific person — I just knew I wouldn’t work in an ordinary job. Ever since I was young I loved color and dressing up. I never thought, “I want to be a star! A singer!” But I was aware early on that I liked a lot of different things. I wanted to find my dream quickly. Luckily, my mom was very supportive.
Before coming to YG, you studied abroad for five years, in Auckland, living away from your family. I imagine that wasn’t easy.
I was actually happier than anyone I knew. I adapted literally in a day — like, my mom called me on my second day [and asked], “Are you all right? Do you miss me?” And I said, “Mom, I gotta go, I have trampolines to jump on!” In retrospect, that life in New Zealand made me tougher, but when I was living in it every day, I wasn’t thinking, “I am alone, and I have to endure this.”
When I was living in Korea, until 10, I’d go to hagwon [for-profit cram schools], or study, or go to school. Korean education is very different. There’s not much outdoor stuff going on. Then I went to New Zealand, and they said I could run around and play every day! It was sad to be away from my family, but I was so happy to be there.
I love that you contradict my image of you. I was thinking in clichés, about a lonely child living abroad alone.
No, I was like, “Thank you, Mom!” I loved going to school. I really liked rewriting notes, organizing my notebooks, taking notes with different colored pens. It’s not so much the content; it’s the act of organizing that’s fun. I’d first take notes — with a pencil — at school, then at home, I’d rewrite them with colored pens. My favorite subjects were science and math. I liked learning formulas and inputting data. Partly because English was my second language, I was more scared of English classes. But math and science — if I memorized the formulas, I could use them like Korean.
Do you use this organized, science brain in Blackpink?
Of course. If you leave all of us alone, we don’t get stuff done. We play. If you lock us in a room, we turn on music and dance. But I keep thinking about the deadlines, what we have to get done by today, and so on. So I tell the others that.
Let’s talk about Blackpink’s music. Teddy Park is probably the most central figure in your creative process. What kind of a producer is he?
Oppa [“older brother” in Korean] plants in us the thoughts we need to have as artists, as human beings. I try to express the ideas creatively in my own way. He’ll randomly call me, “Yo, Jennie, we gotta step up.” I’d think, “Oh, that’s true,” and I’d stop what I’m doing and go to the [YG] office or learn to dance. All he has to do is call, and I’ll be like, “Oh, my God,” tensing up. But it’s a tension that Blackpink needs.
You said that Teddy is “hip-hop down to his bones,” and you inherited that.
To me, it’s the spirit of cool — vibes, swag, whatever words you can use. Blackpink’s hip-hop is something the world hasn’t seen before. We, four girls in their twenties from different backgrounds, are using Korean and English to weave pop music with a hip-hop base. Maybe if the really cool rappers in America, who do “real hip-hop,” look at us, it can seem a little like kids doing things. Our hip-hop isn’t the rebellious kind, but we are doing something very cool. What hip-hop is this? I don’t know! It’s just cool!
Which hip-hop groups do you like?
I really like Brockhampton. Seeing young men with different parts, making music together; I could empathize with them.
What are the big questions you think about these days?
These days, I think, how do I stay healthy? I became sick, both mentally and physically, after the last world tour ended [in 2020]. This isn’t something I want to share in too much detail with the fans. They worry, so I want to be vague. But for three years after debuting, we worked nonstop without resting. You know, we were young, in our early twenties. Our sleep systems were breaking down; we weren’t eating properly; I wasn’t hydrating myself — we did that for three to four years, and then started our tour. We were on tour for a year and a half. For a year and a half I didn’t have a home.
If I touched something I’d have an allergic reaction. I had no immune system at all, but we needed to keep touring. When the tour was done, we got some time off to be at home. Back then, I didn’t have time to learn how to take care of myself. I’m a very delicate person.
When I work out, I feel each and every muscle and ask, “This hurts, why?” These days, because we’re preparing for our comeback and planning our tour, I think every day, “OK, how do I prepare myself for my next busy two years?”
Did you reach out for help?
I think I reached out to people. Before that, I didn’t even understand the concept of friends. I listened, talked, and learned. Having family around me was also a big help. I think it’s really important to be healthy. Just know my weakness, what I’m allergic to, what I shouldn’t be putting in my body. I value this and study, so I’m stronger than before. I’ve met a lot of people in this industry and talked about mental health. For me, so far, when I’m good in my body, I feel happier and healthier. I meditate, do yoga, Pilates, etc. And have good people around you that you can trust. And pets.
You live with your family now?
Yes, but it’s a temporary phase. This could be TMI, but I was living abroad, and then the [YG] dorms for 10 years. So I’ve never really lived with my family. My mom and I have a very close relationship, almost like sisters. I decided a few years ago that I wanted to spend more time with my mom. We started living together for the past year, just around the time [Blackpink] got out of the dorms.
Wow, this is a huge change in your life from before. I respect that! I can’t live with my family.
Ugh, I’m moving out soon. I’ve had enough, mom! [Laughs.] Mom’s also like, “Get your own place.” [Laughs.] It was definitely necessary for my mom and I to have this time together, and it was a good decision, but now I’m ready to move out.
Have you ever imagined your future without Blackpink?
I don’t think Blackpink will ever end in my heart, as corny as that sounds. Regardless of what I do, I will always be Blackpink. Even if we’re 70 and we have different lives, I’ll still feel like I’m Blackpink. I’m committed. Blackpink, to me, is more than whether we do music or not. It’s a part of my family. You can’t deny your family. There are ups and downs: You’re all busy, you see them a lot, then you don’t — you’re still family.