Within Blackpink, Jisoo Kim is known as the funny one. She’s quick with a joke and loves a good prank, like the time she hid Lisa’s cellphone in the fridge during their trainee days. But Jisoo also has an introverted side, and on this April afternoon, sitting in a conference room at the headquarters of YG Entertainment, Blackpink’s label and management company, she’s in a serious mood, pondering big questions while sipping an iced coffee, wearing a cap that says “As time goes by it will be better.”
In Blackpink, Jisoo is the lead vocalist and an expert harmonizer. She loves making music, loves building a song from scratch with an expert team. But international fame isn’t always easy. Speaking in Korean, she talks of how she sometimes envies her past self: the sleepy, carefree high school girl from Gunpo, South Korea, who dreamed of traveling the world. At the same time, she also knows the life-changing force of the music she and Blackpink make.
(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.)
How are you today?
Not too good. I didn’t sleep well. I fell asleep around eight this morning. After this interview, I have to go to the hospital because my leg hurts. I bumped into a door really hard; it’s not broken or fractured, but it’s been hurting for the past month, so I need to get another X-ray. Luckily, we’re not done with recording [for Blackpink’s upcoming album], so I don’t need to use my legs yet. The choreography comes after the songs are done. I hope to heal quickly before then.
What are you up to these days?
My life these days is not too busy, because we’re not actively performing yet. I want to come back with music quickly. I live alone, but my parents are in the same apartment building, so we share meals together.
You grew up in Gunpo, a relatively small city. Then, with Blackpink, you experienced an immense world. How has that changed your perspective on life?
You know, not too differently. My mom and dad are proud of me, but I don’t feel like a world star. I’d go to see a play with friends, and they’d say, “Can you move around like this? You’re Blackpink!” Others say all the time, “Hey, this is a huge deal!” It doesn’t resonate with me much. I’m the same person that started training in high school. My social standing may have changed, but to me, I’m just . . . too me.
What do you love most about making music?
We don’t just receive a completed song. We’re involved from the beginning, building the blocks, adding this or that feeling, exchanging feedback — and this process of creating makes me feel proud of our music. If we just received premade songs, it would feel mechanical. I feel more love for the process, because we say, “How about adding this in the lyrics? How about adding this move in the choreography?”
You’re the only Blackpink member who hasn’t released a solo single. There’s buzz that you will this year. How would you approach your solo music?
I’m not sure how much I want to go solo yet. The music I listen to, the music I can do, and the music I want to do — what should I choose? I love songs with lots of instruments. I love different bands and rock music. What do people want from me? There’s a chaos of conflicting questions. So I’m still tilting my head in confusion. I’m not sure what will happen with my solo plans this year.
The questioning seems completely understandable.
Right. It’s not easy. Honestly, I didn’t know I’d be doing something like this. My high school friends, who know me well, are still baffled that I’m doing this job, and doing it well. They thought I’d live simply, freely, doing whatever I want.
Back then — I don’t know what I was thinking — but on some days, if I didn’t want to go to school, I just didn’t. And my parents let me! I’d wake up one morning grimacing because I didn’t want to go to school. My dad would say, “What’s up? Why the long face?” I’d say, “Dad, I’m so tired, I just want to sleep.” “OK, don’t go then!” Then the next day, my teacher would ask, “What are you going to do with your life?”
I can’t believe your parents let you skip school.
It’s not that they gave up on me; I think they adored me, especially because I was the youngest kid. They were more liberal with letting me do what I wanted. So it was hard for me to transition to [YG], where there were many rules. I had to grow a sense of patience and endurance.
Lisa said you would be the most likely one to move to Hawaii if you weren’t in Blackpink.
Oh, even if it’s not Hawaii, I talk about moving abroad all the time. I have always been a really free soul, ever since back in my school days. If people asked back then, “What are you going to do with your life?” I would think to myself, “Well, if I can’t get a proper job, I’ll get part-time gigs, leech from my parents, stay at their place! I’ll save some money, go off to play somewhere using that money, and eventually, I’ll find something I want to do! If this doesn’t work out, something else will come along!” I always had a strong desire to move around freely.
Is it difficult to do that now?
More than you’d think. No matter how I move around there are people who recognize me. And then I have to be careful.
MBTI personality-type tests are all the rage in Korea now. What is your type?
I think I’m ESTP (extrovert-sensing-thinking-perceiving). But I actually prefer being alone. I tend to set up too many dates, and later think, “What have I done?”
What did you dream of as a child?
I didn’t really dream of becoming a celebrity. I didn’t particularly have anything I wanted to do: “What will I do in the future? Will I find something I want to do?” Since I was a child, I admired people who had a clear dream, who delved into that one path. Will the day ever come when I also fall deeply for something?
For me, the periods of falling for something tended to be quite short. I get bored easily. For example, when you exercise, there’s a period of stagnation when your body’s just not changing — and then if you endure that, your body changes for the better. I’m not very good at enduring these periods of stagnation. So I’ve always admired people who can overcome that, and go higher.
Did you end up finding that path through Blackpink?
I think I’ve been able to endure this journey, half due to this refusal to yield. I didn’t want to stop halfway. I’d see other kids [trainees] falling out in the competition and going home. And I refused to yield; I wanted to endure until the end.
Do you have more certainty about your path now? Most people would see you from the outside and think, “Well, she’s part of Blackpink! That’s her path!” But I imagine the actual experience is different.
That’s right. It is a little different. I still don’t know. I think about this every day. What do I exactly like? Sometimes I think it’s a mystery. I love to perform, but I don’t always enjoy being part of the spotlight.
I think it’s different for the other members: They love to receive the spotlight, feeling energized by the people who come to see us, and then getting a bit depressed when the stage is over and silence arrives. Feeling empty. All these feelings are a necessary part of the job. I’m a little different. When I’m onstage, I think about not making mistakes. Performing still feels more like a test than something genuinely fun.
When we were performing at Coachella [in 2019], my back hurt so badly. Every night I was getting painkillers. I wanted to perform sitting down. But my pride wouldn’t allow myself to sit. And it wasn’t because “I love this stage so much”; stronger was my sense of responsibility and duty.
You’re still figuring out who you are.
I think I’ll keep searching my entire life. I still haven’t found anything where I feel “This is it for me!” Maybe I will never feel it. I can compromise with my reality because I’m part of Blackpink, and I’m not alone. I have the girls in the same boat, and the fans. And that gives me the power and a sense of responsibility.
What makes you happy these days?
I love to sleep. I sleep when I’m stressed — in a way, I’m escaping, but I love to sleep and dream. I used to write dream diaries, although not these days. I have a lot of different dreams. I’m not sure if I dream in language. I’ve dreamed a lot about Blackpink, but in surrealistic settings. Rather than a dream about going on tour, it’d be like, we’re piloting a plane and someone would chase us, and we’d be engaged in this chase.
Thank you for being honest about your struggles. It’s not easy for public figures to talk about their own mental health.
Right. There are too many eyes. I think it’s a little different, having people who cheer you on, the Blackpink members who’ll always be on my side — and having my own struggles.
I love talking to fans; I’m honest with them and talk to them like they’re my friends. We laugh so much. But then, even if these people are present in my life, there are difficulties that are my own.
Music has been your life for more than a decade now. How does it feel to realize that?
I’m so proud of myself: Wow, I did something for 10 years? What a miracle!
What does music mean to you?
I love the music that we do; without that, it would have been hard to keep going. I started listening to more music after I came to this company. Before that, it wasn’t something bigger. It became more meaningful to me after we started preparing for and making our own music.
How can I be a better influence on someone else’s life through music? I listen to music when I’m going through a hard time, or don’t want to think about anything — I hope our music can have the same effect on many others.