A small glimpse behind the K-Pop curtain

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By Zsarlene B. Chua, Senior Reporter

REVIEW
Black Pink: Light Up the Sky
Netflix

For its first original Korean Pop (K-Pop) content, streaming giant Netflix turned its gaze onto what is arguably Korea’s top girl group, BlackPink, as it tries to answer why the group — which is the first Korean girl group to perform at Coachella and which has a string of chart-topping hits around the world — is so popular and the overarching question why Korean acts are so popular right now. But while the attempt is admirable, Black Pink: Light Up the Sky offers little more than a crash course introduction to K-Pop and BlackPink and rarely offers anything new to people with a modicum of knowledge about the genre or the group.

“We were able to go back to times that we even forgot ourselves and that brought back a lot of memories. Since our training period to debut until today, we wanted to show all the hard work… while also sharing the authentic, the more original moments on stage that we really didn’t get to share with fans before. I hope that the Blinks (as BlackPink fans are referred to) are looking forward to the documentary and to our story,” Jennie Kim, one of the members of BlackPink, said during a global press conference on Oct. 13, ahead of the Oct. 14 release date of the documentary.

The more than one hour documentary is not only peppered with individual interviews with the four members of the group — Jennie, Roseanne “Rose” Park, Jisoo Kim, and Lalisa “Lisa” Manoban — but also home videos and videos from back when they auditioned and their training.

More than once, it was noted by the members — especially Rose who shed tears telling her story — that it was so hard living apart from their families while they were still in their teens and undergoing the strict training regimen YG Entertainment subjected them to, in order for them to become stars.

This segment felt like drawing the curtain, albeit slightly, to see how K-Pop — a genre of Korean pop music that is currently exploding in popularity — and its stars are formed: through years of training that can start as early as 11 years old, numerous dancing, singing, and language classes (Jennie noted at one time that they train for 14 hours a day, while Rose said she had to do two to three dance classes a day), and living together in a dormitory.

It also showed how cutthroat the industry is: Jennie mentioned that the original plan for BlackPink was for it to be an “eight or nine” member girl group but that was gradually whittled down to four when they debuted in 2016.

“I think what makes K-Pop K-Pop, is the time we spent as trainees,” Jennie said and in a way she’s right: K-Pop is known for its catchy songs and dynamic dances, two things that require years of training to perfect.

NO SCANDALS
The documentary, directed by Caroline Suh, focuses more on the individual BlackPink members and their stories, stories fans of the group may have already known, and offers no further information on why they became so successful.

It doesn’t delve into how BlackPink was seemingly created for the Western market by choosing three members who can speak English and were raised outside South Korea: Jennie grew up in New Zealand, Rose was born in Australia, and Lisa is Thai.

The documentary also didn’t interview executives of the label apart from Teddy Park, the producer of all of BlackPink’s songs thus far, which may be a way of distancing the group from the scandals that have erupted around its label, YG Entertainment.

YG Entertainment is one of the biggest entertainment companies in South Korea and has produced acts like Big Bang and 2NE1. Two years ago, the label’s top honcho at the time, Hyun-Suk Yang (YG himself) was accused of arranging sexual services for foreign investors, and former Big Bang member Seungri (Seung-hyun Lee) was charged with arranging sexual services, gambling, embezzlement, and other charges, in what is now called the Burning Sun scandal, named after Seungri’s nightclub where the alleged crimes took place.

The scandal forced Mr. Yang to step down from his post as “representative producer,” a post where he played a major role in casting and training new possible K-Pop acts, alongside music and video production.

The documentary also does not mention that BlackPink was created right after unceremoniously disbanding 2NE1, a popular girl group which debuted in 2009 and produced hits such as “I’m the Best” and “Ugly.”

Mr. Yang was quoted by The Korea Times as saying that BlackPink was not made to be different from 2NE1, only that they chose pretty girls with skills this time.

“If you ask me what differentiates them from other girl groups, I will say I did not form them with that in mind. I tried to make the YG version of a girl group like I did with 2NE1. But this time I wanted the girls to look pretty too, with skills,” Mr. Yang was quoted in 2016. This statement incensed fans of 2NE1 at the time.

Mr. Yang also admitted that BlackPink would have the same producer as 2NE1 to produce their songs, Teddy Park, which led fans to speculate that some BlackPink songs such as “Boombayah” (2016) and “As If It’s Your Last” (2019) were originally 2NE1 songs.

And while seemingly made for fans, the documentary showed Teddy Park acknowledging that fans are asking for more music from BlackPink as the four-year-old group only has one full album to its name, released in 2020, and a string of mini albums. Many K-Pop groups come out with a main album every one to two years and an extended play of the album in the same year.

Mr. Park said that they listen to fans but that they are “very particular” about what to put out there.

At length, the documentary is a tribute to a four-year journey of four girls trying to make it in a cutthroat environment, but does not go beyond offering a glimpse behind what the industry is really like or what it attributes to its growing success.

BlackPink: Light Up the Sky is now streaming on Netflix.

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