As K-pop continues to embed itself further and further into the culture on this side of the globe, there’s a definite argument to be made that BLACKPINK is the biggest girl group in the world at the moment. Thriving mostly off of shorter projects and coasting on the strength of their singles, outside of a compilation of their hits offered in Japanese-language versions this is officially their first proper album. At least, that’s what this EP-length 8-track set is categorized as. A couple weeks after BTS released their first ever English single to massive success, BLACKPINK similarly ups the English content here as they seek to attract new listeners, even linking up with a couple star features and producers in the Western world. Musically, BLACKPINK has always been about bombastic and powerful blends of pop-rap and electronica. This continues here with a couple knockout tracks featuring the band doing what they do best. However, the nature of the K-pop genre to abruptly mix and match styles gets a little too egregious at times. While BLACKPINK at their best is still an unstoppable force, the lack of flow, even within transitions between sections in single songs, makes an album standing at only 24 minutes in length a strangely uneven listen.
BLACKPINK are best known for their explosive EDM-fueled bangers, and opening track “How You Like That” is no exception, even throwing in a couple references to previous tracks in the same style like “Ddu-du Ddu-du,” “Boombayah” and “Kill This Love.” The first thing you hear are regal and punchy horn stabs, the band’s members trading off lines in a calmer, building section before a massive trap beat and quirky synth line introduces the chorus. The confident charisma on the track as they re-introduce themselves and dismiss the haters with a mirthful “look at youuuu, now look at me” is a perfect way to kick things off. While other tracks later on often feel like multiple songs in one abruptly shifting between each other, the evolution of this track feels natural, gaining more and more energy as it speeds ahead to its conclusion. We get a fiery rap verse from Lisa, then the track shifts into another percussion-heavy gear during the bridge that doesn’t let up until the end.
This leads into the set’s other single, “Ice Cream” with Selena Gomez. While it certainly falls into many overdone pop tropes and contains some truly cringe-inducing overblown metaphors and lyrical shortcomings throughout, the flirtatious delivery and the fact that just about every section of the song is a hook in its own right has made it a surprise grower. You can likely thank BLACKPINK linking up with the summery stylings of Tommy Brown, Ariana Grande and the rest of her usual production crew for that. Gomez’s vocals blend right in, the playfulness of her and the group trading off lines partially overriding the instrumental’s obnoxiously dated synth screeches. I don’t particularly like the song, but it has been playing on loop in my head for the last three days. That has to count for something.
The group’s electrifying energy continues with the track “Pretty Savage,” which shouldn’t feel like a carbon copy of something you’ve already heard only three tracks in. With some more menacing rumbling bass, a combination trap beat and EDM dance drop in place of a chorus as the girls sing along to the instrumental melody, and more lyrics building up their confidence and supremacy in the musical world and referencing their past work, the track is essentially a weaker version of “How You Like That.” Most of the overt weakness comes as a result of the jarring mid-song shifts from the punchy pop-rap to sweetly sung acoustic sections, a trend that only continues as you venture deeper into the tracklist. As a standalone track, this one likely still works, but in the context of the album the BLACKPINK formula evidently begins to wear all too thin. On the other hand, “Lovesick Girls” is a song where the group recapture that bombastic energy with a different approach, and it ends up being one of the better tracks here. Linking up with David Guetta, he gives the group a pulsating house-flavoured dance beat perfect for a shouted, anthemic hook. It’s actually a lot less common than you’d think that all four girls sing together, but they all unite to deliver this chorus augmented by a tropical synth line reminiscent of a Kygo track and another great Lisa rap verse.
The album’s other big feature comes in the form of Cardi B on the track “Bet You Wanna,” a track which Cardi herself has acted a little wary towards due to the group’s insistence that she keep things PG with her material. It certainly resulted in one of the weakest and most awkwardly delivered features of her career, but that’s far from the only thing that brings this track down. Opening on a syncopated rhythmic guitar riff that feels all too wholesome for a track with these five powerful ladies on it and some grating pitched vocals as they bring the same hip-hop flow to an instrumental that doesn’t accommodate it, Rosé rhymes “from the club to the tub” with “an all night hug” and Jennie responds with some squeaky vocal tics every time she says the word “bet” before the chorus drops. Rosé’s soaring chorus melody actually sounds pretty great, but it’s so out of step with the rest of the song that there’s not much enjoyment to be derived from it. The track “Crazy Over You” might be the worst offender of all in terms of abrupt shifts in energy that completely derail the song, opening with some interesting Middle Eastern-sounding influences and a hip-hop beat before the pre-chorus slows the tempo down and throws the rhythms off completely. Then, the chorus is a completely different song altogether more in line with modern trap. It’s three separate mediocre tracks smooshed into one without any transition.
The final two tracks both see the group getting a little sentimental. “Love to Hate Me” sees them take on toxic relationships and distancing themselves from an atmosphere of constant negativity with their typical upbeat approach and some more R&B-influenced melodies. It’s one of the better vocal performances here all around, but the incredibly blatant rip-off of Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools (Drank)” on the song’s pre-chorus is far too overt to be ignored. The closing track, “You Never Know,” however, sees the group slow things down for the first time to deliver an earnest ballad responding to the endless and unfair scrutiny the group receive as public figures. With a booming and persistent drumbeat, the group sound believably emotional over uplifting synth-piano and close things out nicely.
For a group with so many great singles over the years, it saddens me a little that my first public comment about BLACKPINK has turned out slightly negative. They certainly provide a breath of fresh air that is sure to continue as their style takes over the world more and more every day, but as an albums artist, there’s still a bit of work to do.
Favourite Tracks: How You Like That, Lovesick Girls, You Never Know
Least Favourite Track: Crazy Over You