BLACKPINK – BORN PINK

K-pop’s – really, the world’s – biggest girl group return two years after dropping their first official studio album, appropriately titled The Album. Just as short as the last one and as many of their previous EPs and compilations, Born Pink stands at a tight eight tracks and finds the group continuing to follow their typical formulae of blending soaring pop melodies and hip-hop production. Their previous lead single “How You Like That” was already beginning to draw criticisms of the group wearing out the classic sound that peaked with the record-breaking “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du,” and most of this project isn’t going to change people’s minds. Despite a couple of highly dated production techniques and obvious repeats of what worked for them before, however, Born Pink does feel like a slight step up from their previous effort due to some increased versatility in the back half and bringing their dominant energy and confident mic presence to their usual style in the front half.

The project opens with the group’s two lead singles, kicking off with the most unapologetically formulaic of them all in “Pink Venom.” The group run through all of their most well-known techniques: the track opens with a menacing chant of their name, followed by a half-rapped verse set to thunderous boom-bap production, then a brighter-sounding pre-chorus, a hard-hitting and repetitive chorus, and it all builds up to some “bra-ta-ta” gun sounds at its conclusion – something they’ve used a truly obnoxious number of times at this point. The song has what feels like a Middle Eastern flair, but interestingly, it’s actually traditional Korean instruments, and the beat switch in the 2nd verse is a nice surprise as Lisa and Jennie begin carrying the song with some authoritative old-school flows. In other words, it’s the BLACKPINK formula to a T, and it still kind of goes hard. “Shut Down” brings similar energy, but is a little more enjoyable because it’s not a blatantly obvious replica. I’m always a sucker for a well-known classical piece with a trap beat, and giving a Paganini violin concerto with a waltz tempo the treatment genuinely brings out a unique vibe and rhythmic pocket for the group’s rappers to continue their dominance. Jennie really shines on this one, her deeper voice matching the eye-rolling and flippant disses to their opposition, and the chorus matching the rhythm of the extravagant violins in the back makes for something instantly memorable and anthemic. There’s even something reminiscent of drill bass near the end.

The hard-hitting tracks come to an end with “Typa Girl,” which coasts on a couple of distinctive keyboard palates – one with an icy tone, and the other sounding like it came out of a 90s video game. The group build themselves up with some increasingly outlandish boasts, but when Jisoo talks about Heaven’s gate opening up and hearing choirs in her presence, she certainly sounds appropriately angelic. The track ends abruptly and the chorus isn’t as strong here, but the verses make up for it with some more fiery rap verses and a central bar – “I’m the typa girl that make you forget that you got a type” – that’s the kind of simple brilliance you’re surprised nobody else grabbed first. “Yeah Yeah Yeah” kicks off a run of tracks where the group try out some other sounds, this one essentially aiming for the kind of anthemic, driving pop song that something like Post Malone’s “Circles” hit so effectively. The most Korean track on the project, hearing the singers in their linguistic comfort zone is nice and they deliver some promising build-ups before another disappointing chorus, though this one is the fault of a dated dance drop. It’s not even the worst instance of this on the album.

The air of blandness established by “Yeah Yeah Yeah” is erased on “Hard To Love,” which captures the stadium-pop energy a lot better. Interestingly enough, it almost feels like it combines the two major pop trends of today, bringing both some pop-punk and some disco-funk energy to the table. The track is also a solo from Rosé, making it sound more focused overall. With some classic power chords in the chorus, the track explodes into a catchy synth hook, a syncopated bassline, and some of the most passionate and heartfelt vocals on the album as Rosé sings about commitment issues and pushing people away. The next track, “The Happiest Girl,” is meant to be the album’s emotional piano ballad moment, but I get more emotional from Rosé’s soaring vocal runs in the back, oddly touching without words. “The Happiest Girl” feels a little off, almost like it was written in their typical formula before being stripped back, just because of how the hookier moments jump around erratically. Still, Jisoo’s vulnerability shines here and Lisa, typically a rapper, surprises with some of the most impressive vocal moments on the project.

The project saves some of its weakest tracks for the end. While “Tally” certainly carries a great sentiment about the necessity of having the freedom to move however the group desires in terms of their romantic activities, especially given what we’ve heard about the controlling world of K-pop, the song is a throwaway from the notoriously boring Bebe Rexha’s last album and it kind of shows. With a sleepy melody that stays roughly in the same place, the song doesn’t have much of a sense of progression. Still, it doesn’t hit the depths of “Ready for Love,” which mines the essence of the most annoying dance-pop songs that died out ten years ago and Marshmello tried to bring back. Reminiscent of the loudness war era, the blaring synth in the dance-drop chorus drowns out everything else about the song and sounds like it’s ripped from the freestyle mode of that new viral Trombone Champ game.

All in all, BLACKPINK has found their niche and they continue to roll with it, with a couple hit-or-miss diversions. As the members begin to experiment with solo work, I would love to see some full albums from some of the members – they’re clearly individually very talented, but get a little crushed under the BLACKPINK machine.  

Favourite Tracks: Shut Down, Hard To Love, Typa Girl, Yeah Yeah Yeah

Least Favourite Track: Ready For Love

Score: 6/10

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