Recently I have developed a thing for girl groups.
Actually that’s not true – I’ve always loved a great girl band and probably been overly harsh towards those that don’t impress me in the same way – Girls Aloud? Yes please. The Saturdays? Hmm, I’ll allow one or two of their songs. I even did a podcast episode about the greatest songs by girl bands (which I probably would change because great songs get released all the times).
So really I should say; I’ve developed a thing – nay, a fascination – with BLACKPINK, the South Korean K-pop quartet.
I’m not sure when I first became aware of Jennie, Jisoo, Lisa and Rosé. Their group name was on the fringes of my conciousness for a while (probably aided by the success of League of Legends’ fantasy K-pop act K/DA), but when I heard their collaboration with Lady Gaga, Sour Candy, I still didn’t realise their status as the world’s most popular girl group. Then one night, home alone and not feeling like going straight to bed after a long day of watching and working on a CSGO broadcast, I saw Blackpink: Light Up the Sky on Netflix and instinctively hit play.
If you’re not familiar with the K-Pop idol industry the documentary gives a good overview; tweens and teenagers are auditioned by management companies (BLACKPINK are a YG Management act) where success means taking a place in a training boarding school, but does not guarantee a trainee a “debut”, where they are unveiled to the world as part of a new act, or that they won’t be cut during one of the managements’ monthly showcases. Some trainees learn their craft for the best part of a decade, learning the art of singing and performing choreography at the same time. Dancing is a hugely important part of the training school – BLACKPINK’s songs are hard to imagine without the iconic dances that accompany them and there is even a “lead dancer” role in the group, attributed to multitalented rapper Lisa.
The standard set for and by these idols seem impossible; impossibly thin, impossibly perfect. Moves on point, epic delivery. In some ways you should not relate to these women because you cannot be them. Their girl power anthems are about how they are “pretty savage”, as opposed to how you are beautiful on the inside and should love yourself. And it’s intoxicating; do I want to love myself for who I am, or do I want to go out and show how awesome I can be? BLACKPINK most certainly strive for the latter; they go out and slay, and rather than be torn down for their confidence, they are worshipped for it.
However, in their Netflix documentary, we actually get to see behind the precision and polish witnessed in their numerous performances. (I’ve been binging them on YouTube to pass the time during weight training over the past week, discovering that the group’s discotography is shorter than their global domination would suggest.) We understand that these women have grown up together – unlike the pop groups seen on Top of the Pops in the noughties – and we see their initial auditions for YG Management, which show talented but fairly normal young girls who might be passed over by X Factor producers, let alone reach Simon and co.
However, reaching the goal that is unattainable to most can mean sacrificing who you are, in order to become who you are needed to be.
In one scene, Rosé is seen playing her keyboard and talking about her insomnia. Later, in one of the more vulnerable moments of the film, the emptiness experienced after performing to a packed arena is explained. I think that’s the moment that most resonated with me and led to the obsession. Because last year, the year of travelling the world doing my dream job, was the loneliest of my life.
But I’m not a k-pop superstar, I’m someone who talks to star players and tells their stories. At LAN events , I watch them strive for the top, achieve their goals or fall short. And then I go back to my hotel room and prepare to do it again the next day. In the arena I soak up the emotions of the people I speak to, take a plane home and spend two days (if I have them) either in a weird void where I can barely communicate as the adrenaline suddenly drops off, or buried in my laptop preparing for the next trip. In Cologne recently the best nights were the ones where I got to play CS with people I knew, replacing the rush of being live with the excitement of trying not to die in a virtual environment.
This year, when everyone’s plans changed, isolation and FOMO set in and continues its hold on me and many more. Now I weight train to BLACKPINK. Skid on the floor in my socks mimicking their DDU-DU-DDU-DU fingerguns. Google what the “netizens” (internet citizens) are saying about Jennie in an attempt to understand why she’s somewhat controversial. During my pre-show hair and makeup routine, I’ve discovered rapper CL of BLACKPINK’s precursor 2NE1, who doesn’t have a 24 inch waist like most of her peers, but does have the flow and the stage presence of a global superstar, holding court in a way I could only dream of.
I’ve found escapism in the fantasy worlds portrayed by these women in their performances. Where you can be a “bad bitch” and be celebrated for it rather than feared or despised, and selling yourself short is unheard of. I indulge in those three minute moments of musical joy, knowing deep down, it’s an illusion, but one that’s easier to attain than loving myself for who I currently am.
Next week I’m recording a song in an actual recording studio – something I never imagined I’d get to do. Working with a producer who sent me an instrumental he was working on, I’ve written a lyric and melody that – like a K-pop song – reflects the person I wish I was, rather than who I am. But I’m hoping in the studio I can become her. When I walk out at the end of the session, I’m going to try and take that with me.