Blackpink review – world-conquering K-pop girl band prove worthy of the worship

O2 Arena, London
Mixing trap with europop and R&B, as well as precision-tooled dance moves, the South Korean superstars put on a hugely entertaining show

Even if you had never heard of them or their record-breaking statistics – most-streamed girl group on Spotify, most-subscribed to music artist on YouTube – you could work out that Blackpink are a very big deal just by strolling past the O2. The roof glows pink, illuminated in their honour; the queues for the merchandise concession are so vast you would think they were giving stuff away for nothing, which they’re definitely not. Security have been sent in to stop any more Blackpink fans (AKA Blinks) joining the lines, presumably out of fear they’ll still be queueing long after the band have taken to the stage.

Inside, it’s the same story. The audience is older than you might expect but the bars are deserted, while anywhere selling a T-shirt is absolutely mobbed. The whole arena is lit by the rosy glow of theofficial Blackpink light stick, an item shaped like a kids’ toy hammer that squeaks when you hit something with it, with pink hearts on either side. When the object of their affections finally arrive on stage, there’s a lot of screaming and a crush at the front that causes a pause in proceedings. Higher up everyone remains decorously seated, the better to capture smooth cameraphone footage: everyone films everything all the time.

As to what is at the heart of Blackpink’s success, the dance moves are precision-tooled, the music an impressively eclectic trolley-dash through pop’s recent history (backed by a live band that includes the obligatory arena-pop-show guitarist who appears to be shredding like Yngwie Malmsteen while making no audible contribution). It grabs at everything from trap to bouncy europop to EDM, but the best tracks carry some of the spacey strangeness of Timbaland or the Neptunes’ exploratory early-00s R&B, as on Crazy Over You, Typa Girl and Whistle. Or they come with unlikely diversions, as when Shut Down samples Paganini’s second violin concerto.

Either way, it’s all exceptionally well made and high-impact. There’s a distinct lack of filler, even during a section where each member performs alone: Rosé and Lisa do their solo hits, Jennie an unreleased song that’s clearly going to be a success if the crowd’s response is to be trusted, Jisoo a cover of Camila Cabello’s Liar which proves that, whatever advances in pop take place, there’s always room for the kind of bouncy cod-reggae once peddled by Ace of Base.

While Blackpink project a sweetly likeable demeanour projected between songs, their lyrics surprisingly tend not just to bad-girl posturing (“We some bitches you can’t manage,” offers Pretty Savage, a funny thing for anyone involved in the micromanaged world of K-pop to sing) but also to the surprisingly NSFW: “I like to go play dirty,” suggests Tally, “just like all of the fuckboys do”. There’s none of the high-concept stuff about Jungian psychology that was attached to their fellow K-pop sensations BTS’s oeuvre; more glossily abstract videos that cover the costume changes, including one of Blackpink walking nervously through a sinister forest, unwisely clad in sequined evening wear.

Even someone who isn’t a fully paid-up devotee would have to admit it’s hugely entertaining and finished to a very high standard. You’re never assailed by the feeling that accompanies some big pop shows of the audience being short-changed. But there doesn’t seem to be anyone here who isn’t a fully paid-up devotee: just Blinks, clutching their merch, waving their official light sticks, screaming their heads off in a manner that suggests Blackpink’s position as the world’s biggest girl band will continue unchallenged.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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