The K-pop quartet on filming their lives for a documentary, working with Lady Gaga and Cardi B, and what makes the "hardships" of fame worth the fight.

By Joey Nolfi
October 15, 2020 at 04:11 PM EDT
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Contrary to what recent headlines suggest, Blackpink isn't merely "primed" for global domination. With multiple music videos notching over 1 billion views since their 2016 debut, 51 million YouTube subscribers, and four hits on international charts this year alone, the Korean girl group is already there. And their first venture into Hollywood, the Netflix documentary Light Up the Sky, poses a simple yet compelling question for the monolithic quartet in the wake of their resounding success: When you're at the top of your game, where do you go next?

"We started our training when we were very young. I think there are hardships with anything you do. And for us, we have our fans, who give us so much love and support," Jisoo, the group's eldest member (and warm maternal figure) tells EW. "So, that helps us push forth with whatever we are doing, and it will continue to do that in the future."

Blackpink's genuine appreciation for the fans whose love has anointed them as pop royals is the emotional lifeblood of Light Up the Sky, which chronicles Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé, and Lisa as they create new music and travel the world on a massive tour visiting legions of their diverse followers from Thailand to New York City. But as powerful as the group's star-making energy is as a collective, here director Caroline Suh's intimate lens unearths rare, profound moments in sectioning the women off from each other for one-on-one interviews, allowing each member to tell her own story — from candid memories about her childhood to current anxieties about loneliness and exhaustion — with endearing vulnerability. It becomes clear that the act's evolution hinges on a deep look inward.

"We haven’t seen each others’ audition tapes before, so it was very fun," Jisoo says of a moment in the film that shows the foursome playfully cringing, giggling, and clutching at each other's arms while watching years-old demo tapes of their teenage selves auditioning for a slot in the band. "It was nice to see footage because it brought back so many memories."

While the film serves as a reflective, humanizing scrapbook, it's also a hopeful testament to what's on the horizon. Right now, the group is forging that path through music — particularly with the Oct. 2 release of The Album, their first full-length, Korean-language LP that, with its No. 2 debut in North America, is the best-performing project from a Korean girl group in American chart history.

"Because it's our first official album, we wanted to show our color, the color of Blackpink," Jennie explains, referencing The Album's tonal mix of bold sexuality, sass, and ferocious, eclectic beats (Middle Eastern strings, hip-hop bass, wallops of EDM pizazz) combining for an authentic sonic portrait of Blackpink in full girl-power mode. "We wanted to present an image that people would think of when they think of Blackpink, and what kind of music we put out.... we channeled the girly side of ourselves and performed according to the girly lyrics. We hope you love it, and we hope our message is delivered the way intended."

Amplifying Blackpink's message on The Album and beyond are powerhouse assists from Selena Gomez ("Ice Cream"), Cardi B ("Bet You Wanna"), and Lady Gaga (they featured on her Chromatica cut "Sour Candy" in May), all of which the group considers a privilege as they fully acclimate to being fixtures on the world stage: "When we first heard she wanted us featured in her album, we were really surprised. We have listened to her music and looked up her performances often during practice, so it was very meaningful," Rosé says of working with Gaga. "She called us personally and explained the song to us in detail.... She explained and told us she was very happy to work with us, so it was an honor."

Throughout Light Up the Sky, Suh never loses sight of her subjects' passion for their art. At their core, these women are fans — of Cardi B, of Lady Gaga, of each other — as much as they themselves are idols to millions. There's a sweet scene toward the beginning where the group huddles in a studio with superproducer Teddy Park, who plays their crystalline verses on "Sour Candy" for them for the first time. Their faces light up, they vogue, they throw their heads back in ecstasy as they soak up the song's relentless house beats, and it's clear these women are still capable of being awed by an industry that, by all accounts in the film, saps much of their energy, time, and attention.

The Album channels those highs and lows — from the earnest heartache and loneliness on display in "Lovesick Girls" and the sultry desire of "Crazy Over You," to the cheeky declaration of being "born skinny, bitch" on the empowerment anthem "Pretty Savage" — into a euphoric tapestry of varied tones. It perhaps best signals that, while the group has achieved measurable commercial success, they've now found an assured identity as artists who hit their prime early, and have yet to relent.

"When we first heard that we would [be the first K-pop girl group to] perform at Coachella, it felt unreal. We still can’t forget the very moment we went on stage and saw the audience for the first time," Jennie remembers. "That’s when we really felt that people were really listening to Blackpink’s music, and thanks to that experience, we gained a lot of energy and felt our fans’ love for us. So, it was a time for growth. It was.... very precious for us, and we’ll always remember it fondly."

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