When BLACKPINK debuted in 2016, K-pop had entered the international pop cultural lexicon, but it had yet to scratch the surface of the global music market. By 2020, the four-piece had become the first girl group to perform at Coachella, established partnerships with luxury brands like Celine and Chanel, and snagged the No. 2 spot on the Billboard 200 with The Album, its first full-length. For 26 consecutive weeks, BLACKPINK charted alongside Ariana Grande, Halsey, and their “Kiss and Make Up” collaborator Dua Lipa. With the help of loyal fans known as Blinks, who mobilized to influence streaming statistics, they ascended to K-pop royalty.
Born Pink, their highly anticipated follow-up, is a compact collection that leans into the image of authority BLACKPINK have fostered in the six years since their debut. Its eight songs juxtapose hard-hitting hip-hop—a staple of agency YG Entertainment’s sound—with a smattering of pop, disco, and balladry. Through sound and imagery, the group’s hard and soft sides mingle, but it’s unclear which element of BLACKPINK’s name Born Pink wants to focus on. What is apparent is an unfortunate disinterest in the growth and advancement K-pop has made in the last few years.
The album’s first single, “Pink Venom,” impresses with its braggadocio and influences, weaving in lyrical references to the Notorious B.I.G. (“Kick in the door, waving that Coco”) and Rihanna (“One by one, then two by two”). In the song’s rap break, a G-funk synth zips behind members Lisa and Jennie as they indulge in a lavish yet rebellious lifestyle of “designer crimes.” Sampling is less popular in K-pop than in Western hip-hop, but its use in “Pink Venom” aligns BLACKPINK with contemporary pop culture’s aesthetic obsession with the 1990s and ’00s. The updated approach to the “girl crush” concept holds some artistic merit, unlike their gimmicky 2019 single “Kill This Love,” an EDM march steered by buzzing horns that sounded dated on release.
Rather than following in the steps of “Pink Venom” by experimenting, the rest of Born Pink serves up more of the same. Side A, which supposedly explores BLACKPINK’s edgier side, is clouded with tried-and-true K-pop techniques like the classical sample (Niccolò Paganini’s “La Campanella”) on “Shut Down” and unsteady attempts at bass-heavy ringtone rap on “Typa Girl,” which calls to mind Billie Eilish’s whisper-sung “Bad Guy” or Ashnikko’s horror-tinged “Daisy.” Tiptoeing around already familiar ideas, the album’s first half never finds new footing.