In 2017, I attended an immersive theatre production called K-POP. Centered on two group acts and a solo artist, we were literally walked through their trials and tribulations as they dealt with cruel trainers and management, fights over cultural identity, and the inevitable fading of relevance as the machine churns out newer and shinier talent.
It was a very cool show, particularly in the way it utilized the immersive format to personalize experiences. At one point, I was pulled into a side room by an actress who told me (and only me) to not trust her agent.
In its final scene, everyone came together for the big show, where they all sang and danced and it was a grand old time. I felt like I had gotten the gist of what a real K-POP performance would be like.
Korean Pop Superstar group Blackpink consists of a paltry four members, Jennie, Jisoo, Leesa, and Rose (versus, say, the 9 in TWICE, 8 in Girls Generation, 7 in BTS, etc.), is a bona-fide sensation. When their most recent single, Kill This Love, hit YouTube, it crushed records for the most viewed music video in 24 hours (56.7 million times seen), fastest song to hit 100-million views (three days), and the largest ever YouTube Premiere (just under one million concurrent viewers in the first minutes it was live).
They are also the highest charting female K-POP group on the Billboard charts and the first K-POP group to play Coachella – a milestone reached while I was at that Dance Gavin Dance concert a few weeks back. They were actually livestreaming the performance in Times Square just a few hundred feet from the concert venue, and I had seriously considered trying to catch part of it after DGD wrapped up, but the weather was bad and also Times Square is awful.
Little did I know, that performance was not a one-off in America and that they had announced some dates for a US tour months ago. Oops.
I literally found out this past Tuesday thanks to an email blast about events near the city that the next two days the group would be performing at the Prudential Center arena in Newark, New Jersey. And while Wednesday I was already set to see a musical satire about abortion that turned out to be one of the funniest things I’ve seen in years, I didn’t have Thursday plans. What I did have, though, was hardcore FOMO.
You see, a few years back, vocoloid persona Hatsune Miku performed at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York. I missed it. Then, just this past March, I was alerted again two days beforehand that J-Pop group Perfume was doing a show at the same venue. I missed that one too. I don’t have particular love for either group, but I knew they both would have been big spectacle productions. I’m still occasionally sad about missing both
I wasn’t about to let that happen again, $200-tickets be damned.
Particularly because I really like Blackpink’s music. So much so that they were actually my second-most-listened-to band of last year, and their collaboration with Dua Lipa, Kiss and Make Up, ended up being my third most listened to song despite being released less than two months before Spotify Wrapped the year up.
I have tried at various points over the past five or so years to get into K-Pop as a genre, but it’s often a bit hit-or-miss for me. I really like some songs but rarely entire acts. Blackpink is the exception. I’ll admit that I don’t love all of their music – Whistle, for example, sounds like a bad Kesha song from her dollar sign days, but the songs that I love I really *love*. I sing along to the English, sound along to the Korean, sometimes even try to dance along to their videos… that one never goes well, but I do it.
And that love is shared far and wide as the record-crushing and milestone-setting has proved, and their industry has been happy to oblige the fans, going so far as to literally release a 12-episode TV series called Blackpink House documenting a 100-day vacation taken together in a house provided to them by their agency.
And now they’re on a world tour. And people have come out in droves.
Though the initial email I received had said that the shows in Newark were sold out, that didn’t turn out to be the case. I expect that’s because this was the only stop with multiple nights – so folks got a choice. The arena seats about 11,000, and even with the back section occupied by technical equipment, I would say there were easily 7000 in attendance on Thursday night.
But there was something a little strange that I saw when booking the tickets: the name of the show itself: Blackpink 2019 World Tour With Kia Brackets In Your Area. Bit of a mouthful, right?
Immediately, I went to Spotify, trying to figure out who this mysterious “Kia” was. But after a couple of minutes, I realized that Kia wasn’t an opening act: it was a sponsor.
I was floored by this. It was like something out of Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. I mean, can you imagine, say, Taylor Swift putting an ad literally in the name of her tour? I know we’re into some late capitalism over here, but that’s next level.
And, like, cars? Why? Again, it’s a pairing as random as Conner4Real’s with home appliance company Aquaspin.
And it’s not like it was just a name thing: Kia ads played in the arena before and even during the show. The first time, before most people had trickled in, was just a regular old Kia ad. I found it a little funny. I mean, every single person there wepaid minimum $100 (with those pound-of-flesh fees included) to be served with car ads? Dayum.
The second time, the ad was during the minutes preceding their arrival; and it fittingly starred the quartet, increasing the hilarity of the whole thing.
By the time they were occupying an extended costume change in the final part of the show with a Kia-centric short film set to an instrumental of Kill This Love, I was nearly in hysterics. The audience took it upon themselves to add the song’s words, and then they cheered when it was over. It was amazing. And also terrible.
I don’t know how many millions of dollars Kia put into this, but I guarantee you at least fifteen young children told their parents that they needed to buy a new car on their way home. I mean, I’m never not going to think about Blackpink when I pass a dealership.
In the same vein, I saw someone on the floor with a sign that I sadly didn’t get a picture of that said, “Don’t worry Jennie. I use a Samsung” – this because during another show she had recoiled from taking a fan selfie when she realized that someone tried to hand her an iPhone and she is a hardliner for the group’s Samsung endorsement.
It sounds like a joke, because it doesn’t even make sense as a PR move… but nope, it happened. And I’m sure at least three people in that section bought Samsung phones in hopes of getting a photo.
This was Blackpink’s world, and we’re all just shopping in it. On that note, actually, literally all pre- and post-show music was the group’s. I always find it fun to hear what music bands choose to play at concerts to set the tone or whatever, but I guess nothing sets the tone better than listening to the music you’re about to see performed. Then, fifteen minutes before they’re set to go on, their music videos start to play on the huge screens at the sides of the stage. People cheer and sing along. Why even bother having the show at this point?
After half an hour of that, the lights go down. The giant LED wall in the back goes crazy, so does the crowd. Lights, lasers, fog, four women rising from the floor.
Oh. That’s why.
The 75 minutes that followed were dazzling. I’ve only seen a handful of arena shows in my life, but none of them were anything like this. Aside from the pageantry and pyrotechnics, it was just amazing to see these women work. I like music videos, of course, but I’ve always preferred the dance practice videos where you can see the choreography without distraction.
As with everyone who makes it through the K-pop curation process, they are obscenely talented. Everyone involved is. From them to their backup dancers to their designers to the totally unexpected jam band who showed up like halfway through and did some soloing while we waited for the next leg of the show. This part was super unexpected, but it was also awesome.
It also went even further towards justifying the ticket price. Because we weren’t just getting all of Blackpink’s songs done live (though we did get all of them). Aside from the jams, we got Rose singing a mashup of Let It Be with some songs I’ve never heard and Leesa doing a badass dance routine and Jisoo covering Zedd’s “Clarity.” This was really what it was all about for me: getting to see these little extra moments that play more to who these people are.
I really felt that during the encore. When the lights went down after what they claimed to be their last song, I did think that was it. I wasn’t sure that they had any other songs except, like, the new remix of Ddu-ddu-du.
(Guess what they came back out to.)
While I think this is a less interesting version of the song, both it and what followed were genuinely special in their disorganization. There is apparently no dance for the remix, or for Hope Not – which actually ended the show. So instead of something flawlessly choreographed and performed like we had seen so far, they just walked around the stage: waving, blowing kisses, doing silly little dance moves just because the music inspired some movement. There was a little bit of that at the tail end of As If It’s Your Last, but here even the backup dancers just came out and freestyled.
Look, Blackpink is a product, perfectly manufactured by YG Entertainment to sell Kia cars and Samsung phones and cheap plastic hammers with lights in them for 45 freaking dollars. But it’s made of actual people. And in these final songs, the façade fell just a bit: we could see these superstars bask in the moment as thousands of screaming fans cheered for them.
After all of the flawless manufacturing, it was nice to see something human.
Eight-Point-Nine out of Ten