Review By Wendy Smith
So, K Pop. If you’d asked me on Friday what I thought of K Pop, I’d probably have said that it is the epitome of a manufactured, manipulated, empty, mindless drivel that the music industry has ever turned out. But other than purchasing a BTS burger at McDonalds, I have never given it any time so my opinions are admittedly baseless. Ever on the hunt for knowledge and self-improvement, I accepted the challenge and fronted up at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne on Saturday night with a partially open mind and a great sense of curiosity.
To say this gig was different to what I would normally spend my concert going money on is an understatement. I was instantly conspicuous in the sold out Rod Laver Arena. That’s 15,000 people, but is small potatoes compared to Blackpink gigs in Japan (110,000 people) and at Coachella (125.000 people). I have blonde, curly hair – 99.9% of the crowd did not, sporting jet black, dead straight hair, the kind of straight that I have, at times, spent hundreds of dollars to achieve (we all want what we don’t have, right?). I am 50 something – 99.9% of those present were somewhere between achieving their pen licence, and their driver’s licence. But the sense of excitement was palpable and the arena was resplendent with probably 50% of the audience, having rented these squeaky hammers, like a child’s toy, except keeping with the theme, they were in fact illuminated pink hearts – soooooooooooo cute.
There was no warm up band for Blackpink, instead, as I took my seat, the big screens flanking the stage were playing music videos…………of Blackpink! The girls were running a wee bit late, and every time a video came to an end, an expectant cheer rang out, followed by an “Ohhhhhh” when the next video came on. The crowd in the General Admission area were amusing themselves during the delay, with a thousand selfies. Instagram is going to be awash later on.
At last, the lights went down, and after one last video, played at a louder volume, and by the light of 15,000 phones on video mode, Blackpink appeared. Resplendent in baby pink, the choreography was slick and sexy and the opening song How You Like That, sung in a mix of Korean and English and definitely pulling on Asian influences with a great big serving of Hip Hop. After the first song, the girls came forward to introduce themselves. The giggling, blowing kisses and making love heart signs jarred massively with the hypersexualised costumes and suggestive dance moves I had just witnessed but that’s K Pop for you. It turns out that there is an Aussie in the group – Rosie (spelled Rosé) is a Melbourne girl who entered a K Pop training camp in 2012 before being chosen for Blackpink in 2016. The Melbourne fans were keen to welcome her home with her introduction getting the biggest cheer.
This show was divided into 4 acts and an encore, punctuated with costume changes. The first Act was rounded off with the much more poppy Lovesick Girls, performed on Stage B. The song ended with 2 streamer cannons going off, engulfing the crowd in streamers. The punters loved it.
While the girls disappeared to change into something less appropriate, something unexpected was revealed from behind the huge video wall on the stage. There’s a band! Real live people playing instruments. That was a pleasant surprise as up until then, I had assumed a backing track. The girls reappeared and Act 2 started with another track relying heavily on Hip Pop (a new genre I just invented) Kill This Love followed by Pink Venom, a track that had a middle eastern vibe to it.
It was during this 5 song set that the band were introduced. The 4 on stage musicians had their little moment and then we met Brandon.......his instrument – Pro Tools. I had always thought this was a bit of kit confined to use in the studio and for fixing dodgy vocals. But thinking about it now, the music of Blackpink definitely included sounds that guitar, drums and even keyboards, could not produce live so fair enough. If it allows artist to recreate the studio sound in a live environment, which let’s face it, is what we all want when we go to see a band, go for it. And I don’t think that even standing next to the bass stack, could the bassist have produced the hair parting, bass sound that accompanied Blackpink in certain songs. The air positively vibrated.
Act 3 gave the girls their little solo moments with 4 songs that allowed them to show off their talents with songs that suited their personas. Jisoo sang Flower, almost entirely in Korean with a very Asian sound. Rosé gave us a mash up of 2 songs, Gone, a story of heart ache and On the Ground, a more upbeat pop song which also highlighted another unique aspect of this gig, the videography. Sitting above what would normally be the sound desk but at this gig, looked more like the computer lab at Melbourne Uni, were 6 giant cameras, positioned to capture every move and gesture to be featured on the stage’s screens. And in this song, there were also 2 on stage camera operators preceding Rosé up the walkway which really gave the video an interesting feel. Lisa was up next with Money. Lisa is actually from Thailand and has the most American persona of the girls, covering most of the rapping and Hip Hop elements. The solo’s finished up with Jennie, with her solo song, aptly titled Solo.
Another costume change was required to bring us into Act 4. This set included a couple of absolute bangers with Shut Down and DDU-DU DDU-DU. During the set also, the girls came out for a bit of chit chat giving Rosé a chance to talk about living in Australia and coming to Rod Laver to watch the tennis. She seemed a little vague on this but considering she left Melbourne to go into the K Pop factory in Seoul at the age of 16, her childhood in Melbourne probably feels very distant.
A 2 song encore came (after another costume change of course, this time coming out in their own merch – well, a girl’s gotta make a living) we got Boombayah and finally a fitting song to finish on, the up-beat As if it’s your Last.
So what do I think about my first K Pop experience? As K pop seems to be the magpie of musical genres, pulling on multiple influences such as said Hip Hop, R & B, rock, jazz, electronic dance etc etc, there was something for everyone, including this jaded old Rock Chick. The fact that Blackpink rely more heavily on harder edge Hip Hop and Electronic sounds made it an easier listen for me than if I’d ben sent to watch a band of pretty boys (sorry BTS). So if Blackpink are ever in your area, go see them – you’ll be in for a great time.