- BLACKPINK released their debut studio album, “The Album,” on Friday.
- We listened straight through the eight-song tracklist and wrote down our first impressions of each one.
- Overall, “The Album” is an impressive collection of high-energy, versatile bangers.
- Although it lacks the feeling of a cohesive project, the tracklist remains true to BLACKPINK’s fun, confident style.
- The best tracks on the album are “Bet You Wanna” featuring Cardi B, “Lovesick Girls,” and “Love to Hate Me” – though we were underwhelmed by album closer “You Never Know.”
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
BLACKPINK finally unveiled their first full-length album, “The Album,” on Friday.
More than four years after BLACKPINK’s debut in Seoul, the release has been met with predictable fervor from the group’s passionately mobilized fans, who are known as Blinks.
Insider’s music reporter (Callie Ahlgrim) was joined by two guest writers and K-pop enthusiasts (junior digital culture reporter Palmer Haasch and weekend news fellow Inyoung Choi) to review the highly anticipated record. Each person listened to the new album on her own, jotting down initial thoughts track by track.
Overall, we thought the album lacked cohesion, but we were still impressed with its versatility. “The Album” proves that Lisa, Jisoo, Jennie, and RosÃ© can concoct sugary pop bangers with ease, gracefully blending elements of EDM, hip-hop, and even rock.
Here is what we thought of each song on “The Album” upon first listen. (Skip to the end to see the only songs worth listening to and the album’s final score.)
“How You Like That” is a quintessential BLACKPINK banger, but it’s not the group’s best.
Ahlgrim: I wasn’t infatuated with “How You Like That” when I first heard it; the structure, and its numerous competing elements, felt a little unfocused and extravagant for my taste.
But three months later, I find myself humming this song unconsciously. Its rhythmic chorus (“You gon’ like THAT, that-that-that, that, that-that-that, that”) sticks in my brain, and certainly doesn’t feel unwelcome.
I’ve come to appreciate “How You Like That” as a chaotic pop anthem.
Haasch: Even months after BLACKPINK released this as the first lead single, it’s still not fully landing for me.
While it’s definitely wormed its way into my ear, I still don’t feel like this song ever fully connects between its lyrical verses and heavy chorus.
That being said, I think it works as an album opener, because the sound is so recognisably BLACKPINK.
Choi: This is a great album opener. Not only is this a solid, chart-topping song that is incredibly catchy (the “Look at you, now look at me” part was on repeat in my head throughout the day), but it’s a song that I think combines so many trademark elements of BLACKPINK’s musical style.
The song, like BLACKPINK, is truly the full package: it has powerful vocals, catchy lyrics, a confident attitude, the signature “BLACKPINK in your area,” and of course, onomatopoeia (“Dum, dum, dum, dururu”).
The Selena Gomez-featuring single “Ice Cream” is catchy and fun, if somewhat underwhelming.
Haasch: I’ve warmed to “Ice Cream” a bit in the month or so since its release, but while I definitely appreciate it as a breezy summer bop, I’ve rarely returned to listen to it.
I do think Gomez is a great feature on this track, though, and Lisa’s verse is a definite highlight – the line “Mona Lisa kinda Lisa” rules.
Choi: OK, so I’m still trying to figure out why this song left me underwhelmed.
Maybe it’s that a summer bop like “Ice Cream” should have been released before the end of August.
Or it might be that my favourite part about BLACKPINK is that they’re usually incredibly straightforward with their lyrics (just take a look at “How You Like That” or “Kill This Love”), and this song has one too many double entendres.
Don’t get me wrong, this song is solid. But given the level of anticipation I had on this collaboration between some of the biggest artists in the world, I was slightly underwhelmed.
“Pretty Savage” is thrillingly brazen.
Ahlgrim: “Yeah, we some b—-es you can’t manage” is an ingenious lyric. It’s cheeky enough to sell me on the entire song – an ace-in-the-hole that it didn’t really need, since it’s a true bop.
I don’t need to understand every lyric to know that this song makes me feel like a catty icon. “Pretty Savage” is a straight shot of adrenaline, and I can easily see it boasting a heavy rotation on both my exercise and party-themed playlists.
Haasch: From the moment that the group actually sings their “BLACKPINK in your area” calling card, as opposed to speaking it, I was hooked on this track.
I also feel like we get to see a somewhat newer side of Jisoo here. Her lines during the second verse don’t feel like something she’d typically sing in a BLACKPINK song, but I love it.
Also, I screamed when I heard Lisa say, “Born skinny, b—-.”
“Bet You Wanna,” featuring Cardi B, is an ingenious collaboration that works on every level.
Ahlgrim: I don’t know exactly what I expected from a Bardipink song, but “Bet You Wanna” exceeded whatever expectation I might’ve had.
The production almost sounds like 2014-era Charli XCX – like “Die Tonight” combined with “Famous,” soaked with Cardi B’s distinctive attitude, sprinkled with saucy winks from Jennie, and topped with a phenomenal high note from Rosé.
Haasch: This is not at all what I expected from Bardipink, but I’ll level: This is really working for me.
That chromatic chord progression during the pre-chorus has me swooning, and overall, I feel like the song has a sense of momentum that I haven’t always gotten from BLACKPINK’s B-sides in the past. This is easily my top track off the first half of the album.
“Lovesick Girls” makes old pop trends and EDM flavours sound fresh again.
Ahlgrim: I don’t know if this was intentional, but “We were born to be alone” is the ideal anthemic lyric for our current moment.
It makes sense to release a high-energy jam that celebrates lovesickness and self-fulfillment. And it makes a lot of sense as the group’s next single: “Lovesick Girls” is like the EDM-flavored sequel to Ariana Grande’s smash hit “7 Rings” (“No love, never, my exes know / No diamond rings, that set in stone,” Lisa raps in the song’s third verse).
Haasch: This is not at all what I expected out of this album’s main track, but I’m so here for it that it’s not even funny.
My favourite part of this song is how weirdly plucked out of time it feels. The acoustic guitar/EDM sound, as well as Lisa and Jennie’s rap verse being backed up by big synth chords, give “Lovesick Girls” an impeccable early 2010s American pop vibe.
More particularly, this song feels like a natural follow-up to BLACKPINK’s 2017 summer hit “As If It’s Your Last,” as well as the group’s slate of 2016 debut tracks.
That being said, “Lovesick Girls” is more than welcome now.
Choi: I’ll start off by saying that I love this song. Jennie and Jisoo were part of the lyric writing process, and they did a stellar job.
Lyrics like “We are the lovesick girls” or “I’m nothing without this pain” (sung in Korean) serve to make this song a heartbreak anthem – but also, at the same time, act as a tongue-in-cheek way to brush off the trope that women are “lovesick.”
After all, they say they “didn’t wanna be a princess” and “a prince not even on my list.”
So far, “The Album” makes me think a lot about fellow K-pop group 2NE1’s first full-length album, “To Anyone,” released precisely a decade ago. And “Lovesick Girls” is the 2020 follow-up we needed to “Go Away.”
2NE1’s “Go Away” said, “Cause love is over / Love, love is over tonight.” BLACKPINK’s “Lovesick Girls” gives a great reply: “Yeah, we were born to be alone. But why we still looking for love?”
“Crazy Over You” feels like three different songs in one.
Ahlgrim: I wasn’t truly sold on “Crazy Over You” until the chorus hit.
Jennie’s fairylike vocals juxtapose beautifully with the rubbery beat, and the way Jisoo hits that final high note (“Like eee, eee, eeE“) is the sonic embodiment of a cherry on top.
Indeed, in less capable hands, “Crazy Over You” might sound overwhelming or haphazard. The verses’ South Asian beats don’t necessarily match the hip-hop-inspired chorus, and the bridge brings in a totally different rhythm. I even sense some underlying FM rock vibes.
But BLACKPINK has proven they can blend sounds and styles with grace. The song’s overall effect is more disarming than messy, and I can definitely see it growing on me even more over time.
Haasch: This song certainly keeps you on your toes. The transitions between the verses, pre-chorus, and chorus were a bit jarring at first listen, but if there’s any constant across BLACKPINK’s discography, it’s somehow making those shifts work.
“Love to Hate Me” is an instant hit.
Ahlgrim: This is easily my favourite song on the album so far – and unless the eighth and final track is mind-blowing, I think it will stay that way.
Naturally, the production on “Love to Hate Me” is sharp and powerful. After six strong pop songs, I’ve come to expect that. But as soon as I heard “Splish, splash, splish, splash,” I knew this would be different.
The girlish whisper hits like a siren call, coaxing you into submission with its feminine charm. And then, the fatal blow: “Only thing I think about is big stacks, racks, racks.” Whew. Take me now.
The group doubles down on this strategy in the pre-chorus, as Jennie rhythmically chirps, “Wake up, yeah. Make up? Maybe. I need you? Nah, I been good lately.” I’m sorry, but that slaps.
Haasch: “Love to Hate Me” is the first song on this album that has had me hooked from its first note. If there’s any song other than “Lovesick Girls” that I’m going to have on repeat, it’s this one.
I feel like this song has killer moments for each member, but Lisa’s verse is a standout even among BLACKPINK’s existing discography. I love that she’s on top of the beat for the entire verse, and the fact that she gets the whole bridge to herself.
“You Never Know” is a sweetly intimate song, but it doesn’t quite work as the album closer.
Ahlgrim: Most pure-pop albums try to make space for an emotional, intimate song – either as an attempt to assert a traditional definition of artistry, or to give listeners a break from the energetic onslaught.
“You Never Know” is the closest thing BLACKPINK has to a ballad on this album. And personally, I wouldn’t have chosen to close this extremely fun tracklist with its most forgettable song; had it been ordered earlier, “You Never Know” might’ve come as an intriguing digression, rather than an underwhelming farewell.
“You Never Know” is not a bad song. But I doubt it will leave a lasting impression on many listeners, which is especially disappointing for the album’s final song. As Zoë Kravitz says in Hulu’s “High Fidelity” reboot: “It’s the last thing they’re gonna hear and the only thing they’re gonna remember.”
Haasch: This is not the song that I would have chosen to close this album, but closing with a ballad-esque track isn’t without precedent for BLACKPINK. The group did the same thing on their 2019 EP “Kill This Love,” rounding out an eclectic set of trap and EDM-inspired songs with the soft ballad “Hope Not.”
I really like “You Never Know,” particularly in the way that it shows off the members’ individual vocal colours, but I don’t think it makes sense as the final thought on an album of energetic bangers.
That being said, I love when BLACKPINK dips out of their well-established wheelhouse and into softer tracks like these – I think it’s one of their hidden strengths as a group.
Choi: This song made me curious to hear more ballads from BLACKPINK. For me, the song is a great way to wind down after listening through an album that gives off so much energy.
“You Never Know” highlights the group’s ability to be vulnerable and express their own feelings, concerns, and thoughts on life.
Final Grade: 8.1/10
Ahlgrim: Speaking as someone who’s admittedly under-educated about the world of K-pop – but also someone who loves a slick, escapist pop record – I was roundly impressed by BLACKPINK’s debut.
Before “The Album,” I’d heard some of BLACKPINK’s music here and there. I was mostly awed by the group’s commanding stage presence and the positive energy of their sisterhood. Now, I understand how those qualities translate to bold, exhilarating pop music.
There’s a difference between sticking to a formula and maintaining a keen sense of self. BLACKPINK boasts the latter, wielding a magisterial control over their craft and delighting fans in the process. I’m eager to add these songs to my upbeat playlists.
That being said, however, “The Album” ironically feels more like a playlist than an album. The sequencing is messy, and while these songs are undeniably fun, they struggle to seem cohesive as a group.
I feel like I just took eight straight shots of multicoloured, sugary liquors.
Haasch: I’ve been following BLACKPINK since early 2017 – essentially since I started regularly listening to K-pop. This album feels long overdue for a group that debuted nearly four years ago and has been smashing records and garnering acclaim around the world since, fuelled by single albums and EPs.
“The Album” is the most comprehensive product we’ve seen from BLACKPINK, and it manages to encompass their musical identity in a way that pays homage to the ways their sound has developed since debut.
The pop flavours from their rookie year shine through in the “Lovesick Girls,” while tracks like “How You Like That” deliver on the brash, confident vibes of previous singles like “Kill This Love.”
Overall, I think “The Album” is a great showing for BLACKPINK. It proves that they’re far from one-note artists, and while eclectic and jarring at times, this album always keeps you on your toes.
Choi: BLACKPINK’s double-edged sword is that they have such a strong signature style that is so uniquely, undoubtedly BLACKPINK.
In one way, this easily-identifiable style is precisely what has led them to stand out to audiences worldwide and build such an impressive career for themselves.
At the same time, it can make you hesitate and wonder if there is room for growth for them as artists.
What “The Album” has shown is that BLACKPINK is by no means a group that can just do one style of music. These women have the ability to take on a wide range of styles, while at the same time knowing how to stay true to who they are as artists.
Their first full-length album incorporates elements of EDM, pop, and balladry while ultimately staying true to their roots in K-pop. The lyrics are confident and vulnerable. BLACKPINK is in your area – and you wouldn’t want it any other way.
Worth listening to:
“Bet You Wanna”
“Crazy Over You”
“Love to Hate Me”
“You Never Know”
“How You Like That”
*Final album score based on songs per category (1 point for “Worth listening to,” .5 for “Background music,” .5 for “Split decision,” 0 for “Press skip”).
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