Blackpink: Light Up The Sky is now streaming on Netflix and it is a surprisingly humanised look into the inner lives of the world’s most popular girl band. Formed in 2016, Blackpink is a four-member South Korean group who have since then become a global sensation. They are currently the most-followed girl group on Spotify and the most-subscribed band on YouTube. The 79 minute documentary recounts their early days of struggles and wins, essentially building towards their triumphant performance at Coachella in 2019, where they became the first Korean girl group to play at the annual desert mega-festival. The documentary also provides a revealing look at the ultra-competitive K-pop industry, a music business notorious for pruning its artists into glossy commodities.
Korean-American director, Caroline Suh, combines backstage and on-the-go footages of the group with separate interviews with its members: Jennie, Lisa, Jisoo and Rosé. Arriving just two weeks after the release of Blackpink’s first studio album The Album, the documentary has been produced with the cooperation of Blackpink’s record label, YG Entertainment. Among its executive producers is YG’s chief executive as well. And even though at the back of one’s head, one is aware that Blackpink: Light Up The Sky is a big marketing strategy, somehow the documentary feels truer and more real than many other similarly conceived pop-star docs made by American singers, kudos to how compelling all the women are in their confessional-style interviews.
What Is The Documentary About?
The documentary traces the lives of each of the four bandmates and chronicles their journey to international stardom. Their singular personalities, styles and idiosyncrasies are allowed to come into focus, and one realises that the members of Blackpink really are an international ensemble: while Jennie and Jisoo were born and raised in South Korea, Rosé is from New Zealand and Lisa is originally Thai. All the four girls receive equal time on screen, and perhaps what makes the documentary work so well is that they’re all equally intriguing to watch. Jisoo and Jennie seem to be a bit more shy and reserved than Lisa and Rosé, but ultimately their dynamic together is what proves to be the secret ingredient to their success story.
The documentary is truly at its most convincing when the girls get the freedom to talk into the camera and share their experiences of homesickness, body image and the pressures that comes along with stardom. They also get candid about the sacrifices and stresses placed on young women artists in the modern world. The documentary simultaneously also focuses on the intense, boarding-school-like training regimen that artists have to go through within the K-pop industry. This training apparently begins when the contenders are in their early teens (we get to see audition videos of the girls as well), and the practise entails a rigorous schedule that allows only one day off every two weeks.
As a result, in the interviews the girls recall missing out on their teenage years and longing to see their families. One clever recurring bit shows the members together in a movie theatre analysing each of their audition tapes, and it testifies to how innately the training grills the idea of perfection inside these young artists.
Why It Works So Well
No matter how old you are and from where you’re streaming it, there is something very universal about what Blackpink: Light Up The Sky attempts to showcase: at the end of the day, you are watching four young girls working hard to get to live their dreams. The sheer commercial achievements of their music would once have been unthinkable for a non-Anglophone artist. In fact, the members themselves acknowledge the expectations they currently face. There’s a bit when their producer asks “How do we live up to this hype?” His question comes as the girls are working on a collaboration with Lady Gaga, one that notably goes on to cement their group’s name as a global phenomenon.
Not only is each member’s journey superbly interesting, but the girls themselves are also magnetically charming, each with different personality traits that play out both on stage in front of thousand of fans and in the intimate, quiet moments that follow. Although, the documentary refuses to dig deeper into the ways companies commercialise talents by making young kids work to the bone. Neither does it discusses the darker sides of the conservative Korean entertainment industry, with its unrealistic beauty standards and strict adherence to gender roles.
Nevertheless, there’s a lot to admire and enjoy about the documentary, for both K-Pop fans and newbies alike. I, for once, had little background knowledge about the group and the industry while coming into it. But I came away with a deep appreciation for the hard work, artistry and talent that is representative of Blackpink. The members of the girl group are really fun to hang out with for an hour and twenty minutes, and if the documentary can make a fan out of me, there’s a chance that it might do the same for you.
Picture Credits: Netflix
Views expressed are the author’s own.