First published on 18 October 2022.
Blackpink’s announced leader is often said to be Jennie, who like overlooked member Jisoo is older than the younger prominent members Rosé and Lisa. Jennie also has a new song, played at the Seoul debut of the world tour for Blackpink’s second LP, Born Pink. And it got me thinking. Over a year ago, I decided Lisa was the K-Pop equivalent of Nicki Minaj. Rosé clearly intends to imitate Taylor Swift. Meanwhile, Jisoo sung one of Camila Cabello’s songs ‘Liar’ at the tour, a good choice. But what about Jennie? If Lisa echoes Michael Jackson and Nicki Minaj, then Jennie — I suggest — echoes Rihanna and Kanye West. The comparisons to Michael Jackson and Kanye West are unusual for Blackpink, and these are the comparisons I like to make, since they reveal what has been overlooked about the group. Let me consider the case of Jennie, since I have written quite a lot about the role of Lisa in fusing hip hop and K-Pop through her Thai heritage and the Middle Eastern sonic production elements that Teddy Park employed in ‘Lalisa’ and ‘Money’. If Lisa is the clear leader of K-Pop into western music, then Jennie is the mastermind behind Blackpink, supporting the others while pushing the genre forward. Jennie is the new Kanye. Here’s why.
‘You and Me (Moonlight)’ is just an astonishing song. It echoes Jennie’s defining debut ‘Solo’, but it goes so much further into the electronic chorus that the whole song oozes a kind of club dance-ability that is rare for popular songs aimed at a general audience. It does have the potential to become a classic, and is more than a statement. It just makes sense. This is the dark dance club hit this year so badly needs.
But Jennie is like Kanye in more respects than simply releasing an at once dance-able and deeply-felt hits. Jennie is, like Jisoo, among the less conspicuous members of the group. But Jisoo likes to talk in interviews. Jennie is by far the quietest member of the group, labelled as ‘moody’ by fans. Remind you of anyone?
Thing is, Kanye is a producer. Jennie is a singer/rapper/dancer. Right? But Jennie’s whole personality is one of an artist rather than a performer per se. The performance adds something extra on the surface to the artistry underneath. People complain about Jennie’s lack of charisma compare to, say, Lisa. But Lisa is the frontman. Jennie is like the drummer who drives the show forward, with impressive solos and runs. Now she’s stepping into the limelight.
Kanye took a while to go from being known as a producer to being a rapper in his own right. He was twenty-seven when his first solo LP The College Dropout was released. In today’s post-Justin Bieber age, we expect fame and fortune to come at a young age. Indeed, Jennie covered Rihanna before the Blackpink age began. But to become the new Rihanna is a feat that takes time. (Blackpink are known for being extremely keen on Rihanna’s groundbreaking album Anti — I wonder which member got there first?)
Jennie is actually nearly about the age Kanye West was in the months running up to the release of The College Dropout. So Jennie’s moment to become the Kanye West of K-Pop, and thus the artistic mastermind behind the genre in its climactic phase, is ripe for the blossoming. PSY made waves with ‘Gangnam Style’ in 2012. It has been a while since a K-Pop song blew up in the way of ‘Despacito’ or ‘Havana’ in Latin pop hits in the West. Perhaps it is about time. What do you say?
I should comment on record labels. Interscope which distributes for YG Entertainment also housed Billie Eilish in her Kanye West- and Michael Jackson-inspired moment of alternative pop domination. It is unclear what record label is right for Blackpink members after they leave YG and go their separate ways after this tour is over. One could argue for Lisa going the way of hip hop straightforwardly, following in the footsteps of Eminem and Kendrick Lamar. But Def Jam, which housed Kanye West, is not quite the place for Jennie, whose musical ingenuity resides more surely in pop. Why isn’t Jennie the new Michael Jackson, and Lisa the new Kanye?
It comes down to an intricate balance between style and substance. Michael Jackson is a performer, at the front of the stage. Kanye West is a producer, an artist, further back, almost behind the scenes. His fame is accidental. MJ’s fame was never accidental. Lisa’s fame is clearly meant to be. Jennie? Well, what will be, will be. If ‘ye’ came this far, with his mind and heart and soul as his only permanent allies, then so can the inward-looking visionary from the biggest musical group of the century. Like Kanye, Jennie’s inspiration is Lauryn Hill, who redefined hip hop in the 1990s; and like Kanye, Jennie’s business and fashion acumen is not in doubt. But more than that, Jennie’s technical skills reflect a genuine artistry that can move the soul. And it isn’t forced. In today’s age of fake depth and ubiquitous mediocrity, that is saying something.
Destiny awaits. It’s gonna be quite a journey. After all, it has been, already. Maybe it’s time for a brave new fantasy in this tired, broken reality. What do you say, Jennie?
Disclaimer: Any similarity between names mentioned and actual individuals is purely accidental and largely theoretical. These are fun ideas to entertain but, as always, I may be mistaken. After all, what do I know?