BLACKPINK’s Much Older SQUARE TWO – EP Stirs Bright Memories I Didn’t Know I Had
For the majority of the early-teens up until 2016, I had a fairly fringe understanding of just how spectacular K Pop music could be, never really succumbing to the Korean music machine that so many had fallen in love with largely due to how disappointed I was at the rise & eventual fall of J Pop music in the early-noughties. Being a heavy consumer of Anime & Japanese culture through much of my youth leading into my later years, I’d been let down time & time again by how much time I’d devoted to watching J Pop grow, my dreams of it being the next big thing squandered as public reception waned so much so that you almost never hear anyone mention that they actually like the genre unless they’re talking about the opening credits for a series like My Hero Academia or Naruto; As such, I naturally strayed away from the popularity K Pop had garnered in the last decade, thinking it too was going to just be another fad that would die in time, but to my surprise some of my favourite acts recently have been of the K Pop variety, notable groups being NCT U with their fantastically bombastic Dance numbers & GOT7 with their astonishingly soulful nineties-R&B revival aesthetics, spawning a newfound love for the impressive musicianship of the burgeoning Korean music scene. It goes without saying, then, that I’d missed out on a lot of prominent acts earlier years, generally writing off the 2010 to 2015 period of K Pop as nothing more than kitschy Idol Pop music with a slight EDM vibe running through every song’s chorus, an opinion I so unrightfully applied to one of the groups I hold so near & dear to my heart today, BLACKPINK – Yes, I actually got my first taste of how spectacular they were with their most recent release SQUARE UP – EP towards the latter end of 2018, a thrilling album that not only touched on the anachronistic origins of female-led K Pop music but did so with more authenticity & true skill than the vast majority of contemporary K Pop groups, instantly achieving crush-status as I swooned over the group’s delightful personalities & incredible vocal prowess that just seemed to stand apart from the rest of the crowd. Imagine my surprise, then, when I find that SQUARE UP – EP was actually the third in a trilogy of EP drops from these ladies, each more impressive than the last & packed to the gills with dancefloor potential I can’t help but shake my butt to every time I press play; More importantly, I realized I’d actually been hearing their music for years in the most random of locations, from Korean Barbeque joints down here in Los Angeles to commercials on various music platforms before I’d started working for VIBBIDI, the tracks within their second EP drop SQUARE TWO – EP – sometimes packaged as SQUARE ONE & SQUARE TWO together – being of particular splendor, giving me a sense of recent nostalgia I had no idea I was connected to already – So let’s jump in & see why this album is so overwhelmingly enticing, shall we?
The One Time Marketing Actually Stuck With Me
As I’ve already alluded to, I’ve been an employee of VIBBIDI for quite some time now, spending the last couple of years expanding my sonic horizons to levels I’d never even dreamed of before through long days curating music, writing Single Reviews & now trying my hand at weaving Narratives for all to enjoy; It makes sense, then, that I would’ve been using various music platforms for casual use before ever getting the job, as everyone – especially a professional musician such as myself – needs music to survive in this incredibly tumultuous period of history where death & taxes are the only real things of value we have to look forward to – Upon popping SQUARE TWO – EP in for a preliminary listen, I found myself immediately taken back to around 2016 before I got the job here when I was presented with the album’s introductory track “PLAYING WITH FIRE,” a phenomenal number absolutely bathed in sexual charm, electronic brilliance & spunky attitude I was absolutely sure I’ve heard at one point or another in the past without actually knowing who it was. I’m not too sure if it was via Spotify, YouTube or some other medium, but I can distinctly remember hearing the 5 seconds leading up to & the entirety of the chorus for this song play ad infinitum at some point in the past during one of those pesky commercials you’re forced to hear in-between every three or four songs when you have a non-premium account; More specifically, it’s the hilarious part of the chorus when the group’s lead rapper Lisa utters ‘now burn, baby, burn’ with the most confident yet misspoken English accent that gets me every time, resulting in the song lodging itself deep within my brain for weeks & even months on end after the fact, easily the only time in recent memory when one of those little music adverts actually made an impact on me rather than being 15 seconds of wasted airtime – Lo & behold, even before they captured my heart with the incredibly intoxicating mixes on SQUARE UP – EP, the dream girls who’d been running around my mind all these years were BLACKPINK all along, likely setting the stage for me to receive them with such open arms when I rediscovered them last year. Seeing as it made such an impression on me, I think I can say with absolute certainty that “PLAYING WITH FIRE” perhaps represents the very essence of the group with acute precision, taking the emboldened feministic attitudes each member possesses & throwing them over an epically-bold Dance beat with Alternative R&B sensibilities overflowing from every orifice, bouncing along with the power of a Tyra Banks catwalk-stomp whilst utilizing the distinct compositional trends of modern Future Bass & Electro House music that had made their way over to Dance Pop at the time; It’s a song that knows how to stick to the formulas you’d expect in K Pop whilst appealing to the broader international market with little tastes of modernity from time to time, beautifully illustrating how much more talented BLACKPINK are than the vast majority of their contemporaries.
Quaint & Pure – A Masterclass In Restraint
Feisty numbers of feminine empowerment aside, the true test of any K Pop group’s talents is without a doubt their ability to adapt to different stylistic choices without making them feel out of place; It’s one thing to produce a by-the-books Dance hit that assaults the listener with wild Electronic beats & glitchy distortions designed for team-choreography videos on the internet, but it’s another to be able to restrain yourselves sonically & still evoke as much character & poise as you do in your more bombastic tracks, something BLACKPINK are able to display ever-so-efficiently within the walls of SQUARE TWO – EP whilst barely breaking a sweat – A stunning example of how well these girls can manipulate their voices is the song “Stay,” a coy & somber ballad centered around a tender acoustic guitar melody with a bright & bubbly uptempo chord progression you’ll find yourself smiling gaily at from beginning to end, supported by a string of angelic vocal harmonies & quirky Electropop synthesizer effects which create an absolute of pure innocence & bliss you could easily get lost in. Disregarding the sudden jump to a day-camp singalong theme during the choruses, I find this song to bear a striking resemblance to many of Beyoncé’s laidback acoustic ballads like “Disappear,” “If I Were A Boy” & the absolutely riveting song of self-discovery “Emotions,” a track that still to this day gives me chills when I think of how sonically-exceptional the entire arrangement is. Take a step over into songs like “Whistle” & you’ll actually find even more of this so-called restraint as BLACKPINK pull the wool over your eyes…uh, or maybe ears ?, producing a super sultry Dance Pop tune that’s flirtatiously youthful with hints of Tropical Dance instrumentation all throughout it that seem to be leading towards an inevitable bass drop of epic proportions, as is customary for an Alternative R&B-inspired tune of this variety back in 2016, only to give audiences a totally-groovy yet incredibly-basic chorus that’s even lighter in intensity & instrumentation than the previous verses were, showing that you don’t need to sell yourself short by following formulas so long as you’ve got a sick beat & a delightful set of personalities to hold the listener’s attention throughout – To most, this probably isn’t that impressive, as you’d generally expect to have your socks rocked off with flabbergasting bass-drops & high-flying vocal breakdowns in today’s K Pop numbers, but I can’t help but give BLACKPINK all the respect in the world for defying convention & doing something so totally unique & quite frankly cool within the album.
These Chicks Mean Serious Business
I might be a minority voice on this next one, but the thing that instills such radiant joy within me more than technical restraint, more than nostalgia & certainly more than melodic flexibility is how unabashedly kitschy the final track “Boombayah” is, combining so many elements of mainstream Dance Pop music from over the years that it’s able to not only satisfy today’s listeners but give a bit of a retrospective on Pop media itself for anyone who’s paid attention to the Pop machine in the last two decades – Just what the hell am I talking about, you ask? Well, BLACKPINK employ all sorts of melodic techniques in this track that can be directly linked to Pop trends of yesteryear: The main rhythm of the song is derived from the Club Hit compositions of 2007 to 2009 that tried so desperately to bite off the popularity of underground House music in the years prior, a la the early days of Selena Gomez’s solo career & all of the “Just Dance”-era Lady Gaga noise, then you have the Middle Eastern-inspired melodies of the 2012 to 2015 Alternative R&B scene which placed value in diatonic vocal patterns & singsong-y nursery-rhyme patterns like pretty much anything Jason Derulo released in that period, tied together in spectacular fashion by a hard-hitting DJ Snake-style EDM beat during the choruses with slight traces of early-noughties Tiësto Progressive House & Trance energy – I mean, if that’s not a worthwhile retrospective of Dance music performed by what’s easily the face of the industry’s future in K Pop to represent what the epitome of Dance culture is, I don’t know what is; Don’t worry if that sentence didn’t make sense, either, as it’s far from my best work. Nevertheless, the main takeaway from this experience for me is that BLACKPINK have been producing nothing but bangers for years now, yet somehow they’ve graced my presence the least out of any of the major players on the K Pop radio circuits these days, further validating the importance of taking some time every now & again to explore the edges of the music you’re interested in whenever you get the chance, as you never know what gems are waiting to be discovered just beyond the riverbend if you’d only allow yourself to give up the convenience of simply pressing shuffle or play on some knobs professional playlist of the world’s ‘hottest hits.’ Hell, I’m a curator myself & even I make sure to spend as much time as possible out of my comfort zone, knowing full-well I could run into a bunch of duds that waste hours of my life but that I could also find my next lifelong obsession just one more page away.
2. Track List (5)
3. Official (5)
4. Live (3)
5. Featuring Remixes (3)
7. Similar Albums
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9. Album Info