1. Track List (39)

BLACKPINK’s Much Older SQUARE TWO – EP Stirs Bright Memories I Didn’t Know I Had

camjameson
Written by camjameson
/ 11 mins read

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.

Collecting Many EPs Into One Experience, BLACKPINK IN YOUR AREA Collects All The Bops Of K Pop’s Most Popular Girl Group

taylor
Written by taylor
/ 9 mins read

In the world of K Pop, it is amazing how quick time flies, with acts popular one year and then gone just as fast as they arrived. I speak from a little bit of experience I would say; about two years ago, I began to consume a lot of K Pop daily on music variety shows playing on MBC, a South Korean TV channel, and I would have to say my favorite girl bands of that era (only a couple of years ago mind you) were TWICE and AOA – and while I never became a super fan of anybody, I noticed from watching the devoted fans on the show that almost every group playing had some sort of amazing support group, whether they were brand new or even a returning act looking for one more chance at a comeback before packing it in. My attentions shifted, plus I lost access to cable TV – and sure, I probably could have been watching Youtube all this time to keep up with trends, but as far as I can tell, both TWICE and AOA seemed to me to have fallen off the radar in the short time that I have been away from the genre, replaced in popularity by this super successful group BLACKPINK, whom I was never super familiar with. Though they formed in 2016, around the time I started watching those music showcases, I don’t remember them much, if they played at all. My first experience with them was not listening to the album BLACKPINK IN YOUR AREA, but rather, it was listening to this awesome collaboration between BLACKPINK and my favorite Pop singer at the moment, Dua Lipa. The song “Kiss and Make Up” was a real bop, with a Reggae Fusion beat and pretty seamless transitions between Lipa’s English vocals and the rest of the group’s Korean language singing. I really enjoyed the song enough to check out BLACKPINK’s musical output, and while most of the EPs featured part of the songs, BLACKPINK IN YOUR AREA is a little different in that the language is English and Japanese and all their tracks are collected here for maximum listening enjoyment. What I noticed though right away was that the music here was nothing like the Dua Lipa collab. On the one hand, it sounded surprisingly dated, featuring concepts that I felt have already been explored in K Pop’s previous phase. Furthermore, the album is much heavier on Rap elements, and the lead rappers, Lisa (Laila’s Manoban) and Jennie Kim, were some of the best rappers I had heard from a girl group in the K Pop genre. Don’t get it twisted, female rappers who specialize in real underground sounding K Rap are still ahead of the game because they concentrate on the craft and classicism more, whereas the aforementioned rappers here seem to just be mimicking the more obvious popular styles of Nicki Minaj and Iggy Azalea. A wise choice, as most mainstream audiences crave such a style. Yet, from a critical standpoint, I began asking – ‘is BLACKPINK’s music too derivative of overused mainstream concepts in general?’

The Influence Of Moombahton Is Most Evident

Not surprisingly, the album BLACKPINK IN YOUR AREA begins with the band’s two first singles, “BOOMBAYAH” and “WHISTLE.” These songs were actually released in August of 2016, which really ends up explaining to me why the sound is so dated here – as many acts, not just in K Pop, but in EDM Pop in general, were obsessed with club songs that featured wonky discordant horns on the choruses, or whistles, or sirens, all set to melodies that were oddly similar to arabesque music. This was the ‘international’ sound of the time, coupled with Reggae Fusion or more aptly described, Moombahton, the familiar sounding combination of Reggaeton and House. I also noticed the sound popping up a lot in the music of BTS and BIGBANG and EXO, but to be real, every act eventually got hip to the sound after I feel it began to die as a scene in America. I have stated that I really dig K Pop already, right? But I should specify, what I dig is that they tend to recycle American music and make it their own, and personally, I much prefer the 90s R&B New Jack Swing vibe they have adopted, over the Moombahton style which was also heavily adopted. Alas, the title “BOOMBAYAH” even sounds like a Moombahton phrase – and I have searched but can’t seem to find a translation of the phrase. This is one club ready song – big and bold, with very good Party Rock style rapping made popular by LMFAO and Far East Movement, if not a bit more aggressive sounding. Speaking of aggressive though, I wish the synth ladened hook wasn’t so angry sounding, and here is the melodic example of what I don’t really gel with – the notes are purposely off and ugly, but I would have been happier if this interruption was not there to begin with, as the buildup to the climactic moments are super great, and the creative beat, which mixes House and marching elements, definitely makes me want to dance. In the same exact way, I would have omitted the whole whistle melody from the hook on “WHISTLE”, a song which I am otherwise 75 percent in love with – from the lovely Alt Rock guitar build up, to the girl’s excellent rap verses. By the way, they have flawless English accents, though upon doing research, I can’t find any evidence that they may have stayed in the States or anything. That means they just have true dedication to Hip Hop cadences – and I am extremely impressed, as they sound American almost 100 percent of the time. But the whistling sounds like a dated club track idea, though I must admit, this was a popular sound at the time of the singles’ release.

Finer Club Songs Exist On The Record, And Switching Gears, BLACKPINK Really Shines

“PLAYING WITH FIRE” marks the first time on the album when I am truly impressed throughout a whole song. The hook here is very strange, but boy does it work, and when the song transitions into a House beat that swings, it is an indication that BLACKPINK are an adventurous band willing to take risks on sound. The synths are super beefy, and as always, the raps are essentially dope. Right after this fantastic song, BLACKPINK switches gears but to great effect, with the dreamy and romantic acoustic ballad “STAY”, definitely one of my favorites on the album. These are exactly the type of songs that I love to listen to when I’m in a coffee shop in LA’s K-Town. I love the pretty way in which the guitar strumming starts picking up to produce a compelling rhythm, and where the super feminine energy of the harmonies is juxtaposed against a more masculine and husky rap delivery. Goes to prove you don’t need a hard beat to have attitude on a such a track. “AS IF IT’S YOUR LAST” is the first truly perfect club track in my opinion, and this is because it goes for a more straightforward trance sound, without switching up the tone with outlier styled beats or melodies. When the rhythm does switch, I am surprised how much I enjoy this difference, which features a tropical tribal styled beat in a mini bridge section of the song. Alas, BLACKPINK’s winning streak doesn’t last, as I am met with an additional track that I just don’t feel works sonically; “DDU-DU DDU-DU”, an onomatopoeia that sounds as silly when spoken as it is when read as a title, and while the rapping on this song is pretty top notch, the EDM era hook suffers from a discordant flute melody that, again, does not go with the melody of the song. I totally understand that there is a whole audience for these types of sounds, but for me, such music decisions sound dated, annoying, and derivative.

The Last Three Tracks Offer A Variety Of Sound, But With Mixed Results

I believe just as albums should start strong, they should finish strong as well. Producers should at the least bookend their albums with the two best tracks – and that almost could have happened here on BLACKPINK IN YOUR AREA, if only the album had ended with the best song on the record, “FOREVER YOUNG.” Instead, it ends with a sort of underwhelming song for me, “SEE U LATER”, a track where the rapping for the first time sounds juvenile to me, and another strange melody drop happens on the club part of the hook, where again, a whole section of the song refuses to ‘play nice’ with the rest of the melody and beat already set. All of this is forgiven somewhat with the decent synth chords that underscore most of the song. A better song and hook exists on “REALLY”, with an attractive xylophone type beat, plus a surprising amount of Trap beat that simply doesn’t exist anywhere else on the album. The hook is strong and very urban, but the naïve melody is cute enough to give this song a balance of strong and soft attributes. But all my love goes to the Reggae Fusion bliss I found on “FOREVER YOUNG”, a track that gets everything right, from the perfect build up to the hook, to the best synth chord melody, to the best siren sounding chorus – where I actually want such a part to continue – and as if answering my prayers, this Synth Pop hook continues on for an extra few measures, before returning to another quality rap verse. A flawless song on a not so flawless album, but I still would like to see what comes next from BLACKPINK, now that they are officially the most popular girl K Pop group currently on the charts. The whole world is watching, so let’s hope their newest music is more updated in terms of style. As far as the rapping goes though, they could continue to deliver more of the same – as they are excellent in this regard.

BLACKPINK Bring K-Pop Back To Square One With SQUARE UP - EP

K-Pop music: Pretty much everyone loves it & have come to accept it as just another facet of the overall Western music industry, despite being born of a completely different culture – The genre has become the hot-ticket item in today’s market & everyone from Latin Dance artists to Trap rappers clamor for the chance to team up with Korea’s biggest export; As such, the captivating genre has adapted & refined its sound heavily over the years, going from loud, Dance-centric compositions with slight Pop influences & a heavy female presence six years ago to a vast tapestry of varying subgenres today, the term ‘K-Pop’ no longer having a singular sound as it now specializes in Alternative R&B, Dance Pop, Disco, Smooth Jazz, Trap & many more individual focuses – After coming so far as a genre, veteran K-Pop group BLACKPINK decided to take the genre back to its roots with SQUARE UP – EP, reminding listeners what caught their attention in the first place so many years ago; But how successful is this trip down memory lane?

Written by camjameson  / Feb 01, 2019
  • #BLACKPINK
  • #Kpop
  • #SQUAREUPEP
  • #World
  • #AlternativeRnB
  • #DancePop

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12. Artist Info

About

Blackpink (Hangul: 블랙핑크; stylized as BLACKPINK or BLΛƆKPIИK) is a South Korean girl group formed by YG Entertainment, consisting of members Jisoo, Jennie, Lisa, and Rosé.
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Active

    2016 (2016)–present

Label

  • YG
  • Avex
  • Interscope