On their much-anticipated studio record debut, THE ALBUM (2020), K-pop royalty BLACKPINK continue their production of high-octane singles alongside many milder, less-cohesive additions, culminating in a fun-but-inconsistent record. Jumping off with their two initial singles, the album begins with a lightning-quick energy, and more than enough swagger for ten people, let-alone four. The first of these, “How You Like That,” puts a heavy emphasis on a trap-based, marching-band-inspired beat full of snare drum rolls and distorted brass. The shifting tones of the fanfare accompany their confident “How you like that?,” and “Look at you, now look at me,” establishing their powerful and unapologetic personas in a way that’s very contagious. Coming in and out of the choruses are background vocals that mimic the beat behind them. And much like Kanye West’s singing in “Feel the Love,” they only serve to emphasize and exaggerate what was already working quite effectively.
The following “Ice Cream,” featuring Selena Gomez, continues a pattern of K-pop songs surrounding sweets, but still feels surprisingly original and enjoyable. Selena Gomez’s smooth vocals mesh well with the rest of the group’s, and the brighter, colorful, up-tempo instrumental pops out, especially after following the much-different “How You Like That.” Even the whistling, which can easily become coy, adds some cute flavor to the mix. The hot start extends with the greatest of the non-singles, “Pretty Savage.” The similarities to “How You Like That” are hard to ignore, but while it exudes the same message as its predecessor, the beat shifts are much more erratic, reminiscent of a circus or a madhouse, rather than a band. The echoing “ohs” also sound like a victorious, early 2010s pop song, in a very welcoming way.
The first major trip comes on the fourth song, “Bet You Wanna,” with Cardi B. The track itself is solid enough. The elevated “Bet you wannas” border on hyperpop lines in their pitch and clarity, and the vocal harmonies on the verse meld into each other for a euphoric combination, but the issue mainly lies in Cardi’s feature. Cardi B is certainly one of the best feature artists within recent years, but on this track, not only does her attitude clash with the rest of the track, but the verse is maybe her worst featured verse ever. Lines like “Grab my waistline, but don’t ever waste me, turn on ‘Please Me’ but don’t ever play mcde,” are incredibly stale and uninteresting, and in a feature as short as this, it can spoil the whole thing.
These misses continue on “Lovesick Girls,” which once again features a lot of good pieces, but a few mistakes that play spoiler. The chorus shines like always. “We are the lovesick girls” blasts from the rooftops in front of some pulsating, electro-pop synths to create multiple anthemic sections. But every verse swings and misses through lazy songwriting, simplistic for K-pop’s standards. Slight quips like “No love letters, no X and O’s, no love, never, my exes know” seem a tad clever, but never get better, and when heard back-to-back, never can gain momentum. They do manage to switch things up, but not in the best way on “Crazy Over You.” The verses get longer and the writing gets better, but the chorus here takes a step back. The typical energy stops, in favor of slower, hushed tones that mimic some of Ariana Grande’s music, and the cherry on top of the pretty flat section is the weird, closing “e-e-e-e.”
“Love To Hate Me” brings this Ariana Grande comparison to a whole new light around forty seconds in, with a section almost identical to the chorus from “7 rings.” The shortened, staccato delivery and the bare-bones background instrumentation follow almost directly in line. The chorus is again the highlight of this track, carrying it far enough to be enjoyable, but isn’t as unique or inspired as the rest seem to be. It doesn’t lag behind to the point of “Crazy Over You” thanks to its catchy, descending melody, but is still a step down from several tracks prior to it, lacking a certain strength the others grasp onto.
Then, the final song on the record, “You Never Know,” works as an effective emotional closer, but is slightly separate from the rest of the record thematically. The subtle, aching piano and strings become chilling at points, reaching a height at the start of the final chorus lines. The vocals are also highlighted much more than on prior hip-hop tracks, which are more lyric or instrumental-centered. It’s very unique in the context of the entire project, which could be seen as either good or bad, but because it manages to slow the pace down in preparation for the end of the record, it seems to fit well in this role.
THE ALBUM leaps out to a wonderful start, mainly relying on BLACKPINK’s already-released singles to carry the weight, but as soon as it passes the third track, things tend to go downhill. As a whole, the project accomplishes what seems to be BLACKPINK’s greatest goal; inspiring confidence, and injecting energy into the ears of their listeners, but it also falls flat in several spots. And in a record that’s only eight tracks, and twenty-four minutes long, those moments stick out more than they normally would. If it weren’t for the closer picking things up just before its completion, the fall would seem much further, but luckily, the bookends come with enough quality to clean things up.