BlackPink released a new single last week and I may have fanboy screamed about it a lot since then. When I reflect on why I like BlackPink so much, I think a lot about my childhood. Growing up, I received a lot of binary role models related to gender – my mother acted in a lot of toxically masculine and abusive ways, whereas my grandmother embodied nurturance, softness, and kindness. Though I knew they were both women, I came to associate my mother – because of her cruel behaviors – with masculinity and I viewed my grandmother as an exemplar of femininity. Of course, I wanted to be like my grandmother and not my mother, so I clung to femininity, emotionality, and gentleness all throughout my childhood and adolescence.
As I’ve written about before, later on I realized the perils of my hyperfemininity. As a more femme guy, I had become so scared of asserting myself and expressing any anger that I developed an eating disorder in middle school and early high school. I took out my rage on my own body instead of propelling it into crushing the patriarchy. I didn’t learn until therapy and my feminist friendships in undergrad to assert myself and that I could assert myself without acting like my mother.
I discovered BlackPink right after I graduated from undergrad. Because I’m a basic gay I really only listen to upbeat pop music, which BlackPink has in spades. Beyond their sick beats though, I felt so drawn to their blending of assertiveness and femininity. I loved how they maintained their “girliness” through certain feminine outfits and the color landscapes in their music videos, while also performing empowerment through their strong dance moves and fierce gazes into the camera. While “Boombayah” will always be my first love because of Lisa’s “And I’m so hot, I need a fan” and her “Middle finger up, f u pay me” and Rosé’s iconic floor slide, I’m most obsessed with “As If It’s Your Last” and its pinks and yellows, glorious synths, and optimistic belief in love.
In regard to their most recent release, “How You Like That,” I’m a fan! I totally hear the critiques of the song in that it’s a similar formula to “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du” and “Kill This Love,” though I actually like “How You Like That” more than both of their most recent releases, especially “Kill This Love,” which never grew on me in large part because of its empty chorus. While I’m one of many Blinks hoping for the group to get a singing chorus next time, I love the pretty verses in “How You Like That,” the dynamic choreography, and how each member literally pulsates confidence in both their delivery of their lyrics as well as in every freaking shot of the music video. As a gay Asian femme it’s so nice to see Asian women embody confidence while maintaining their femininity.
While I find BlackPink’s music empowering, I also recognize their limitations in terms of broader social justice. They’re all thin and light-skinned, which I imagine plays into their popularity and unfortunately perpetuates beauty standards grounded in patriarchy and white supremacy. Like several K-Pop groups, they rap, which reeks of cultural appropriation, and even though Jennie and Lisa mentioned studying Black artists like Lauryn Hill and TLC during their trainee days, this homage rings hollow when none of the members have engaged in actual allyship with the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement (regardless of whether that’s their company’s fault for prohibiting them from speaking out). From their interviews, it’s unclear how much the members actually inhabit the empowerment they sing about and feel it in their personal lives; I wouldn’t be too surprised if they may be experiencing something akin to what former YG artist Minzy from 2NE1 talked about in her Billboard interview, the discrepancy between performing powerful music while feeling beaten down off stage.
Even though I’m hesitant to full out stan BlackPink because of the reasons above, for now I will still appreciate their music for what it does provide me: a sense of confidence that transcends binaries related to gender, particularly femininity and masculinity. BlackPink’s power has helped inform my actions in multiple situations – whether that be cutting off a boy who hurt my feelings, loving myself in the face of racism, or in general acting in line with my values of agency and compassion. As these women embody, at least in their music videos and performances, I can be both sweet and feminine as well as assertive and powerful. I’ll use this feeling of empowerment to support and amplify artists who may push the revolution even further.
What are your reactions to BlackPink and/or their new song “How You Like That”? Do you have a favorite member/bias (lol it’s clear mine is Jisoo, though I love all of them for different reasons). If you’re unfamiliar with BlackPink – yikes, just kidding, kind of – what are your musical or artistic faves and what do they represent or mean to you? Until next post!