On BlackPink: Bending Gender Binaries and Pulsating Confidence in “How You Like That”

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.

jisoo from as if it's your last murder me queen

This scene with Jisoo from “As If It’s Your Last” may be my favorite BlackPink music video scene ever. The yellow dress with the pink chiffon thing, the heart choker, the pink hair clip, the floral accessory on her arm, the various shades of pink surrounding her. Ugh, my heart. 

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.

jisoo in how you like that with everything on fire iconic

Okay this scene of Jisoo in the “How You Like That” music video is basically just me? She’s wearing all red, reading a book, and umbrellas (in my mind, representations of the omnipresent heteronormative patriarchy) are burning all around her? We love a queen who leaves us with no choice but to stan. 

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!

6 Comments

Filed under K-Pop

6 responses to “On BlackPink: Bending Gender Binaries and Pulsating Confidence in “How You Like That”

  1. Ooh, was very excited to see your thoughts about HYLT!! I like it, but it’s definitely in the vein of Kill This Love. I didn’t realize that Blinks are all rooting for a vocal chorus (I now also join that group, haha), though I really loved the dance breaks in this song (especially the final one! Not a fan of the “it’s a bird, it’s a plane” line, but the dance and the hanbok-inspired outfits were SO good.)

    I definitely agree that kpop overall has a ways to go in realizing how much of modern kpop draws from underground hiphop movements in the 90s, which was largely inspired by US Black culture. Rappers in girl groups didn’t even become mainstream/part of the training process until the main hallyu wave in the 2000s! While it’s been heartening for BTS to have made a contribution (matched by their fans!) and other artists have posted about BLM, I think CL did it best where she explicitly writes how she has been inspired and educated by Black artists. https://www.instagram.com/p/CBAiMkuJY85/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link)

    Also, from now on I’ll be associating Jisoo with you, hehe

    • Oh also forgot to say – I used to not know BlackPink other than their main songs since they’re commonly used for dance routines, but I started learning the members once Jenni released Solo, so I always thought of her as my favorite. But I really think Lisa is my true bias, not only because of her killer verses, but idk, there’s something that I really love about her! (maybe her slightly atypical appearance in kpop since she’s Thai?)

  2. I only heard of Black Pink from you. I did watch the video of How You Like That. It felt like it was a pre-req for this entry. You probably have long concluded that I didn’t pass the basic gay test. I can’t even spell “pop”.

    Who would have thought an entry about Black Pink would cover:
    1. Assertiveness / confidence / femininity / gender
    2. Cultural appropriation / K-Pop singers respecting and understanding the roots of their music / allyship /
    4. Power of music

    It’s always a treat to read your entries, you write so well.

    Music has this strange power to accompany you when you’re sad, embolden you when you feel insecure, inspire you when you need a spark and is that invisible friend that never leaves you.

    Stay strong.

    • Hahaha aw thank you for the self-deprecating humor re: being a basic gay Matt! Your thoughtfulness and sincerity already makes you transcend being basic. (: Appreciate your kind words about this post – I feel like if I want to write about BlackPink I gotta do them justice. I appreciate your thoughtful note on the power of music too; I definitely feel like pop music has empowered and emboldened me throughout my life. Hope your day is going as well as possible.

  3. I do not really know their work or about K-pop but I’m glad you have that from them. When I was getting away from home I got into all sorts of music as I didn’t have the pressure of being a younger teen and peer group pressure. Erasure were very important to me then, singing about equality and gay pride but being less masculine men – and actually I realise writing this that most of the male music artists I like are camp or non-hyper-masculine and the hyper-masculine has always scared me, as has hyper-feminine stuff in fact, and I’ve sort of forged a way in my own life that if I was 19 now I might have considered myself non-binary (however I know a lot of that comes from my background rather than my own self, like how you could be a political lesbian without being a born lesbian in the 1970s and 80s).

    Well, thank you for letting me think as I write on your page!

    • Aw thank you for sharing this thoughtful comment and process Liz, love reading you discover things within writing the comment itself. (: While I’m not familiar with Erasure I do appreciate how music/performance often gives space to alternative gender expressions, like camp or non-hyper-masculine men, something one of my students recently wrote about in a paper about K-Pop and allowing space for more feminine men and such. Cool to hear about the political/social implications of music from another area I’m unfamiliar with yet still connected in meaningful ways to gender and gender expression.

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