BLACKPINK at Coachella Review – High-Octane Stream of Pop Bangers
The K-pop group – the first Asian and all-female band to headline the festival – delivered on its promise of solid vocals, tight choreography and maximalist pop numbers.
Blackpink, the K-pop superstars who became the first Asian and all-female band to headline Coachella on Saturday night, are a testament to the increasingly porous language and cultural barriers in pop music.
The group’s members – Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé and Lisa – are from, respectively, Korea, Korea via New Zealand, Australia and Thailand. Their lyrics are a free-flowing blend of Korean and English; their loyal fan base, known as the Blinks, spans the globe and several YouTube viewing records. And on Saturday, their high-octane, nearly 90-minute set hammered home why: the universal language of the hard pop banger. Blackpink’s discography is, almost without exception, uppers only – bombastic, confident, and uniformly energizing, an adrenaline shot which lifted the crowd to anywhere from bopping along to jumping up and down.
Following their successful 2019 Coachella debut at the smaller Sahara tent and four years of skyrocketing global popularity, the hype for Blackpink was high, and extended even further by a late start. The group took the stage 30 minutes after their scheduled 9pm slot (early for a headliner – Calvin Harris, an unofficial co-headliner, played the actual final set of the evening), after several teases. There was an impressive drone light show above the main stage, lights and house music, a whisper of “blackpink” in the rhythm of their song Pink Venom, then back to black. There were several hums of anticipation, a smattering of the group’s signature gavel-esque light sticks, and jostling for space in several languages.
But as soon as the four finally took the stage, bathed in neon pink light, for opener Pink Venom (“get ‘em get ‘em get ‘em,” I will be singing in my head for the next week), the Blackpink promise was on: solid vocals, tight choreography, matching outfits on a theme, and hard-ass delivery of confidence anthems. Singing beneath four giant light installations hung from the ceiling, from within a screen-covered pyramid structure on stage or on risers or along the catwalk, the group did not appear to miss a beat or a note. (Or, at least, as far as I can tell – the agile and frenetic on-stage camera work for the big screen often focused on one or two members at a time; it was difficult to see all four in formation unless you had a clear stage view.)
Most of Blackpink’s loudest hits have a militant bent – rapid-fire rum-pum-pums and boom-boom-booms and jagged synchronicity. Paired on Saturday with actual pyrotechnics, lightning strike visuals and several rounds of fireworks, the numbers served pure uncomplicated hype, particularly first-half staples How You Like That (from 2020’s The Album), with its turbo-charged snake charmer beat, and Pretty Savage. Even lengthy costume-change intervals showcasing mesh-clad dancers (split into male and female groups) skewed toward an energy drink feel (house-adjacent pop instrumentals).
That only waned during the four-song midsection, when each member performed a solo number – Jennie’s You & Me, Jisoo’s new single Flowers, Rosé’s Gone and On the Ground, and rapper Lisa’s Money (which recalls, in title and some delivery, Cardi B’s track of the same name). All were still up-tempo, still snappily choreographed, and yet lacking the vibrancy of Blackpink at full power. Individually, they’re just pop songs with questionable shelf life and middling hooks. As a group, Blackpink is a force.
But with one resounding “BLACKPINK in your area!” for BOOMBAYAH, the band recaptured the crowd’s wandering attention for a more relaxed yet still fizzy second half, often sans dancers for the girls alone. Their faces were unfailingly upbeat, their gestures to fans the relaxed second nature of seasoned pros. The little time made for banter focused on the Blinks and the promotion from their 2019 set. “You made us remember the passion for performing for you guys,” said Rosé, the de facto group spokesman for the evening. “It’s a dream come true to be a headliner.”
Blackpink certainly had the stamina for a headlining set; whether it worked largely depends on your affinity for industrial-leaning arena pop and how pleasurable you find the feeling of getting steamrolled by choruses, narrow harmonies and precise choreography, as well as lasers, pyrotechnics and whirring light displays. (I love it.) Compared to the prior evening’s headliner Bad Bunny, Blackpink has less to say and fewer avenues with which to say it. It’s straight-up pop, a parade of syllables and colors and maximalist flourishes (see: penultimate number and grade-A banger DDU-DU DDU-DU). On those terms, Blackpink delivered. No guests, no major set changes, just upper after upper. Some non-Blink audience members jumped in, other seemed tepid, but everyone could agree loudly on one point, shouted several times over: “Blackpink in your area.”
cr. The Guardian