BLACKPINK covers ELLE’s October issue for their first US cover and talks about Spice Girl comparisons, performing at Coachella, pop-star boot-camp and more. Photographed Hee June Kim by and styled by Park Minhee.
Like most K-pop idol groups, Blackpink was formed via an intricate process at a pop-star boot camp. In addition to Lisa (Lalisa Manobal), there’s fellow rapper Jennie Kim and singers Rosé and Jisoo (born Chae Young Park and Jisoo Kim, respectively). Each member had to pass an audition with YG, move into a dorm, and train for four to six years, beating out other girls with the same ambition before getting selected for a new group that placed equal importance on flawless appearance, skill, and charisma. (Think Making the Band, only cutthroat.) “We all lived together since the beginning,” Jennie says. “After our training time was over, we’d go home together and order food, talk about how scary the teachers were, how the work was too much. And just like how kids at school become friends, we just got along. It was very easy—we didn’t really have to try.”
Jennie, who studied in New Zealand before returning to her native South Korea, was Blackpink’s original member. “I was the first one on the team, and I got to watch everybody come in,” she recalls. Lisa from Thailand was next—YG’s first non-Korean idol. “She was just this young, tall girl with a perfect body…. She started dancing like a robot—she memorized everything in seconds,” Jennie says. Lisa adds: “My mother says I was always dancing and singing as a child, [pretending] to hold a microphone.” K-drama actress Jisoo, the group’s oldest member, followed. “She came in, eager to learn everything and catch up to everybody, which was really motivating for me as well,” Jennie says. And Rosé “gave us the meaning of what music was supposed to do.” Rosé had grown up in Australia, the group’s indie girl with a guitar. “I was born and raised in an English-speaking country, so [Jennie] helped me out with the cultural differences,” Rosé says. “I had never danced in my life.”
In addition to the obvious Beatlemania comparisons, Blackpink’s clear-cut empowerment message places it within the lineage of great girl groups past. The Spice Girls come up a lot. Being compared to a group “whose contribution to pop culture and music was so intense and massive is an honor,” Rosé says. “But it was never like, ‘Let’s become this or them.’ ” Bekuh Boom, an L.A.-based songwriter and frequent Blackpink collaborator, agrees. “[Rosé, Jennie, Jisoo, and Lisa] are going to set the standard for the new girl group in America. We haven’t had anyone like them since Destiny’s Child. [Blackpink] is going to fill that void.”
Rosé tells me that meeting face-to-face with their international fans during Blackpink’s inaugural world tour, which ran from November 2018 through February of this year, felt “real and genuine, not like we were watching it on a screen or getting feedback on Instagram—it was literally right in front of our eyes.” Jennie jumps in to add, “We felt the energy, and that’s the best feeling.” “We’re moved by our fans,” Jisoo says. “We feel their sadness and happiness. We’re deeply connected.”
Blackpink was the first K-pop girl group to grace the Coachella stage last year, where the band shared a tent with Jaden Smith. “Will Smith was backstage,” Jennie says. “He said, ‘You guys are so great.’ That was a starstruck moment for me, definitely. Like, Will Smith knows us. Wow.” The group’s Coachella performance also serves as the dramatic finale to a new Netflix documentary, Blackpink: Light Up the Sky, directed by Caroline Suh (Salt Fat Acid Heat), launching October 14.
While Blackpink remains largely apolitical in conversation, Rosé is quick to celebrate the group’s global diversity—something few K-pop groups can claim: “Music [doesn’t] always originate from the UK or the States. It’s global, it’s Asia, it’s the most random places you can imagine. I’m very proud that we all originated from different parts of the world.”
On their 24/7 work ethic: “ “These days, we have no boundaries when it comes to work,” Jennie explains. “Even on our days off, we’re basically at the studio recording.” Rosé laughs while tucking a loose strand of iridescent pinkish-lavender hair behind her ear, then adds: “Life is work, and work is life!”
[Photo Credit: Hee June Kim/ELLE Magazine]