In seven days, BLACKPINK will make history. Deep in the Californian desert, they will become the first all-female K-pop group to play Coachella. Instead of taking a slot towards the lower end of the bill, they’re right up there on the second line of the poster, one notch below headliner Childish Gambino. Their prominence isn’t surprising at all when you consider not just the rise in global appetite for K-pop but also BLACKPINK’s worldwide (excluding Asia) deal with Interscope, which suggested they would be pushed hard outside of their native South Korea in future months. What is surprising is how quickly things are happening, considering they’ve yet to release a full-length album and, before today, only had nine songs to their name.
Just in time for their weekends in Indio, then, comes their latest release – not a debut LP, as rumours suggested earlier this year, but a continuation of their tradition of giving piecemeal offerings. ‘Kill This Love’ marks their third EP following 2016’s ‘Square Two’ and last year’s ‘Square Up’, and showcases a band who are certainly talented but perhaps not quite ready for the next upward arc in the ride they’re currently on.
During a week-long period of teasing the new EP, their label YG Entertainment suggested the title track would be stronger than last year’s phenomenal ‘Ddu-du Ddu-du’. Perhaps that was a misstep on their part, inviting comparisons to a song that is not only BLACKPINK’s best so far but one that would be hard to measure up to for many acts. Where ‘D4’, as it’s known amongst fans, flowed seamlessly between Jennie and Lisa’s hard-hitting raps and Jisoo and Rosé’s striking vocals, the track ‘Kill This Love’ falls comparatively flat.
It’s not that it’s a bad song. It has moments of great creativity – see the way Jennie makes her voice rise at the end of the last four lines of the first verse as if she’s stroking her own internal pitch shift wheel, or how the song’s insistent marching band brass transforms into elephant squeals as the song reaches its climax, as if a whole circus is erupting around the band. But there are also moments where it does far less than it could: the chorus, in particular, feels dull, a missed opportunity after Rosé and Jisoo’s dramatic and emotional build-ups.
Over the course of the EP, the four-piece encounter many emotions, all tied together by one common theme. The idea of being alone is something that crops up in each of the four new tracks (the fifth is a quivering, womping club-ready remix of ‘Ddu-du Ddu-du’), be that ‘Kill This Love’’s romantic unshackling or ‘Don’t Know What To Do’’s longing to be with someone again. At one point on the latter, Rosé sadly sings in Korean: “I say I am fine but / Don’t know what to do without you.”
On the sentimental acoustic track ‘아니길 (Hope Not)’, the group are at the point of a break-up where they’ve moved on from that yearning to acceptance, Lisa resignedly noting: “I’m not a stranger to being alone anymore.” ‘Kick It’, which throbs through deep bass, a collage of twinkling, melodic notes, and acoustic guitar lilts, finds them stronger still, Jisoo telling past lovers: “I’m okay being alone / Don’t feel bad for me / I’m going to forget you now.”
That song and ‘Don’t Know What To Do’ are easily the gleaming jewels in ‘Kill This Love’’s crown, each highlighting different sides of BLACKPINK. The latter reflects the “pink” side of their name – soft and delicate, set to a soundtrack of EDM pop that bubbles and bursts into euphoria in all the right places. The former, meanwhile, is full of independent spirit, with them chanting on the outro: “I’ll kick it how I wanna kick it / When I wanna kick it.” On their 2016 debut single ‘Boombayah’, Lisa rapped, “I don’t want a boy, I need a man.” Now, they don’t need anyone at all, finding their way back to finding themselves.
If that search results in more songs on the same level as these two, they should be golden by the time BLACKPINK’s debut album finally arrives.