‘Blackpink: Light Up the Sky’ Review: Netflix Documentary Offers Intimate Intro to K-Pop’s Biggest Girl Group
In August 2016, the powerhouse entertainment conglomerate YG Entertainment did something it hasn't done in seven years: to unleash a K-pop group for girls from the stacked assortment of multi-talented “trainees” who come from its own talent farm the world. This is where Caroline Suh's surprising and personal documentary "Blackpink: Light Up the Sky" begins, in which a crowded room full of bloggers and journalists rattles their laptops while a nervous foursome prepares to meet the world. While the years leading up to that first reveal of future megastars Blackpink could easily create their own documentary - Suh's document touches on some of his biographical highlights - Blackpink: Light Up the Sky is more fixated on getting to know this nervous foursome on their own terms .
The result is the kind that has received so many awards on their Wikipedia “Awards and Nominations” page that it takes a lot of scrolling to get to the bottom. Little of this will surprise longtime fans of the group (or, as the popular language now calls them, "stans"), and it will likely get interested newbies to seek more information, but "Blackpink: Light Up the Sky" makes a standout Enter task to introduce Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé and Lisa as individuals. The K-pop phenomenon may still feel new to some consumers (it isn't), but last but not least, Suh's film eliminates the feeling that these superstars are simply part of a pre-made cultural machine.
Seemingly designed for the American audience - the film opens with a series of American anchors, from Michael Strathairn to Stephen Colbert, who introduce the group before adding their Korean counterparts - the documentary follows the group from their early years to their blockbuster debut in Coachella in 2019. With just under 80 minutes, Suh's film still manages to move, with Coachella ultimately serving as the logical end point because it has to end somewhere.
More convincing than working towards this "one big important achievement" is the film's realization of how much work went into Blackpink before such a lively concert was even a distant dream. Three years after that tense introduction to the world - an event the group members remember in charming detail - Suh finds that Blackpink is literally headed for the next big step, the foursome between commitments in an SUV to an SUV crammed. Since the ladies answer fundamental questions about their careers and their lives, it is not initially obvious that “Blackpink: Light Up the Sky” offers more than just canned answers. Then de facto leader Jennie sighs at feeling “halfway” (to the next show, the next album, the next whatever) and suddenly it seems like Suh has torn down some unexpected walls.
While the ladies invite Suh, the film also lets its eager audience in when the group walks into the studio with mentor Teddy Park (a former K-pop star turned producer), hears a new cut of a song with Lady Gaga and finally sits for one-on-one interviews that offer unguarded moments. Suh flirts with other storytelling techniques, from Park half narrating the first act of the film to a series of scenes where the girls watch old videos of their work and giggle at their younger selves and even see Jinsoo visiting their makeup artist and Jennie accompany you during a tough Pilates session. Most effective, however, are these interviews, where each member opens up at their own pace and shares their story against the backdrop of home videos and early competition footage.
While “Blackpink: Light Up the Sky” doesn't offer the kind of in-depth exploration of the “trainee” experience that will eventually emerge - any program often referred to as a “boot camp” for hopeful performers, and that can lead to that some budding stars who have spent a whole decade in the boarding world certainly have some secrets to share - no attempt is made to gloss over this side of K-pop. As Suh's film becomes more personal and her subjects continue to open up, anecdotes and observations unfold about her time as an apprentice (each Blackpink star spent around five years in training prior to debuting).
In these stories, Suh and her subjects question the deeper questions of the documentary, not just about the cost of fame and how each of these megastars felt about it, but also about the path that led them to get there. Rosé struggles to write her own music despite explaining how important it is to her. Lisa thinks about her early years and how her tastes have changed. Jennie recalls that she didn't feel like she would take it for granted to perform. Jinsoo considers her role to be the oldest in the group. They all remember feeling overwhelmed at the beginning of the training and they are all happily thinking about meeting and forming a group that could change in an environment where teamwork and bonding were not always encouraged felt natural.
Those moments of deeper reflection don't often find a place in glossy documents like Blackpink: Light Up the Sky, early investigations of young stars on the rise who usually avoid looking past basic biographical facts and a general sense of "not" that is cool ?! "At the end of Suh's film, the foursome wonder what their life could be like in 10 or 15 years and are already reflecting on what it all might look like in the rear-view mirror. however, has enough self-reflection - and intelligent motives that aren't afraid to get involved - that we can already guess how everything will develop with the same charm and talent that has got her this far.
Blackpink: Light Up the Sky will be streamed on Netflix on Wednesday October 14th.
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