So Blackpink were in my area… but were they the revolution? This post has all the details!
So, firstly, let me address this: some caonimas were actually surprised that I went to go and see Blackpink perform in Melbourne. Personally I thought seeing them was a no-brainer, but for those unclear about why I would feel that way, here’s the reasons why I did it.
Reason one: while Blackpink certainly aren’t my favourite k-pop girl group in the history of k-pop groups, they certainly ARE a k-pop, and it’s pretty much never that a k-pop girl group actually comes to Australia.
If people don’t go out and support the shit they like, they won’t get more of it. I felt very much obliged to support people bringing girl groups to this country, so in the future it can hopefully happen more often and we don’t have to wait SIX FUCKING YEARS between shows while every Z-tier boy group tours here instead and only half-fills up their venues THANKS AUSTRALIAN PROMOTERS YOU DICKHEADS.
Reason two: Blackpink do actually have some good songs, and since they also don’t have very many songs in total, the chances of getting to hear those good songs live seemed quite high, because they would have little choice but to include pretty much all of their material if they wanted to do a set of concert length.
Reason three: I’ve been hearing reports from various parties that Blackpink are actually quite good live and I wanted to verify this for all you readers who may be considering seeing them yourselves.
Reason four: Observing the four girls of Blackpink in the flesh will help me refine my research on their physical attributes.
Reason five: I like writing live reviews for you lovely readers and it’s something that I wish I could do more of, it’s only the very high expense plus the lack of opportunity that prevents me from giving you more of these.
As it happened, despite my moral convictions to support k-pop girl group activity, I needn’t have even worried about reason number one. I bought Blackpink tickets on the same day they went on sale, and by the time I was actually able to take a break from work and log onto a computer to make a purchase, all the VIP shit was already gone. All the cheapest general admission seats were gone too, all that was left was “B reserve” which were some seats in the stands on the side of the stage. Clearly I wasn’t the only one who had been feeling the drought of a proper tour from a girl group in Australia. The last k-pop girl concert in Australia was 4Minute in 2013, and that was more of a low-budget “showcase” style tour, whereas Blackpink promised to be a “full production”.
As I’m not from Melbourne I’d never heard of Rob Laver Arena before, and fortunately it wasn’t too hard to find, following a group of about 30 young Asian folks around until I came across a big-ass building with “ROD LAVER ARENA” written on the side of it proved to be a viable navigation strategy.
The group of 30 that I followed soon morphed into a group of 300 and rushed the gates that were already open when I got there. I’m not the kind of person who waits around outside a show hours before it opens – I did that a bit when I was younger but I’m an old cunt now and I’ve got better shit to do than stand in a line any longer than I absolutely have to. The benefits of “queue camping” are extremely minimal when you have designated seating anyway, and only slightly less pointless when you don’t – when I used to turn up an hour or two early I only ever seemed to get a position maybe one meter closer to the performers than someone else who turned up 10 minutes before the gates opened. Definitely not worth. Anyway, a quick bit of security wanding business and I was in.
The first thing I did once I arrived in the foyer was look around for a merch stand. I noticed immediately that about 50% of the people who were there seemed to be carrying Blackpink lightsticks – those squishy pink hammer things – so I figured maybe they were selling them, but if so I couldn’t find where from. I did however find this other merch stand instead.
It was all pretty crap and overpriced here so I wasn’t going to buy anything. The shirts looked okay but white isn’t really my preferred colour for clothes, and I’m not going to fucking pay $50 for a Sen Dog style hat with “Blackpink” written on it that probably cost 25 cents to make in some YG sweatshop, or $20 for a sticker or whatever it was.
The other thing on offer in the foyer was food, but I didn’t even bother going to take a look – I’d had a three course meal in a French restaurant (after oddly finding out that nothing in Melbourne’s Chinatown is open between 5pm and 5:30pm) so I wasn’t hungry, but it all just looked like typical fried shit anyway, chips and stuff, and I’m sure it was costing nearly as much as the stickers. My KCON experience taught me to steer well away from “stadium event food”.
So it was time to head into the venue itself. Here was my view of the stage:
…and here’s another view which shows the extent of the audience:
I took these photos as soon as I entered the venue and seats were still filling, so there’s a lot of empty space here. A few technical things – the curved objects suspended from the roof form part of the speaker system, and the squares on various sections of the stage floor are on hydraulics that lift the performers up higher, or sink them into the ground underneath the stage. Almost all of Blackpink’s stage entrances and exits were performed with the use of these hydraulic stage systems, with the group sinking into the floor in between numbers to do wardrobe changes. This type of fancy staging is an extreme pain in the ass to set up, and I felt that it’s just as well for Blackpink’s road crew that there were only two dates on this Australian leg of their tour with a fair few days gap in between them.
As the crowd waited for Blackpink, music was playing over the sound system, and all of this music was actually Blackpink’s own songs. I always hate it when I go to a show and the PA-testing music is the same music that I’m actually there to listen to the performers do when they hit the stage. I’d rather listen to something different while I’m waiting just so I’m not sick of the damn music by the time I hear the optimal version. So anyway I got to hear pretty much every Blackpink song ever written over the PA. Then to make things even more repetitious, they decided to start playing some music videos – of Blackpink of course. So then we got to hear a lot of it again plus see every Blackpink video ever (plus a couple of adverts from their sponsors KIA)… and they hadn’t finished setting up by the time all the videos were run through (because Blackpink don’t actually have that many music videos) so we even got to watch “Playing With Fire” twice. The audience started by cheering for each new video and singing along, but when the repeats happened, the cheers started to get replaced by groaning… the displeasure didn’t last long however as the final video played (“As If It’s Your Last” seemingly deliberately left to last), the lights quickly dimmed and the concert then began. One good thing about k-pop concerts is that as the audience tends to be young, the concerts both start and finish early, because everyone wants to get to the end before it becomes the asscrack of midnight and too dangerous for young people to walk around without their parents. As a result, there’s never too much annoying fucking around before a k-pop event due to the pressure of just having to get on with it.
So here’s what you got, content-wise:
- Pretty much every Blackpink song ever. My feeling that they’d definitely play all their good material was correct, excellent B-sides “Forever Young“, “I Don’t Know What To Do” and others got a run-through as well as all the hits you’d expect to hear.
- Solos from each member. Jennie, predictably, did her “Solo“. Lisa did a pure dance routine over some western songs that I didn’t recognise, clearly her role is the “dancer” so whatever, she looked pretty good doing it. Jisoo did some song I’ve never heard before called “Clarity” which actually wasn’t bad. Rose did a medley of a few songs, including something called “Coming Home” (topical because Melbourne is her home town), as well as The Beatles’ anthem to weed smoking “Let It Be” and Park Bom’s “You And I”, both perhaps deliberately chosen as a sly nod to the recent YG scandals.
- Some talk breaks. In them, Rose talked a lot about Melbourne of course, there was lots of humour and it all seemed pretty heartfelt and genuine and not that much cheesier than it had to be. For those curious as to what she said, rather than recap it in text, I’ve provided the videos below:
Sonically everything was pretty much spot-on. Blackpink performed with a live backing band who were mostly unseen but did get a few moments to come out from behind the video curtain that kept them concealed. Backing tracks mostly weren’t pre-records but instead exceptionally tight band arrangements augmented with samples from the recordings, and all performers in the band were exceptionally good, obvious top-tier session musicians who didn’t skip a beat anywhere and added a lot of welcome extra punch to the songs. The weaker Blackpink songs in particular really benefited from the enhanced punch of at least having some more driving rhythm than the studio versions, with probably the only real dud being “Whistle” which honestly I don’t think there’s any saving as that is a song that is always going to sound crap in any context. They at least gave it their best shot – and because session musicians like these never get enough credit, here’s a video I took of Blackpink thanking their band so you can see who they are and fangirl/fanboy over them.
The vocals on the other hand were clearly a combination of live vocals and pre-recorded singing. The structure of overdubs means that to perform a song such as “Solo” faithfully, Jennie has to pick and choose certain lines from “Solo” to sing and let the backing track do the rest, because she can’t sing multiple overlapping lines at once, that’s just not humanly possible. This backing track reliance happened at various points and the members of Blackpink made no attempt to hide the use of backings, which I always think is the most sensible approach to using them. I mean it’s not like k-pop fans are a bunch of deluded idiots who obsess constantly about “vocal quality” in a style where the vocals are purely functional and largely electronically augmented… oh wait…
All the light show stuff was great. Fire cannons, party streamer cannons, all sorts of lighting effects (there’s already tons of fancams online, just search “Blackpink Melbourne” and you will find), big video screens so you could see the action no matter where you sat, everything was well-designed and thoughtful. Volume levels were good too – loud enough to kick your ass but not deafening. Really you couldn’t fault anything at all from a technical point of view, which makes sense – YG’s stage managers have been doing this stuff for a while and they obviously know their shit.
Probably the biggest weak point of a show like this is that with several costume and set changes there’s not a lot of chance for the show to build momentum. The most that you got was three songs in a row before a talk break, an instrumental jam break or a video intervened (there was a neat video compilation of fan covers, plus a fairly comical KIA commercial with the Blackpink members cast as racing car mechanics). Now obviously that’s a necessary evil because staging an event like this is kind of complicated and they need to buy some time for themselves somehow, but I definitely feel like if they just squished all the music together the whole event would have been about 30 minutes shorter, from start to finish the show was just under two hours but really there was only about 70 minutes of that that I was actually there to see.
Still, the audience loved it, I was mostly entertained too, and everything went off without a hitch. Oh and before I forget… and because you cunts will all ask me if I don’t devote a paragraph to this… the four girls of Blackpink are stupidly attractive and look exactly the same on stage as in all the video content you’ve ever seen. Lisa has the cutest cherub face which just makes you go “awwwww” with each smile and completely offsets whatever “badass” vibe she’s seemingly going for with her torn clothes and floor-humping dance routines. Rose is ridiculously charismatic and has a freakish supermodel body which I’m really not into but I’m sure someone’s into it, the crowd loved the shit out of her and her near-constant smile lit up the whole stage. Jennie is probably the most like my type but once again her “fierce” persona is a complete miscast, she only really captures that in small bursts and for the most part is more like that awkward girl at Uni who is falling behind in class and you just wanna help her get some good grades. Jisoo is just pretty in that Korean way that almost all k-pop stars are pretty, probably the least distinctive person in the group for me but even then she still looks great. None of them are really “my type” because they’re all so skinny and all have the supermodel vibe to some extent and that’s just not my thing, but I can’t deny that they’re visually effective, and what you see on the videos and fancams is definitely exactly what you get in the flesh on the live stage. They also all have charisma to burn and it took no effort at all for them to win over the crowd.
Overall, was it good? Yes. Was it worth the hassle of a flight, a hotel room, braving Melbourne’s incredibly rude panhandlers and staying up until 2am writing this review in a hotel room when I should be sleeping? Yes! Should you go if they are in your area? Yes, if you like the songs, for sure, because you’ll hear great versions of them in the best possible setting. Also yes if you like the girls, because they sure are very likeable, more so than in the music videos because there’s less of the “YG token badass” charade and more of them being real with the audience. On that note, yes I can understand the reluctance people might have about attending due to not wanting to support YG Entertainment due to their various shady business practices, but also consider that an event like this employs many different people not all of whom are out there doing the nasty stuff, some of them are just trying to make a living doing what they love, so you can support that while still raising concerns about the other stuff. If it makes you feel any better, Han Seo Hee is going to do way more damage to YG’s bottom line than whatever your concert ticket price is going to make up for. Anyway here’s a final video of Blackpink taking a group photo, where you can see just how many people in the audience had that damn hammer lightstick:
Thanks for reading this review, and hopefully it’s not too long before I get to do another one of these about your favourite group! Kpopalypse will return soon!