I run into singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers backstage and tell her I’m on my way to see one of the biggest names in K-pop: Blackpink. Her eyes widen beneath her sunglasses. If there’s one thing Maggie Rogers, like millions upon millions of others across the globe, would like to get a chance to see today, it’s the fourpiece K-pop girl group whose increasing success and star power has now reached critical mass. And, on Friday afternoon, Blackpink fever officially hit Coachella.
Blackpink’s crowd at the Sahara tent spills way out into the field. It’s a spectacle, it’s an event, it’s a trial, it’s an exhibition. “My 17-year-old niece wants me to send her a video,” a fan who traveled from Brazil to be here tells me. “I don’t know why I’m here,” another crowdmember offers when asked what drew them in, all the same intrigued enough to stay. They have arrived to Beatlemania shrieks from girls and boys alike. (For the uninitiated, Blackpink fans are called Blinks and with every blink of an eyelid a new Blink is created here in Indio). For Blinks and for Coachella organizers this is a historic moment. It’s the first time a K-pop girl group has ever played a U.S. festival. They sing in English, they sing in Korean, it doesn’t matter which. As they reel out their songs via a full live band and a mountain of dancers, mouths of fans open and the melodies fall out, keeping to lyrics as closely as possible. It’s a heartening reminder of the universality of a hard-ass pop banger.
The production is as show-stopping as a live American Idol TV performance. The Korean fab four explode out against video screens of their individual profiles, their names emblazoned across the stage like a gladiatorial battle is about to take place: JISOO! LISA! ROSÉ! JENNIE! A 21-year-old woman from Seattle tells me she’s here to watch four fierce women who haven’t been hypersexualized by the industry, but who own their own womanhood. “We’re here for the dancing,” say two gay men, who think this is a bold move for Coachella, that it chimes with the festival’s reach to be more international and more commercially pop. The dancing they shall receive. Blackpink’s choreography is non-stop synchronized, locked and loaded for an hour. Outfitted in short dresses, choker necklaces, and jewels, the foursome have routines for days. (Think the fierce pow! of the Pussycat Dolls combined with the self-aware autonomy of Little Mix.) “We are all so hyped!” Rosé says.
Hype is why we’re here. Blackpink’s Kill This Love EP just dropped. Instantly, the video for its title track cranked up 56.7 million views on YouTube in 24 hours, surpassing Ariana Grande’s own ‘Thank U, Next’ record. (Less than a week later, Blackpink’s male counterparts and the group to really put K-pop on the global map, BTS, have steamrolled that record.) This is our first chance to see them in the flesh. And what a debut. They have everything from big trop-house numbers to ripping guitar solos to Lisa’s rapping. “We just love that song that goes ddu-du ddu-du,” say two best friends. They leave after they get that fill, happily converted. Many leave and are immediately replaced by new arrivals who’ve come for their own chance to assess the Blackpink phenomenon. It’s just as well every single song they play is a carnival of never-ending hooks and stimuli; it doesn’t matter when you get here. Something new happens every other second in a Blackpink hit. Is it on a par with ABBA? Who’s to say it isn’t? As you look around at the fans on shoulders fist-bumping the air, you see a future vision for music festivals and the kind of genre-bending fans crave.
If this year’s diverse lineup says anything about Coachella, it’s that this festival is the internet transposed to a physical space. It makes all the sense that the biggest female girl group in the world – not just in K-pop – are here. “I can’t believe how many people came out tonight! Is this real? This has to be computer graphics,” says Rosé. They admit they didn’t sleep last night. OK, maybe they got three hours. They initiate a Mexican wave in the crowd.
The language barrier makes the first attempt difficult, but soon everyone realizes that they’re familiar with a globally renowned crowd exercise. The second Mexican wave Blackpink command is a glorious success. A sea of arms rising and falling from left to right, an energy moving from one side to the other. It’s amazing how far sights and sounds travel. We take it for granted when we live online. “They have incredible production and I’m tired of lazy performers,” says one guy from L.A. about his appreciation for Coachella’s newest heroes. “Like – give a fuck!” Blackpink certainly gave many of those.