Nostalgia was in the air in Newark last week.
Outside the Prudential Center, thousands of people lined up for the first of Blackpink’s two New Jersey dates on their Born Pink world tour. Fervent fans — or Blinks, as the group calls them — dressed in outfits inspired by the group, creating a sea of black-and-pink graphic tees and ribbon-tied ponytails as far as the eye could see.
While a number of K-Pop groups have made tour stops in the United States over the years as the genre has continued to gain mainstream traction, Blackpink might be the biggest girl group of them all. With number-one hit albums, sky-high streaming records, and top-notch luxury fashion deals, they’ve cemented a space for themselves and proven that girl groups can still not only exist, but also thrive, in the year 2022.
Between the set list — packed with mega hits such as “Pink Venom” and “Kill This Love” — and the ethereal stage setup, anyone over the age of 25 might have been reminded of earlier pop extravaganzas such as Britney Spears’s “Dream Within a Dream” tour. For the group’s creative director, Amy Bowerman, crafting the world of Blackpink for the stage meant embracing each member’s personality and creative desires.
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“[Femininity] is such an important element for them, but then they kind of counter a lot of their K-pop peers. They have an edge. They have a sense of power,” says Bowerman, who has also worked alongside Dua Lipa and Ed Sheeran. “There is a narrative to the show, and at the end we’re definitely looking to just celebrate Blackpink in all their glory.”
The dichotomy of Blackpink, according to Bowerman, is finding a delicate balance between the ultra-feminine and militaristic aspects of their performance.
“We start off in this kind of woodland-esque world that’s quite nymphlike, but then we go into this hard-edged, monochrome, military, ‘How You Like That’ moment. We’re always making sure we’re peppering in those double sides to them,” Bowerman explains. “Especially in their individual solos, they each wanted to be represented in their own ways. You have Lisa, who’s on the pole. You have Rosé, who’s doing her rockstar moment. Jennie has everything in her solo! And with Jisoo, we’ve just got lots of fire.”
A highlight of a Blackpink show, of course, is the choreography. According to Bowerman, that was a non-negotiable element that needed to be included in the tour’s final presentation.
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“You can’t touch [the dancing],” she laughs. “That is something that they bring to the table that you just have to build around. YG has their own dance company, YGX, and they have all their own dancers and they’ve been together forever. All of their songs come with their own dance choreo, and their fans all know that choreo. So that choreo has to stay! That’s part of their connection with their fans, and that is one thing that is super important to them.”
While you can feel the influence of other artists in the show’s presentation (“You can’t do a super-monochrome blow-through screen without thinking of Janet Jackson,” she says), Bowerman thinks the girls’ references are more inspired by fashion than anything else.
“They’re obviously huge in the fashion world, and a lot of where they pull their iconography comes from fashion. I really love that kind of naughties, late nineties, theatrical stage show where it feels a bit more physical,” says Bowerman. “You are part of that show and it’s all unfolding in front of you. There’s no crazy tricks. It’s all very physical. That’s maybe that’s where that element [of nostalgia] comes from.”
K-Pop acts can almost feel unreal, in part thanks to the ultra-precise production that surrounds them at all times: the big-budget music videos, the intense press schedules. This disconnect has been emphasized by the global pandemic that stopped Blackpink from being able to see and connect with their fans in real life for two years. With Born Pink — the group’s first full global tour — the girls are not only able to be in the same room as their fans, but also prove that they’re not just some far-off, conglomerate-produced, money-making product. They’re real people, with real visions, and they’re happy to be here. Personal touches throughout the show, like Blackpink pausing to take an on-stage selfie with the crowd, strip back any preconceived notion that the girls aren’t emotionally available for their fans.
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“Other than at Coachella, not a lot of people have seen them live,” Bowerman says. “K-pop being so big, I think that a lot of outsiders see it as this thing that’s almost not real — but it’s definitely real! These girls are real, these girls can dance, and these girls are incredible. I think the tour is gonna start breaking down some of these barriers that people have towards K-pop thinking it’s just a giant factory or that, because we don’t really see it in person that much, it must be fake.”
“We just wanted to deliver a show that feels exciting, with a lot of energy and a lot of fun, because that is ultimately what Blackpink are,” she adds. “I hope that everybody who walks through their door feels like they’ve entered a huge party — and that everybody leaves a Blink.”
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.