BLACKPINK: Light Up the Sky

BLACKPINK: Light Up the Sky

Dept. of Korean Compulsions


There is this distinctly matter of fact, though unintentionally bleak, moment in BLACKPINK: Light Up the Sky, when the group’s mentor and music producer Teddy Park makes a throwaway comment about the 10 years they’ll likely have at the top. It wasn’t a caution of any kind. It wasn’t said with any sort of cynicism. It was merely an acknowledgement. One echoed later by one of the girls when she says: “It doesn’t matter if we grow old and get replaced by a new younger generation… because they will still remember how we shone so bright.”

The simple truth of show business is that you’re hot until you’re not. It’s what I like to call the pop music half-life. Or the amount of time that it takes for the popularity of a boy band or girl group to fall to half of what it was when they were at their peak. Fans grow up. Their taste in music shifts as they do. And there is always the younger, fiercer, cooler thing to contend with. Recognising this is half the battle. And it is something that everyone in and around BLACKPINK is aware of.

This is the leitmotif of Caroline Suh’s glossy yet insightful look at the world’s most popular girl group. BLACKPINK: Light Up the Sky could have just as easily been called BLACKPINK: The Inevitability of Obsolescence.

This is the story of four complex young women who are supremely talented and sublimely self-aware. And the reason it works as well as it does is because it captures their voices at a time when they too are trying to make sense of who, and how, and why they are.

BLACKPINK: Light Up the Sky

The real test of any good documentary is whether or not it can make you interested in a subject of which you have absolutely no prior knowledge. Like the best whodunnits, these movies will string you along, dropping valuable ideas and absorbing nuggets of information, all in the hopes of getting you invested in finding out more. The great documentaries will turn you. They will make you believers. They will put forward such a compelling argument, and give you such tremendous insight, that you might find yourself tempted by vegetarianism. At least for those ten minutes after the credits roll.

On the face of it, BLACKPINK: Light Up the Sky plays out like almost any other music documentary. The plight of pop star is, after all, an old trope. We’ve seen these same issues addressed so many times, by so many musicians, irrespective of where in the world they’re from. The struggle is real. And the manner in which these individuals chose to navigate it is usually what makes for a good story.

Here, Caroline Suh subverts our expectations by deftly undermining those genre conventions. This isn’t William Miller on tour with Stillwater. This is neither a sordid tell all nor some shameless fanwank. This is something far cleverer. Nuanced, even gentle, it is the absolute perfect approach to telling the BLACKPINK story.

BLACKPINK: Light Up the Sky

Creating a pop phenomenon isn’t easy. Even when you are a showbiz powerhouse like YG Entertainment. Even when you have an assortment of multi-talented “trainees” to pick from – each one carefully cultivated from your very own talent farm. For something like BLACKPINK to happen, you require a perfect storm. And that is precisely what these girls are. A rare convergence of favourable circumstances that somehow managed to capture and influence the zeitgeist.

If you weren’t already a fan of Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé, and Lisa, then this documentary will get you there. Even if BLACKPINK’s music isn’t your cup of tea, I promise that you will leave these 79 minutes completely and utterly charmed. By their artistry and intellect. By their focus and sense of purpose. By their relentless energy.

Watching this documentary, it becomes very clear, very quickly, that Caroline Suh isn’t interested in trying to deconstruct, or in any way explain, BLACKPINK’s greatness. Her goal is to simply let these women tell their own stories in their own voice. She allows them the escape of being able to step back from the brand, at least briefly, in order interrogate what it means to them and to the world at large.


At first, I was convinced that this was a documentary for people like me. The casual listener, aware of BLACKPINK’s influence and impact, but looking for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon. I was pretty sure there was nothing here that would be novel or surprising to anyone already obsessed with the foursome. A cursory glance at social media, however, made me realise otherwise. The public image of each and every one of these Korean superstars is so controlled and curated that we never quite see them for who they really are. And while these versions of Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé, and Lisa still come to us wearing that unmistakable showbiz sheen, we nevertheless bear witness to the kind of deep reflection that is not afforded to us by a prefabricated Instagram post with a pithy caption.

By learning about their individual paths and struggles we get a better idea of how they came to be. By focusing on their voice, and hearing their take on the cost of fame and the toll that its taken on their lives – from Jennie’s casual lament about her Pilates instructor being one of the few friends she has, to all four girls breaking down on stage at the completion of their world tour – Caroline Suh has managed to capture something that flies in the face of K-pop’s slickly impersonal style.

At the start of this documentary, I was curious as to what motivated these four women. I wanted to know what drove them. Was it money? Was it fame? Was it the inability to accept any kind of defeat?

But I was asking the wrong questions. For I had come to realise that the women of BLACKPINK were similar to everyone else operating at that level. Whether a master chef or a pro athlete, whether you’re David Chang or Michael Jordan, drive and motivation become reasons in themselves, and the journey becomes far more important than the destination.

BLACKPINK: Light Up the Sky

At the end of BLACKPINK: Light Up the Sky, we join the four girls at a restaurant and eavesdrop as they wonder about what their lives might look like in the future. They talk about marriage. They talk about having kids. The joke about their inevitable reunion tour. Once again, there is that recognition of the Darwinian nature of their world, and the painful awareness that nothing lasts forever. It was at that moment when I was suddenly hit with the one question that I didn’t have an answer to.

I had no idea if they were happy.

BLACKPINK: Light Up the Sky
79 minutes
Director: Caroline Suh
Cast: Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé, Lisa, and Teddy

BLACKPINK: Light Up the Sky is now streaming on Netflix.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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