Review: “BLACKPINK: Light Up the Sky” Glimmers with Vulnerability

Although a track in their debut Korean-language studio album is titled “Pretty Savage,” the members of BLACKPINK are anything but in their new documentary “BLACKPINK: Light Up the Sky.” Directed by Caroline Suh, the Netflix Original documentary released Wednesday follows the girl group from their debut to their groundbreaking 2019 Coachella performance. 

Interspersed with performance footage and pre-debut evaluations are direct interviews with the group’s four members Lisa, Jennie, Rosé and Jisoo, which is where the documentary becomes more personal. These vulnerable moments expose BLACKPINK’s sincerity not only through their on-stage personas, but also who they are behind the scenes — a much-needed look at the group who recently became the first girl group to top the Billboard Artist 100 chart. 

A lukewarm Los Angeles Times review of BLACKPINK’s first full-length album “The Album” contends that the group is known more for their success rather than their actual identities. This documentary seeks to deconstruct that, giving a unique voice to BLACKPINK’s members that was lacking in their debut full-length album. “BLACKPINK: Light Up the Sky” glimmers in its quiet moments, where the individual voice of each member shines through their subtle differences, a clear contrast to their unified performances as a group. 

The documentary cycles through each of the member’s stories, giving them the individual care and attention they need. Jennie talks briefly about her life in New Zealand and how she wishes she could have made memories in high school as opposed to becoming a trainee at a young age. Lisa earnestly discusses the difficulties she had coming to an entirely new country from her home of Thailand, one major obstacle being the language barrier between Thai and Korean. 

Jisoo expresses her down-to-earth nature as she recalls that when she was younger, she was treated like an “outcast” for her appearance, a shocking statement coming from a member widely praised for her visual beauty. When the makeup artist next to her tells her that she’s the prettiest one now, Jisoo smiles gleefully, but it’s the kind of happiness that makes the audience smile too. Rosé begins to cry as she talks about her love of music and the sacrifices she made to pursue her dream in South Korea. These small victories and difficulties are paralleled with the larger ones of BLACKPINK as whole, unifying these personal stories as part of a larger narrative of resilience and growth.

There’s a slight tinge of humor in “Light Up the Sky,” when the members jokingly poke fun at themselves. Here the documentary becomes self-referential in a way. Jessie Yeo, Jennie’s pilates instructor, speaks fondly of Jennie’s personality as Jennie playfully dances around in the background. Jennie is shown from a more relatable angle, a clear departure from her fierce on-stage persona. As Jennie exercises, she solemnly states the necessity of having to look “perfect” on stage all the time while reproducing the exact performances. This reflective nature on the K-pop industrial complex and BLACKPINK’s place in it adds to the documentary, showing the viewer the quiet vulnerability that accompanies being a member of a widely successful K-pop group. 

Where “BLACKPINK: Light Up the Sky” falls largely short is its formulaic, contrived structure. The documentary is compelling precisely because of the members’ distinct personalities, and at times, the clichéd news bites of BLACKPINK shattering records and unprecedented performances still threaten to overwhelm the narrative. These elements often feel forced, as if to characterize BLACKPINK’s members only in terms of a simplistic hard work “success story.” While it’s necessary to contextualize BLACKPINK’s successes as a K-pop group, the execution of these moments fails to acknowledge BLACKPINK’s complexity and does not clearly distinguish the group from any other “successful” K-pop band throughout history. 

The central question of “Light Up the Sky” isn’t whether or not BLACKPINK is likable; from what they show us in this documentary, they have already proven that they are. It’s whether or not they can carry their legacy into their personal lives and if they can truly move beyond being merely a “successful K-pop group” to being widely celebrated for their achievements as a group and as individuals. If BLACKPINK is the revolution, then its members are at the forefront of the movement, and they’re just getting started.