‘LALISA’ in your area: From earworm hooks to Thai goddess extravaganza

Phot courtesy of YG Entertainment

Here she comes kicking the door. The prettiest savage in town is finally back with her self-titled album.

Following the success of SOLO and R, BLINKs have been anticipating another solo from the beloved girl group BLACKPINK. Main dancer Lisa then heeded the call of fans with the release of her first solo album, LALISA, on September 10.

As expected, Lisa’s solo debut broke records left and right. LALISA amassed more than 700,000 pre-orders just four days after pre-sales began, making it the most pre-ordered album by a female soloist in Korea. The bar was raised even higher, as the title track’s music video racked up more than 73.6 million views within the first 24 hours of its release.

But all figures aside, how did Lisa’s long-awaited solo debut deliver?

Hard-hitting instrumentals and catchy hooks

If Pretty Savage, How You Like That, and Bet You Wanna had a child, then it would be LALISA.

Right off the bat the first 25 seconds gave Pretty Savage vibes. The track’s addictive brass in the chorus sounded familiar because it uses the same horn sample from Hwasa’s 2018 MAMA Performance. The horns combined with the “Lalisa, love me” repetitions created a perfect earworm hook that even I unconsciously sang.

The shift in the arrangement during the bridge was definitely refreshing and very reminiscent of Ice Cream and Bet You Wanna. As it transitioned to the third verse, the track shifted to Middle Eastern instrumentals and heavier brass riffs, which are elements also present in Lisa’s iconic verse in How You Like That.

Other interesting additions to the track include the alarm sounds that follow the line “ring the alarm” and the Thai-inspired instrumentals, which Lisa personally requested.

Sister to LALISA is the contemporary hip-hop track MONEY. Like its predecessor, it was mostly filled with brass riffs. Heavy piano stabs were embellished in the verses which ironically reminded me of Cardi B’s Money. Instrumentals were kept minimal, except for the outro that, unsurprisingly, featured the signature YG party sound. If LALISA had pieces of How You Like That, the outro for MONEY leaned more towards Kill This Love but with a faster BPM.

Even for a casual K-pop listener, guessing the producer behind the two tracks is a no brainer because of the sine qua non heavy bass and brass riffs used. As with previous group and solo releases from BLACKPINK, Lisa’s solo album was produced by none other than YG’s mainstay producer Teddy Park.

LALISA and MONEY are definitely club bangers. In an alternate universe where Miss Rona didn’t exist, you can find me twerking my life off to these songs. But for now, we’ll just leave it to the dancers of TikTok.

Cutting, rapid flow meets lackluster lyricism

K-pop has, without a doubt, the most catchy verses. But still, there are times when the lyrics just don’t make sense or are a cringefest. Sadly, even with the catchy hooks, both tracks were lyrically underwhelming.

After being mentioned for 40 times (yes, I counted), Lalisa is definitely a name you won’t forget. True enough, the slightest mention of “Lisa” in today’s age would immediately point to the BLACKPINK member and not to Lisa Simpson or even Mona Lisa because that’s how much influence this woman holds.

Despite that, the track capitalized so much on repetition that it almost seemed like a scapegoat for the lack of coherence and creativity in the lyrics. Lines like “Baby, get the megaphone, put it on speaker / I said I can’t hear you, so you need to speak up” that made it difficult to paint the narrative that LALISA was gunning for. The three verses felt like they were written from different points of view that were trying to outshine rather than complement each other.

If LALISA was her empowerment anthem, MONEY flaunted her not so secret fat bank account using the cliche “I spend my money how I want it” lyricism that’s present in most rap songs. While it does suit the theme, are the braggadocious verses about fame and money really the story that Lisa wants to convey? Or simply an attempt to appeal to the Western market?

Maybe the words were simply lost in translation or maybe because they were written by someone else, but the lyrics felt like they were stitched from different verses Lisa previously did or from mainstream hip-hop tracks.

Whatever the tracks lacked lyrically was compensated by Lisa’s delivery. Her cutting and rapid rap flow disguised the absurdity of the lyrics to the point that she made lines like “Rocks in my wrist, so I call ’em the Flintstones” and “When the store says, “Sign for it,” I’ma leave my autograph” sound so compelling. She clearly understood the assignment.

While I would have loved to hear LiLi spit fire in her native language, the mere fact that she still managed to rap in both English and Korean only shows how damn talented and hardworking she is.

Call her Cleopatra, Thai goddess, or whatever

Just when I thought the lack of creativity couldn’t get any worse, the LALISA music video proved me wrong.

YG doesn’t play around when it comes to the production value of their artists’ music videos — that’s a fact. From her special appearance in Kingdom: Legendary War that embodied Cleopatra to her solo debut that fused contemporary and traditional Thai culture, the company clearly upped the ante with LALISA.

It had the staple elements featured in most K-pop videos like the alleyway sets, LED soundstages, neon lights, and the very famous Neungnae tunnel. But after a dark and edgy start, the bridge went for a more bright and vivid tone featuring a set that was evocative of Villa Donna in Mamma Mia! Everything up to this point was already a feast for the eyes. But, as they say, save the best for last.

Before concluding the video, Lisa left us all gasping as she paid homage to her heritage. To say that the Thai elements incorporated in the video are beautiful would be an understatement. From the choreography that featured a Thai traditional dance to the set design inspired by the Prasat Hin Phanom Rung in Buriram (her birthplace), everything blended together to create an alluring 30-second spectacle of elegance, sophistication, and royalty.

Miss Manoban further showed her deep appreciation for her roots by donning the works of local Thai designers. The modernized sabai and sinh from Asava was custom-made using “traditional Thai brocade golden silk delicately woven in metal-threaded ancient patterns from Lamphun Province.” Rather than a crown, Lisa wore a headdress inspired by the chada traditionally worn by Thai dancers, and ear cuffs made of golden cape jasmine.

Photo from ASAVA and BLACKPINK Jisoo’s official Instagram

To YG and Teddy Park

Albeit lacking in a few aspects, I believe that LALISA is the dynamic that both YG and their artists need.

Lisa’s creative input in her solo debut only shows how much YG artists can diversify their music and concepts if only they were given the freedom to do so. While I agree that the “YG image” and Teddy Park’s distinct sound have helped skyrocket the careers of many K-pop artists, it’s high time for the company to start tapping into their creative juices and pass the baton to other producers.

A part of the fandom thinks it was wise to stick to the formula because, after all, it’s the one that works. Whereas others criticized the company producer for creating what seems like a mere mashup of previous BLACKPINK tracks, resulting in an album that only partially embodied Lisa.

Sticking to a formula only confines their artists’ discography within a certain genre and stereotypes that, if it weren’t for their loyal fanbases, consumers would eventually grow tired of. Bringing in more novel and innovative elements would not only help the company navigate a saturated industry that demands evolution owing to its growing audience, but also showcase the growth and diversity of their artists.

On the other hand, I acknowledge the sentiments of the YG stans. Perhaps it was intentional for the album to be reminiscent of some BLACKPINK tracks so as to keep the group’s girl crush color and to continue establishing the style YG has long been known for.

But for a group that brands itself as the “revolution,” there wasn’t anything revolutionary about the tracks’ melodies and instrumentals. Well, maybe except for the fact that LALISA is among the few Teddy Park-produced songs that has actual words in its chorus and not just instrumentals with onomatopoeia.

Most importantly, YG needs to give what is due to their artists. Maybe it’s quality over quantity, or maybe it’s just capitalism. Nonetheless, despite being only five years into their career, the BLACKPINK members have definitely proven that they deserve more than two tracks in a solo project.

Get yourself some L-A-L-I-S-A by streaming it on your favorite music platforms.

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