The scene is black and white – and tinted with various shades of greyscale. A sleek SUV – the sort that transports celebrities of great renown – pulls up, to drop off a woman attired in a suit. The woman slinks into an unidentified building. The scene cuts to a casino-esque setup in which figures (made ominous by the gas masks they’re wearing) crowd around a table on which playing cards have been laid out. This cut also ushers in an explosion of colour – a blue-green tint that resembles a lens flare, and the vibrant red of a bead curtain, through which the same woman enters into the casino-esque room. Her black bangs and distinctive pale face shape, with round-yet-sharp cheekbones, betray her identity almost immediately.
No matter. As the woman takes a seat at the card table, a hip-hop song kicks into full gear. The next moment, the woman has crossed her arms, whipped out a fan, and performed a few dance moves, still seated. The most striking move is a sharp cant to the left, in which she crossed arms form an ultra-precise line while her body whips – really, whips – towards the left. Yes, it’s definitely no matter if you had no clue who this was before the score kicked in: by now you either will know – or you’ll be dying to learn who this mysterious performer’s identity is.
This is Lisa Manoban, one-quarter of K-Pop’s all-star girl group BLACKPINK. Lisa serves as BLACKPINK’s lead dancer and lead rapper. Born in Thailand’s Buriram Province, Lisa’s been dancing since she was very young. It was her keen, fluid style of dance – seen readily in the above-detailed YouTube video, Lilifilm The Movie – that earned her a spot in Korean music company YG Entertainment’s trainee program. YG Entertainment would go on to assemble Lisa and her fellow trainees, Rosé, Jisoo, and Jennie, into a girl band. This band was in turn christened BLACKPINK. BLACKPINK has since conquered global charts and album sales, becoming a behemoth on par with any massively beloved Western band. As member Jennie remarked in the group’s Netflix documentary (BLACKPINK: Light Up The Sky), she felt that the group had established a solid – and resonant – global footing when she heard American fans singing their Korean lyrics back to them – at Coachella no less!
YouTuber Mera details Lisa’s particular appeal in a video detailing BLACKPINK’s visual aesthetics: “Lisa is subject to change. Lisa contains multitudes.” Mera further notes that Lisa’s coding in BLACKPINK’s videos is in contrast to her fellow BLACKPINK members, who have fixed “personas” so to speak. Where Rosé, Jennie, and Jisoo take on similar roles and aesthetics in each video, Lisa “bounces around”, fulfilling several roles and personas. Lisa’s multiplicity is made possible by the fluidity mentioned earlier. Lisa’s a bit like the wind – or aether – in her qualities as a performer. For one, Lisa can assume multiple roles – that of “the scrappy little punk, the in-your-face badass, the rebellious schoolgirl and the scientist”, amongst others. This fluidity is also present in Lisa’s movements as a performer. She’s both supremely precise and exceptionally malleable. Returning to the cant to the left mentioned earlier, it surmises Lisa’s style, the grounds of the hypnotism underpinning her dancing. Even in a loose suit, Lisa is both controlled enough to perform complex moves and yet relaxed enough to do so without looking at all stiff, without looking incapable at all.
So, Lisa’s appeal as a performer has been ascertained. What then of Lisa’s external appeal? Her fanbase? Currently, Lisa is the most followed K-Pop idol on Instagram, with 57.3 million followers, outstripping even BTS’s follower count. Lisa clearly has many fans – and then some.
This is where exceptions rear their head. With the official announcement of Lisa’s first solo album, LALISA (the title is taken from Lisa’s full name), on Instagram in August this year, Lisa became the third BLACKPINK member to launch a solo album. Naturally, her fans must have had – and continue to have – colossal expectations. To outline these expectations better, I return to my earlier analysis of Lisa’s Lilifilm video and her appeal as a dancer. Lisa has a handful of Lilifilm dance videos in which she performs to hip-hop dance tracks. In these videos – and especially because they’re a solo pursuit of Lisa’s – she develops the solid identity her BLACKPINK music videos have avoided establishing: that of a hip-hop performer. She is an ultra-slick, almost too sleek performer at that, armed with a sturt and braggadocio that’s often (stereotypically and unfairly) afforded to cishet male performers.
It follows, then, that Lisa’s solo should match her Lilifilm persona (as her BLACKPINK personas are one too many to pin down): bold, brassy and hip-hop inspired.
In a critique of BLACKPINK’s How You Like That, Mera noted that BLACKPINK songs tend to consist of three attributes: 1. A primary phrase, usually in English, 2. A secondary phrase and 3. A cycling pattern of electronic notes. LALISA’s two songs – LALISA and MONEY – are comprised of this same formula, repeating the motifs LALISA and MONEY respectively, which are in turn laid over a highly rhythmic, but unchanging, beat. However, that is not to say that their formulaic makeup is equivalent to their being lackluster, or anything less than what fans have reasonably been able to expect of Lisa. No, to put it colloquially, these songs slap and they slap precisely because they teem with the essence of one Miss Lalisa Manoban. The beats for both LALISA and MONEY are brassy and thump akin to a dancefloor being pounded by hordes of feet. Early into LALISA, after’s Lisa has sung the song’s intro in Korean, Lisa screeches “Hey!” clearly demanding that the listener pay attention. Thereafter, LALISA’s beat kicks in, in full. LALISA’s essential refrain is that we all ought to be adoring Lisa and crowing her name because she’s that bitch. MONEY is Lisa’s assertion of her own power – and of course, her love of money.
Oh, and yes, the dancing in each music video is killer!
In total, LALISA and MONEY wear their hip-hop inspirations on their sleeve, much like Lisa’s Lilifilm dance solos.
They’re all the more entertaining – and all the more Lisa – for it.
In short, how could anyone be less than hyped?