Blackpink contract drama shows power of idol groups

By Mitchell Blatt
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, September 30, 2023
Adjust font size:

Jennie, Jisoo, Lisa, and Rosé of BLACKPINK perform at the Coachella Stage during the 2023 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on April 22, 2023 in Indio, California. [Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Coachella]

For seven years, Lisa, Jisoo, Jennie, and Rosé have been earning tens of millions of dollars for YG Entertainment.

The group, known as Blackpink and adored by scores of fans worldwide, sold 2.8 million records in South Korea in 2022 alone. Their Born Pink international tour was the highest-grossing for any girl group ever, exceeding $100 million in ticket sales. In the first quarter of 2021, Blackpink sales accounted for 62% of all of YG's album sales.

K-pop is a large part of South Korea's economy, acting as a cultural export and a tourism magnet. According to South Korea's Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, entertainment culture is worth over $16 billion to South Korea.

These women all practiced dance and trained formally for a decade in the hopes of being selected by their label and debuting with a group. They routinely work overtime recording, filming, and performing until their feet are blistered.

Lisa, who was born in Thailand, learned Korean, English, and a little bit of Chinese and Japanese. She was the first non-Korean to debut with a YG group.

Lisa and Blackpink were so valuable to YG for seven years. Now, YG is facing the other side of that double-edged sword.

Following news that Blackpink members Lisa, Jennie, and Jisoo would not be extending their contracts with the band, YG's stock price tumbled by 13%. Rosé is the only member reported to be staying on with YG. All members have also made solo recordings, with Lisa's being the most successful so far.

The future of Blackpink is now in question. The members are talking about keeping the group together in a part-time capacity, but it is unclear how that might work if they are signed to different labels. In any case, the story of Blackpink follows the lifecycle of other headline-making K-pop groups.

K-pop is an industry that puts a premium on youth. Kids begin training with a label as young as 12. They debut in their late teens and, if their career is successful, may eventually release solo tracks, mature, and then become a singer-songwriter, producer, or industry mogul.

The aging curve for female idols is particularly steep in a society and industry focused on looks. When they debut in their teens – sometimes as young as 14 – they are presented as "cute" and "youthful." Around age 20, female idols often turn towards a "sultry" and "sexy" image. Then, when they enter their late 20s, they emphasize their fierce independence a la BoA, CL, and Hwasa.

Girls Generation was the most famous girl group for a decade before Blackpink, and they set many standards. They debuted in 2007, and even after breaking up in 2017, their songs were sung by feminists and protesters in Korea and around the world. They reformed in 2022 to release a new album.

Whatever Blackpink does, they have already left a legacy. Lisa helped promote K-pop in Thailand and, vice versa, Thai culture in South Korea. Therefore, she has become more than a singer, acting instead more like a cultural bridge between the two countries. 

Lisa's face is plastered on advertisements at the Bangkok airport and all around Thai cities. Starbucks locations in South Korea and Thailand sell pink and black drinks inspired by Blackpink. Everyone in Thailand knows Lisa, whether or not they are fans of K-pop. Lisa's contract dispute has attracted the sympathy of Thais. 

Nok, a Thai college student, said, "It is better for her to be free."

Kanom, a 20-year-old K-pop fan, said that Lisa has been a positive force for Thai-Korean relations. "She helps promote Thai culture. She shares Thai food and traditions. She wears traditional Thai clothes. K-pop also makes me want to travel to Korea."

Tourism and cultural exchanges between the two countries have increased. In Q3 of 2023, over 1 million Koreans are projected to visit Thailand, and about 500,000 Thais are visiting South Korea each quarter. Whenever Lisa does something, whether it's wearing an ancient-style crown in a music video, filming at a temple in her hometown, or praising the local meatballs, it creates a sensation and causes others to follow her.

Millions of fans await what comes next for the fashion and music icon and her fellow bandmates. It would appear that after having once been controlled by the industry, they are now the ones that control it.

Mitchell Blatt is a columnist with For more information please visit:

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

Follow on Twitter and Facebook to join the conversation.
ChinaNews App Download
Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comment(s)

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Enter the words you see:   
    Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from