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Are Blackpink Finally Thawing China’s K-Pop Freeze?

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K-Pop girl group Blackpink released new single “How You Like That” Friday at 5pm Beijing time. Shortly after, the song became the fastest Korean track to reach double platinum on QQ music, China’s biggest music streaming platform, reaching the milestone in just 72 minutes.

Given the popularity of the group and the hype surrounding their return, such a sales record might not seem too surprising on the face of it, but given China’s recent rocky relationship with K-Pop, the achievement comes with extra significance.

While K-Pop has become a global phenomenon in recent years, political tensions between China and South Korea have meant that the impact of acts such as EXO and BTS has been carefully monitored across the Yellow Sea. Now, Blackpink appear to be making a breakthrough.

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Leading up to the comeback, Chinese Blackpink fans — or C-Blinks — set up several large-scale promotional projects around China. One particular Lisa fanboy paid for large building and public square moving posters of Lisa and Blackpink in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Changchun, Nantong, and Chongqing.

Lisa is currently the most popular member in China with 6.2 million followers on social media platform Weibo and two high-profile advertisement deals. Her popularity is largely attributed to her recent stint hosting Youth With You, the third season of the famous Idol Producer series. On the show she gained popularity as a tough dance mentor of female idol trainees and a talented dancer herself. Following the show, she quickly became a brand spokesperson for Meng Niu’s Zhenguoli yoghurt brand as well as brand endorser for Downy China.

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Blackpink members have been quick to engage with their Chinese fans amid their comeback. On June 10, the other three members of the group — Jennie, Jisoo, and Rosé — opened their own Weibo accounts. However, the group has yet to perform in country and has no plans to do so.

Some attribute this to China’s soft K-Pop ban in place since 2016 after Seoul allowed the deployment of a US missile defense system in Korea. Since then, no strictly Korean acts have performed in China. Still, this year another YG Entertainment artist G-Dragon scored a high-profile brand deal with drinks brand Nongfu Water.

Chinese K-pop idols such as EXO’s Lay Zhang and Kris Wu have long been active in China despite these tensions, but its Korean-national K-Pop acts that seem to have more trouble promoting their music. Blackpink’s Lisa is a Thai national, which might have something to do with her ability to promote easily in China.

Regardless, the Blackpink foursome’s popularity in China only continues to grow. Blackpink’s official Chinese fanclub Blackpink Bar have already collected enough for 300,000+ presale copies for the group’s upcoming September album, and its only June. How big can Blackpink get in China? Only time will tell, but right now things look promising.

Lakshmi Iyengar
    Lakshmi Iyengar is a Yenching Scholar studying health, economics, and modern China. Before moving to Beijing, she majored in Biomedical Engineering at Yale. Follow her on twitter @vlakshmiiyengar for insights on China and life