Blackpink’s Lisa on Her Solo Debut and Stepping Up Her Rap Skills: ‘I Pushed Myself’

If you don’t know Lisa’s name already, you’ll remember it now.

The member of superstar K-pop group Blackpink is spelling it out — literally — on her just-released debut solo project, Lalisa, which gets its title from her full first name. And like bandmates Jennie, Jisoo and Rosé, who all pursue solo endeavors in addition to their work as a group, Lisa’s bringing fans into her own world with a pair of songs that take her love of hip-hop to the next level. The title track expands on the maximalist, globe-trotting sound of Blackpink bangers like “How You Like That” with rapid-fire flows and nods to her Thai heritage — while b-side “Money,” built around a languid horn loop, is the closest she’s ever gotten to contemporary American rap music, with enough hooks and dancefloor commands to inspire a TikTok craze.

The songs of Lalisa come from a familiar crew of songwriters and producers, including Teddy Park (the group’s longtime producer and creative director), Bekuh Boom (responsible for some of Lisa’s best-known rap verses), R. Tee, 24 and Vince (all of whom have credits on Blackpink’s debut album, 2020’s aptly titled The Album). But the music is only part of the experience: The “Lalisa” video is also another elaborate showcase for the dancing skills that have wowed audiences (see: her nightly dance medleys from Blackpink’s last world tour) and inspired viral Twitter memes.

Lisa has described her ability to quickly pick up complex choreography as a kind of superpower. But for an artist who grew up in Thailand, trained for pop stardom in South Korea and now performs for fans from all over, she says pairing the music with the visuals is just the best way to express herself and tell her story.

“People might not understand what the lyrics are, but listening to the beat and seeing the dance, they can feel the vibe and have that connection,” a hoodie-clad Lisa says over Zoom one evening from a Seoul recording studio. (She does the interview mostly in English, with occasional asides in Korean and Thai to a pair of translators sitting just outside of frame.) It’s a few days before the project’s release, and Lisa is animated, quick with one-liners and happy to laugh at herself — but mostly just excited to share another side with the fans who have stuck with the group for five years. Says Lisa: “It’s a good opportunity for me to finally let the world know, ‘This is who I am.’”

Below, she tells Billboard about stepping up her rap skills, unlocking a new level of confidence and what goes into her eye-popping dance routines.

How did you end up choosing these songs for your solo debut?

I heard “Money” first and told Teddy, “Oh my God, Teddy oppa, I have to do this song, I want this to be my solo song.” And he was like, “OK, let’s do it!” And then we heard [an early version of] “Lalisa,” but the hook was another thing. Teddy had the idea to put my name in the hook. At first I was like, “Whaaa… I think it’s kind of weird to keep repeating my name. How’s it going to sound?” And then we tried it, and it came out so cool. I really like it.

So you knew these were the songs right away?

Yeah, I was like [pretending to hug the songs] “Ugh, these have to be mine, I can’t give these to anyone.”

It’s funny to hear that, because Rosé described having the opposite experience — she said it took her a while to land on her solo songs.

My sense is fairly specific. He put on a few [other] demos and I was like, meh. But when I heard “Money” and “Lalisa,” I was like, “These ones!”

Did you always want to lean more into hip-hop in your solo music?

Yeah. When I dance to hip-hop, it’s like, “This is me.” I really like the “Pretty Savage” dance [from Blackpink’s The Album] — it’s very me. It’s hard, but it’s fun to do.

What conversations did you have about the message of these songs and the lyrical content?

I don’t write lyrics, but Teddy always asks me: “Do you have anything you want to deliver to the fans? What’s the vibe you want to do?” I told him that in “Lalisa,” I wanted to put some Thai vibes in it, and he actually put some Thai traditional music into the dance break. This is my first solo, and I want to represent that I’m Thai to all the fans around the world.

I know it’s mostly in Korean and English, but I couldn’t quite tell when I first heard it — are there any lyrics in Thai in there?

No, no, just the sounds. But there’s a part in Korean where I say, “I came to Korea from Thailand, and I went for the throat.” That’s the part where the Thai element is in.

I don’t know if everybody listening to the project knows the story of your name. I read that Lalisa is something you changed your name to after visiting a fortune teller when you were younger. Is that true?

[Laughs.] Well, my mom took me there and asked me! We made an audition for YG [Entertainment, Blackpink’s label/management company], but YG didn’t contact us back. We really wanted to get it. So the fortune teller said, “You should change your name.” [In Thai culture, changing one’s name, including doing so for good luck, is not uncommon.] The week after I changed my name, YG called me back and said, “You should come [be a trainee].” I was like, “Wow!”

It’s very funny, weeks ago, one of the camera men asked me, “What is Lalisa?” I was like, “It’s my name!” People don’t really know that Lalisa is my real name, because they just know me as Lisa from Blackpink. So I’m really happy that I get to do this project with the title Lalisa.

In last year’s Netflix documentary, Blackpink: Light Up the Sky, you do a lot of your interviews in Thai, which is such a beautiful language. It made me want to hear a rap verse from you in Thai.

Ohhh! Thai fans are gonna love that. [Laughs.]

On “Lalisa” you experiment with a couple different flows, including some of your hardest and fastest raps to date. What was it like recording that second verse in particular?

At first, when I heard the rap [on the demo], I was like, “Oh my God, I don’t think I can do this. I’m Thai — how can I rap in English that fast?” And Teddy was like, “No, you can!” I practiced for an hour, and after that I went in to record. I pushed myself very hard to complete it.

Who are some of the rappers who have most influenced you or shaped you as an artist?

I don’t really have a set taste, because I appreciate all different kinds of music, and when I was a trainee I got to practice a lot of different styles of rap and hip-hop. All of that mixed together is what makes me me.

The reason I was asking was because the part on “Lalisa” where you spell your name — “L-A-L-I-S-Aaaaaaay” — felt like a nod to Nicki Minaj, who loves an extended vowel.

[Laughs.] Oh, it kind of sounds like that! That was Teddy’s idea. At first it was going to go up [ascending in pitch], like L-A-L-I-S-Aaaaaeeeee. But we just didn’t do that.

Dancing and choreography are such a huge part of what you do, and Blackpink dance routines are so complicated—

Really?

I think so! The “How You Like That” choreography video is so impressive — the chorus sections are different, hardly any dance moves get repeated. How long does it take you to learn a routine like that?

Before I take the lesson, I have to watch the [demo] video several times, like for an hour, just to memorize the picture, the story. After that, when I take the class, I have to put every movement into a story. There’s some muscle memory, but I have to get into the mindset of, “OK, this movement has to connect with this movement so it becomes a story.”

And that process takes, what, days? Weeks?

No, just like two or three hours.

Wow!

But the first day I learn, I’m just like [mind-blown gesture]. So I have to rest and sleep for the night, and after that, I remember everything and have memorized everything.

You’ve been dancing since you were really young, and you clearly love it — you film all sorts of dance videos outside of Blackpink on your Lilifilm YouTube channel. What kind of outlet does dance provide for you?

I feel like dancing doesn’t require much thinking from me. My body moves on its own, and I don’t really get stressed about what’s coming next — I just let my body move to the music. And that’s just me. So dancing is what I communicate through, instead of words. And I feel like dancing is my best friend. [Laughs.]

Blackpink’s music obviously connects with people all over, but I wonder if touring and performing around the world has taught you anything about the way dance transcends language barriers.

Yeah, dance is kind of a universal language for me too. Take Latin music, for example — you may not understand what the artists are saying, but you feel that energy. Even with my music, people might not understand what the lyrics are, but listening to the beat and seeing the dance, they can feel the vibe and have that connection.

I keep thinking about how when you started as a YG trainee, you didn’t speak any Korean and didn’t know anybody, which must have been hard. I wonder if dance class was where you could acclimate, in a way, because you didn’t have to play catch-up there?

[Nodding.] When I first learned dance in Korea, the only thing I knew [were the counts]: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. And the teacher didn’t tell me more! I just danced and followed along.

You record with Blackpink primarily in Korean and English, but the group also records alternate Japanese versions that often have new, English-language versions of your Korean raps. Do the songs feel different from language to language?

Yeah, totally, totally different vibe. When I sing “Ddu-du Ddu-du” in Korean, it’s very cool and swaggy. But when I switch to Japanese, it feels more [playful]. We try our best to make it perfect. When I go to Japan and have to sing in Japanese, sometimes I sing the Korean [parts accidentally] and I’m like, “Oh no!” But it’s not only me — other members do it too! [Laughs.]

Your bandmates and collaborators describe you as a constant source of positivity and energy — in Light Up the Sky, Teddy says you always have an “‘It’s gonna be OK, we’re all good’ smile” on your face. But what about days when you aren’t feeling it? How do you turn the mood around?

I want to make sure every day is happy and joyful, and I want to make sure everyone around me feels the same way. If I start to have negative thoughts, I regroup and think: “OK, what should we do about this? Let’s solve it like this and move on.” I try to make sure every day is like that so I can stay in a positive mood. Life is short!

I was curious about the small things that help — the music or the snacks or whatever else you turn to in order to cheer yourself up.

Oh, well, I have my cats! When I feel down, I just kiss my cats. And my cats are like, “Ugh, I don’t want a kiss, don’t pet me!” That makes me feel better.

Between Light Up the Sky and this year’s Blackpink: The Movie, released in celebration of the group’s fifth anniversary, you’ve been reflecting a lot on your life before and after debuting with Blackpink. What goes through your mind when you see footage of yourself as a trainee?

Whenever I see those videos, I just get reminded of what I was feeling at the time, and obviously I’m reminded of how hard I worked to get where I am now. Back then, when I was a trainee and preparing all that, I did it with this mindset of, “I can’t debut unless I work really really hard.” So when I look back on those videos, I remember those feelings and those thoughts. I get reminded: That’s how far I’ve come, and I shouldn’t forget that determination I was feeling at the time. I remind myself of that every day.

What do you think you’ve learned from making Lalisa that you’ll bring back to your work with the group?

The number one thing is the confidence I learned throughout the whole process of preparing my solo. When I’m with the other members, we rely on each other a lot. There’s a lot of things I learned during my solo prep that include things like leadership — I have to make all these decisions on my own. I hope I can carry this back into the group when we promote together.

We’ve now heard solo music from you, Rosé and Jennie. What’s one thing you’d like to see Jisoo do on her upcoming solo release?

[Laughs.] I want to see Jisoo sing EDM. I think it might suit her, right? What do you think?

That cover of Zedd’s “Clarity” that she did on tour a few years ago was really lovely.

I’m gonna call her today: “Unnie, please do EDM!”

But we know she likes alternative music, and she also had a bit of a rap moment on “Pretty Savage” that was fun and unexpected.

I know, I know! We always tease her: “Jisoo the rapper!”

Before we go, I have to ask you about the “Did it work?” meme you inspired.

You know it?

Dolly Parton tweeted it, how could I not! What is it like watching that blow up on the internet?

At first I was like, “Is that… my legs?” [Laughs.] I think the fans are very creative. It was so fun to watch it. I’m glad that they were happy. And my legs became popular, so thank you!

You can travel the world and play arenas, but once you’re an Internet meme? That’s when you know you’ve made it.

It’s because of my fans! Blinks are amazing.

Every Song Ranked on Kacey Musgraves’ ‘Star-Crossed’: Critic’s Picks

“Let me set the scene,” coos Kacey Musgraves invitingly on the opening line of star-crossed, her new album that you don’t so much listen to as float through.

If its predecessor, 2018’s Grammy-winning Golden Hour, was an examination of Musgraves’ falling in love after heartbreak, the dreamy, ethereal star-crossed serves as a sequel to that love’s demise and the heartache it brings as she chronicles the breakup of her three-year marriage to Ruston Kelly.

Musgraves told Rolling Stone the album is in three-acts, inspired by Greek tragedies. However, the most obvious reference is not to ancient mythology (though Icarus comes to mind during the title track), but to those most famous of all star-crossed lovers: Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Thankfully, unlike in that play, Musgraves and Kelly both survive, even if their love doesn’t.

Golden Hour felt revelatory, especially given the artistic leaps it took from Musgraves’ previous efforts — and it’s a good sign that Musgraves enlisted the same pair, Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk, that guided and co-wrote Golden Hour with her to step once more into complicated affairs of the heart, even if the results don’t quite live up to that lofty set.

The concept album, released through a new partnership between Universal Music Group Nashville and Interscope and meant to be finished in order, glides on gossamer wings, full of acoustic guitars and subtle synthesizers, lulling the listener into a woozy, seductive state. On the best songs, Musgraves’ confessions feel cozily intimate, like stream-of-consciousness journal entries or a cloistered coffee date with a BFF, while other tracks slide into hyper-self-awareness that feels a little too labored, but star-crossed is a 47-minute journey that’s certainly still worth taking.

Here is an early ranking of every song on Musgraves’ most personal album to date:

15. “Gracias A La Vida” 

Sliding into the last post slot because the album closer is a cover — the only non-original on the set — of Argentinian singer Mercedes Sosa’s classic ballad. With effects that make it crackle like a well-worn vinyl album playing on an old Victrola, Musgraves’ take serves as a lovely note of gratitude to end the album on.

14. “Easier Said”

With an atmospheric, sloping ‘80s synch click track redolent of George Michael and lovely acoustic guitar, “Easier Said” is a straightforward conversational track about realizing that sometimes love is much harder work than it seems like it should be.

13. “Justified”

Musgraves looks back on a romance where so many things went wrong, including duplicity and cheating, and determines her reactions and actions, which run the gamut, are “justified,” given the way she was treated.“Healing doesn’t happen in a straight line,” she sings in the mid-tempo track.

12. “What Doesn’t Kill Me”

She may sound sounds sweet on this jaunty tune, but Musgraves bares her teeth on the grittiest lyric on the album, warning “You’re going to feel me when I’m done,” as she advises her antagonist, “Better run, better run.” “Golden hour faded black,” she sings, referencing her previous album, which was about falling in love with Kelly. Simultaneously menacing and uplifting.

11. “Cherry Blossom”

Though the light, airy synthesized track, complete with Musgraves voice run through a slight vocal effect, sounds carefree, there’s an underlying current that someone had better heed her warning to hold on, lest she disappear. “ “I’m a cherry blossom baby,” she sweetly sings, “Don’t let me blow away.”

10. “Simple Times”

“Being grown-up kind of sucks,” Musgraves sings, in this swaying, finger-snapping mid-tempo track where she longs for a return to simple times from her youth, whether it be a Friday afternoon trip to the 7-11 or when she used to “kick it at the mall as if there’s nothing wrong.” Her adult troubles are already weighing her down as she nostalgically yearns for a less-complicated past.

9. “Camera Roll”

One of the more literal songs on the album, about not looking back on your camera to see photos of happier times that you don’t want to see, but can’t yet delete. “I should know it’s a place not to go when I’m alone,” Musgraves sings. But like many of the songs, there’s hidden sorrow lurking behind even the deceptively prettiest of snaps, as Musgraves notes: “There’s one were we look so in love before we lost all the sun.” Worth nothing that it may be the first song to ever rhyme “chronological order” with “torture.”

8.  “Breadwinner”

One of the album’s most biting tracks comes wrapped in a slight disco beat and frothy, bouncy melody, serving as a cautionary tale about a man who says he’s not threatened by a woman who’s a breadwinner — but not only is he threatened, he’s also willing to take advantage of all the opportunities. “He wants your dinner until he ain’t hungry anymore/ He wants your sugar to make him feel bigger until he starts to feeling insecure,” Musgraves sings.

7. “Keep Lookin’ Up”

Star-crossed’s equivalent of Golden Hour’s “Rainbow,” this uptempo charmer, set to a lilting melody, sets the scene for the last third of the album — as Musgraves remembers her father telling her to always keep looking up and to remember that good times are coming, no matter how dark the storm clouds.

6. “There Is a Light”

The closest star-crossed comes to a straight-ahead banger — plenty of remixes no doubt await — this penultimate track finds Musgraves celebrating (with flute solos!) that she has come out the other side, with the light inside her still shining and undiminished. The spoken passage recalls ‘’80s Madonna crossed with a self-help mantra. Sure to be a concert fave, just like “High Horse,” it’s a bonafide twirler.

5. “If This Was a Movie..”

One of the album’s dreamiest tunes both lyrically and sonically, Musgraves wishes that life were a movie where “love would be enough to save us from the darkness that’s inside both of us” and a time when the car coming up the drive leads to a sweet lovers’ reunion. The retro ‘90s synths and undulating beat add to the gauzy feel.

4. “Star-Crossed”

The album opener is a gorgeous welcome to spend some private time with Musgraves. Bolstered by flamenco guitar, she evokes Icarus, asking “Did we fly too high just to get burned by the sun?” The cinematic curtain raiser-serves as a prologue to the trip through her past she is taking us on.

3. “Hookup Scene”

As Musgraves reenters the dating world, she laments the shallowness of the singles scene and longs for what she’s lost. Her voice, plaintive over a folky finger-plucked guitar figure, is beyond wistful as she delivers this cautionary tale, reminding the listener to hold on tight to their love — because the grass isn’t always greener. “I wish I would have known we didn’t have it so bad,” she sings in this layered beauty, quietly shattering in her willingness to accept a horrible situation over being alone.

2. “Good Wife”

One of star-crossed’s saddest songs. Set to a gentle, soulful beat, the thoroughly modern Musgraves lists the ways she thinks she could be a better, more supportive wife, relying on traditional tropes from decades gone by — though she updates a few of the ideas. “If he comes home stressed out, I could pack him a bowl,” she sweeting suggests. “I know he still needs me… and I know, I know, I know I need him,” she sings.

1. “Angel”

Musgraves seldom expresses anger for what she’s gone through. Instead, the dominant emotion is regret — and no song captures it more beautifully than “Angel,” which treads the same theme as “Good Wife,” but is even more sorrowful. On the lightly orchestrated guitar track, she wishes she could be an angel. “You’d only get the best of me, I’d pull you out of the darkness,” she sings, adding “I’d never have to change,” though it is painfully clear that despite her desires to keep her lover safe, something has to change and it’s likely her.