In an industry that generally operates on the principle ‘more is more,’ Black Pink is unmatched in power despite–or perhaps because of?–its elusiveness. When a new music video releases from the record-breaking quartet, the world seems to stop spinning on its axis. Indeed, any content from the dazzling YG Entertainment group is a rare and much-heralded event.
If the MV to “Shut Down” from sophomore album Born Pink is any indication, Black Pink is very aware of the power they hold. Having achieved global domination, the industry titans now have sights set on frontiers that are galactic in scale. The result is a MV that’s a shining success in terms of self-referential storytelling, artfully intertwining Black Pink’s past with its present. The song is basically an unadulterated flex of epic proportions, but where it really succeeds is in humanizing a group that has been elevated almost to the realm of pop-culture mythology.
In a move reminiscent of BTS’ “Yet to Come,” almost every shot of “Shut Down” contains an easter egg referencing another video in Black Pink’s discography, which makes watching it a connect-the-dots adventure. Black Pink go a step beyond this, though, by creating character arcs that highlight their evolution on and off stage, deftly blurring the lines between their music video personas and identities as people negotiating stardom on a global scale.
This sense of character-building is evident in the very first shot, with Lisa silhouetted on the same bridge where she rapped her verse in the 2016 “Playing With Fire” video. While “Playing with Fire” saw her witnessing the bridge being devoured in flames, now Lisa is delivering her verse with unbridled intensity and power, on the same bridge that is now (thankfully) intact. The evolution speaks for itself. It’s also worth noting that the beat drops from the first second of the track, immediately ensnaring the listener, so this sense of triumph on Lisa’s part is mirrored by the production.
This quickly pivots to Jennie languidly commanding an exceptionally blinged-out army tank draped with pink shopping bags. The shot is a signal of how Black Pink has achieved global domination with style, in a direct callback to the 2018 “DDU-DU DDU-DU” video.
Jennie’s verse skewers the ever-present debate of whether Black Pink’s minimal discography indicates the quartet is past their prime. “It’s not a comeback since we’ve never left,” she declares, “heads turning, careful don’t strain your neck.” What’s startling is how true the lyrics ring. Black Pink may have a sparse music output relative to other groups, but they are omnipresent in almost all arenas of pop culture.
Jennie’s verses in “Shut Down” solidify how skilled she is at inhabiting the space between rapping and vocalization. In her next solo shot, which sees her blowing out a match a la “Playing with Fire,” she further revels in her icon status (“bunch of wannabes wanna be me…me three if I was you,”) and delivers each line with laser precision.
Lisa’s next verse is equally hard-hitting and recalls her scenes from Black Pink’s 2016 debut “BOOMBAYAH,” in front of a garbage truck. While her debut verse saw her reveling in being a “90s baby” and being “young and fearless,” now Lisa exudes power that is utterly undisputed: “it’s not a game since we’ve never lost,” she reminds us. Again, the proliferation of Black Pink’s color scheme is apparent in the newly black and pink duffel bags bursting with bills. Black Pink is not playing around, and the lyrics reflect that, as Lisa snarls “the leash on your neck is mine.” Resist becoming a fan at your own peril.
Incidentally, “DDU-DU DDU-DU” is the most referenced track in “Shut Down,” which makes sense as it seems to be the song that firmly solidified Black Pink’s status as a global powerhouse. Each of the Pinks reference a scene from the video. Jisoo’s solo shot, in which she gracefully brandishes a pink umbrella, is a direct reference to her umbrella scene in “DDU-DU DDU-DU,” with the difference being now money is raining down on her instead. Talk about a level up!
In another example of character development, Rose’s solo shot references Black Pink’s 2016 song “Whistle,” which saw her singing casually on top of the world (spot-on real-life foreshadowing of the group’s success). Now she sits on top of a globe that is entirely black and pink. The messaging isn’t subtle: this is Black Pink’s world, and they have the accolades and statistics to back it up. Rose’s lines also acknowledge the uphill battle inherent in any launch to stardom, even one as meteoric as Black Pink’s. “Praying for my downfall, many have tried, baby,” she sings before taking off in her pink Lamborghini.
Where the “Shut Down” MV supersedes that of pre-release single “Pink Venom” is in the group dance shots during the chorus. With the members in front of a simple all-white backdrop wearing visually distinct outfits, it’s easier to appreciate their dancing without the clutter of the (totally beautiful, but distracting) “Pink Venom” dance backdrop. Indeed, the white warehouse setting suggests that the Pinks are in the very film complex where all of their previous music videos were shot–a reference to the worlds they’ve previously built even as they bring us into this new one.
The clean white backdrop mirrors the relatively pared-down production that makes “Shut Down” so unique in Black Pink’s repertoire. The song is a gorgeous fusion of hip-hop and string musical elements, sampling classical violinist Paganini’s “La Campanella.” “Shut Down” forgoes the group’s trademark larger-than-life EDM production in favor of highlighting the main melody line: a synth base paired with strings. This imbues the sing with a waltz-like quality that should be at odds with the hip-hop feel, but the result of this genre fusion is not only an incredibly enjoyable track, but a song that’s genuinely innovative.
Innovative may be a bold word to use in the K-pop soundscape, but in an era of increasingly bombastic production–much of it driven by Black Pink’s success with that flavor of sound–the comparatively minimalist soundscape in “Shut Down” is refreshing, even as it maintains the hip-hop elements that make Black Pink so recognizable.
This extends to the little things, too. For example, when Rose tells us to “Stay in your own lane ’cause I’m bout to swerve,” the drop when Rose sings “swerve” accents the word, just like the “vroom vroom vroom” in her bridge verse artfully builds tension and highlights the lyrics in the chorus. The beauty of “Shut Down” is that while it isn’t marked by a lot of dynamism, in the sense that the energy doesn’t change in a major way during the chorus, there are subtle, smart production techniques that imbue the song with auditory interest the whole way through.
Lisa’s character arc closes with her shattering records with her katana in hand, another reference to “DDU-DU DDU-DU.” Meanwhile, Rose, driving alone like she did in the MV to “Kill This Love,” is now unmarred by tears. Jisoo now stands in front of an idealized version of herself, scrutinized by paparazzi and formerly unable to be authentic, newly nonchalant and in control.
A thread of perseverance is what ties each arc to its triumphant conclusion, with each member emerging from the debris of the past–whether it be relentless crusades of haters, scrutinization from paparazzi, or heartbreak–victorious. All of it is “shut down” in favor of something entirely new, as we see when the girls press an elevator telling us only that they are going “up.” The closing call of “Black Pink in your area” is supercharged with power, and feels destined for anthem singing in concerts around the world.
“Shut Down” is brilliantly constructed and marked by innovative production choices, but its intent feels ambiguous. Like SNSD’s “Forever 1,” it doesn’t seem like a goodbye, but rather a window into both the legacy and future Black Pink envisions for itself. Part of the conundrum of Black Pink is that we rarely get much of a window into the people behind the personas. The group, though embedded into the fabric of pop culture at this point, is oddly enough a bit of a girl crush blank slate. The “Shut Down” MV sheds light on the pressures Black Pink face as the world’s number one girl group, and signals the start of an intriguing new upward trajectory. Despite all they’ve endured in their unprecedented rise to global stardom, they are self-aware, here to stay, and invite us to revel in their continued victory with them. It’s a call that is impossible to resist.