‘Blackpink: Light Up the Sky:’ The joys, angst of a K-pop group

‘Blackpink: Light Up the Sky’ is now streaming on Netflix. Supplied
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Updated 16 October 2020

‘Blackpink: Light Up the Sky:’ The joys, angst of a K-pop group

CHENNAI: It has taken only a couple of years for Blackpink to become one of the biggest girl bands in the world, with members Jennie, Jisoo, Rose, and Lisa continuing to smash new records.

They were the first K-pop girl group to play at the Coachella music festival and to reach 1 billion YouTube views. They broke three Guinness World Records with the single “Kill This Love,” and are the most subscribed female group on YouTube.

But how did they manage to do all of this?

Caroline Suh’s Netflix documentary, “Blackpink: Light Up the Sky,” presents in just under 80 minutes a visually rich story of each of the group’s four women in their 20s.

Blackpink came into existence in 2016 only to touch the skies in just three years, becoming an unbelievable sensation. Supplied

The work, now on Netflix, happily does not turn out to be an exercise in color, gloss, and high fashion, but draws us into the women’s personal lives and rigorous schedules, which were stressful and involved sacrifice, comparable to the kind of tough regime that Olympic athletes undergo in their race toward gold.

Blackpink came into existence in 2016 only to touch the skies in just three years, becoming an unbelievable sensation. That happened at Coachella in the US, where the spectators, thousands of them, went delirious watching the women sing and dance.

Suh splendidly balances the team’s professional life by presenting hit songs such as “Whistle,” “Kill This Love,” and “I’m Ready for Love,” with their personal joys and even griefs. Her attempt to humanize the quartet is gloriously lovely.

The director introduces each group member in a very leisurely way, in places far away from the noise and din of the madly cheering crowds.

Rose is Korean, grew up in Australia, but was born in New Zealand, while Jisoo was born and raised in Korea. Lisa comes from Thailand and was a rapper and lead dancer before joining YG Entertainment. “I have been dancing since I was in kindergarten,” she said. Jennie was always “super shy.” She was born in Korea but moved to New Zealand when she was 10 years old.

Behind the glitz and high living, first-class hotels, and business-class travel (or was it first), the young women missed their homes and families, especially during their long tours, sometimes stretching months on end.

“I would talk to my mother every day,” one of them said. One can sense wistfulness, the creeping loneliness and quiet that follow every concert. Then there were those missed experiences. “A lot of people make memories as a high-school student, but I never had that,” Jennie said.

Lalisa Manoban in Blackpink: Light Up the Sky. Supplied

The quartet’s training began in their early teens, and they could see their families once in two weeks. Suh incorporates audition videos of the girls before they were picked by YG, which looked out for that quality that goes hand-in-hand with stardom.

Suh’s documentary is wonderfully intimate, and between the concerts, she incorporates the fears and fancies of the women. They are nervous at their first meeting with journalists and bloggers, and the natural bonding among the four gives them a kind of warmth and strength to face the challenges of an extremely competitive profession.

But will they be together once the Blackpink phenomena ends? “The thing is, you can never tell how long it will last,” Rose said.

The great escape: Qasr Al Sarab

Updated 27 November 2020

The great escape: Qasr Al Sarab

DUBAI: The colors change depending on which direction you’re facing or what time of day it is. The shifting sands ripple in undulating, multi-colored waves — rusty oranges, wisps of silver, shimmering gold. The colors depend on the minerals in the sand, but also on the effects of the ever-present sun, beating down on one of the world’s harshest and most desolate landscapes.

This is the Rub’ Al-Khali, or Empty Quarter. At 650,000 square kilometers, this giant desert is larger than France, and straddles four countries — Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, and the UAE. It is the largest uninterrupted sand desert in the world.

Of course, given that the majority of the Gulf region consists almost exclusively of desert, that may not sound especially impressive. But comparing this vast swathe of towering dunes to any other desert is to do it a significant disservice. Not least because, on the UAE side, it is also home to the magnificent Qasr Al Sarab hotel.

Anantara Pool Villa Terrace. Supplied

Nestled in a desert valley with soaring dunes to the left and right and salt flats in front, the hotel announces itself with stone towers, grand trellises and water features, resembling an old Arabian fortress town.

Qasr Al Sarab is basically the only structure for miles around — a lone ship adrift in a sea of sand. So the hotel must sustain itself, given it’s two hours from Abu Dhabi and about 45 minutes from any other notable township. The hotel recycles all its water, has its own sewage plant, and even grows its own fruits and vegetables in a desert greenhouse.

The hotel, which reopened on August 15 having been closed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been busy preparing for the return of guests. Especially those from the local market. There’s a newly refurbished gym (complete with Technogym equipment), new kid’s club and a revamped pool area. The on-site restaurants offer traditional options — via a Bedouin-style outdoor, tented area —as well as more modern ones in the rooftop steakhouse, Suhail.

The on-site restaurants offer traditional options as well as more modern ones in the rooftop steakhouse, Suhail. Supplied

The hotel library is stocked with historic books and information on the landscape just beyond the windows. It’s the perfect place to read up on the Empty Quarter’s ecosystem: the fearsome and the tame alike. Although it seems devoid of life at first glance the desert is actually home to plenty. Keep your eyes peeled for snakes, sand foxes, gazelles, birds, scorpions and camel spiders. The Abu Dhabi government has been working on an oryx rehabilitation program, releasing Arabian oryx into the protected area near the hotel.

And the hotel itself hosts numerous animals. A small population of Arabian horses and camels take guests on treks through the dunes at sunrise, while six Saluki dogs, traditionally trained for hunting by nomadic Arabian tribes, perform shows with the hotel’s falcons. But if you’re really looking for something to get your heart racing —and stomach churning — head out for some dune bashing. It is, of course, a favored pastime wherever you are in the UAE, but the size of the dunes in the Empty Quarter means the experience is even more hair-raising than usual. Any rollercoaster will forevermore pale in comparison to an hour in a Nissan Patrol with skilled driver Waris, one of the most experienced dune bashers in the area. He was on location with the crew of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and was also charged with taking the new Bentley Bentayga for a spin to test its capabilities.

The size of the dunes in the Empty Quarter means the experience of dune bashing is even more hair-raising than usual. Shutterstock

After a lie down to recover, evening entertainment comes in the form of pitching up under the stars. The vastness of the night sky seems more obvious here, the stars clearer than anywhere else in the country — a particular shock to city-dwellers so unaccustomed to the wonders of a clear sky. Here, the peace and tranquility seem almost otherworldly; just as explorer Wilfred Thesiger described the area 70 years ago in “Arabian Sands,” when he wrote: “It was very still with the silence which we have driven from our world.”

It may have gained five-star lodgings since then, but this magnificent desert remains fundamentally unchanged.