For the past few months, I’ve felt like one of the only k-pop fans who hasn’t been completely won over by new YG girl group BLACKPINK. Luckily their first comeback, consisting of Playing With Fire (불장난) and Stay, has gone a long way in reigniting my interest.
At many points, both Whistle and Boombayah felt as if they were trying too hard to become a catchphrase, which ultimately blunted their effectiveness as pop songs. Playing With Fire feels more assured in its own skin, and although its tropical house influences are decidedly trend-focused, it doesn’t feel gimmicky. Free from the pressures and expectations of debuting, the girls have dialed back the “look at me” energy and really eased into the track’s pulsing midtempo bounce. Like BTS’s most recent comeback, Fire pulls in just enough of the ultra-familiar tropical synth craze, but makes sure that everything around it is strong enough to thrive on its own. The constant bubble of electronics gives the track a supple warmth, and although the hook itself is relatively simple, it expertly matches the central instrumental refrain.
That very refrain is Playing With Fire‘s not-so-secret weapon. In fact, it completely takes over during the vocal-less final chorus. It’s not a particularly showy piece of production, but grows more addictive with each listen. Fire might not feel as big of a moment as either of BLACKPINK’s debut tracks, but the girls sound more unified than ever. There is no one standout performer here (though Lisa gets the best line during her rap verse — calling back to G-Dragon‘s 2013 song Black). Instead, their vocals intertwine seamlessly, sounding very much like the successors to 2NE1‘s legacy. If their August releases heralded them as so-called “super rookies,” this one absolutely cements that status.