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

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.

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