How does Melbourne girl, BlackPink's Rose, become a K-pop star?

Melbourne singer Roseanne Park thought her father was joking when he suggested she audition for a Korean entertainment company.

Four years later, she is top of iTunes charts in 18 countries and breaking YouTube viewing records with her K-pop group BlackPink.

"I always played music for more as a hobby," the singer said.

"In Australia, I didn't think that there was much of a chance for me to become a singer – especially to become a K-pop star ... I was living so far from the country that it never really occurred to me as a possibility," says Park, who was born in New Zealand and moved to Australia with her family when she was seven years old.

Within two months of passing the audition, the 16-year-old was on a plane to Seoul to begin training at YG Entertainment, one of Korea's "big three" music companies.

It was a busy schedule: she had lessons for vocals, dance, guitar and Japanese and Korean languages. Throughout her four years of training, the group had to constantly prove themselves to the label's boss, Yang Hyun-Suk, known as YG: "We would have these tests at the end of every month with YG and we would prepare a dance and song performance as a group and individually.

"Coming to YG entertainment as a trainee was one of the most challenging yet most life changing periods of my life."

Park speaks with the glass-half-full attitude of one whose emails are vetted by her management – standard practice when dealing with the major K-pop companies, who are fastidious when it comes to their artists' media representation (they are not always successful: T.O.P.,a member of one of their biggest groups, Big Bang, was recently charged with marijuana usage). The answers to the interview questions – those that were acknowledged – arrived in a document titled "FINAL".

Roseanne Park from Melbourne, was encouraged to audition for K-pop agency YG Entertainment by her father.

Roseanne Park from Melbourne, was encouraged to audition for K-pop agency YG Entertainment by her father. 

Still, a sense of her real love of music and genuine astonishment at being chosen by one of South Korea's most successful music agencies emerges in her answers, which veer from lengthy and detailed to evasive.

Park, who is now known by the stage name Rosé, and her bandmates Thai member Lisa Manoban; Jennie Kim, who grew up in New Zealand; and Korean-born and bred Ji Soo Kim are are filling a vital role for their agency: in the past year, many top girl groups, including YG's 2NE1, have disbanded. BlackPink are part of a new wave of K-pop acts that includes nine-piece girl group Twice and seven-piece boy band BTS (who recently played arenas in Australia), that are breaking sales, YouTube and streaming records, and making inroads into foreign markets.

With chart success and a strong international fanbase, BlackPink appear to have already made it, but K-pop is a tough industry, and music writer Mimyo, from web magazine Idology, says the group has a tough road ahead.

"In Korea we think of their success as rather moderate compared to what we expect from [a big company such as] YG. Many people think of them as a much better looking version of 2NE1, which is also where their biggest criticism arises: 'They're just a cuter version of 2NE1 and nothing more!'"

Their latest single won't do much to allay those critics: it was reportedly meant to be recorded by their predecessors.

A handful of Australians have gone to Korea seeking fame in the K-pop world, including Sydney singer Kevin Kim, who now hosts a radio show for SBS Pop Asia, and had some chart success with the boy band Z:EA. But Park and her group have already eclipsed them all.

And Mimyo says their third, digital-only single Playing with Fire was a turning point that signalled a path out of niche fandom to a broad audience.

"It's a good pop song, appealing to general public. K-pop nowadays seem to have too many layers of meanings, like concepts, metaphors, biographical facts, alleged secret messages to fans ... It makes K-pop more interesting, but sometimes people get tired and want to listen to simple, dancey, pop songs. [Girl group] Sistar, who just disbanded, used to offer that. K-pop girl groups always need attention from a larger following, compared to boy groups [who rely more on selling merchandise and touring] . So, if I'm right and if it goes well, BlackPink might have a brighter future."

Park hopes that future leads to fame in the west – especially at home.

"I'm just dreaming that one day I'll be able to come back to my home town and perform for everyone."

BlackPink's As If It's Your Last is out now.


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