From a small Thai province to the pinnacle of K-pop, the multitalented member of girl group Blackpink has had quite the journey in her young life. Tama Miyake Lung hears the Bvlgari ambassador’s story ahead of her highly anticipated solo debut
She may be one-quarter of the wildly popular South Korean girl group Blackpink, whose accolades include the highest-charting female Korean act on the Billboard Hot 100 and the first group to have four music videos each with a billion views on YouTube, but Thai singer and dancer Lisa just seems like someone you’d want to hang out with.
“I didn’t think I would make it. I was on the verge of letting go.— Lisa
I had to keep fighting. I had to give it my all.
[I thought,] ‘I don’t care how long the training will take. Bring it on!’”
“Lisa is the most constant one. She brings positive energy into the group,” says fellow Blackpink member Jennie. “If someone is fed up one day, Lisa makes that person laugh. She keeps us energised,” adds Jisoo, who at 26 is the oldest in the group.
Indeed, to see her perform or even practising behind the scenes in the Netflix documentary Blackpink: Light Up the Sky, the 24-year-old radiates positivity and enthusiasm. It’s just one of the reasons Bvlgari selected Lisa as its first-ever K-pop brand ambassador and the only Asian for this year’s Magnifica high jewellery campaign, which also stars American actress Zendaya, American model Lily Aldridge and Italian model Vittoria Ceretti.
What makes Lisa’s carefree spirit and zest for life even more impressive is how hard she has worked – and continues to work – to reach such heights of success. Born Pranpriya Manoban in Thailand’s Buriram Province (which aptly translates to “City of Happiness”), she changed her name to Lalisa before shortening it to Lisa. After moving to Bangkok with her mother and stepfather as an only child, she started dance classes at age four.
“My auntie had a music group, so they had mic stands and I always played with them. I would lower it until it was the same height as me. Then I would just dance and sing to myself,” Lisa recalls in Blackpink: Light Up the Sky. “That was how my mom knew I loved dancing. So she signed me up for a course when I was in kindergarten. That was how it all began.”
Lisa went on to compete in several dance contests and joined a dance crew. It wasn’t until around age 13 that a talent scout suggested she try singing. “Then I realised that I loved both singing and dancing. And YG [Entertainment, the agency behind several leading Korean artists] happened to have an audition at the time,” she says. “So, I made a decision: ‘Okay, I should try, for sure.’”
The ensuing wait was agonising but apparently worth it. “I waited for two months!” Lisa exclaims. “And then they called me. So I was like, ‘What? Is this possible?’” She was the only person among 4,000 who tried out in Thailand to be accepted, and YG’s first recruit from a foreign country.
Just 14 years old and despite not speaking any Korean, Lisa moved to South Korea and started her new life as a K-pop trainee. The rigorous training programme included monthly evaluations on solo and group singing as well as dance performances. Each trainee was graded and tested along with other performers until, over the course of five long years, the group was whittled down to the four who would become Blackpink.
Lisa found waiting to be the hardest part. “I didn’t think I would make it. I was on the verge of letting go,” she says. “I had to keep fighting. I had to give it my all. [I thought,] ‘I don’t care how long the training will take. Bring it on! I don’t care about that anymore!’”
Finally, in August 2016, Lisa, Jennie, Jisoo and Rosé made their debut as YG’s first new girl group in seven years. Fourteen days later they were the starring act on a national music show, the shortest time ever for a girl group. Their singles Whistle and Boombayah from debut album Square One also hit number one on the South Korean charts.
Blackpink has since gone from strength to strength, racking up awards, magazine covers, Guinness World Records and lucrative endorsement deals. Their 2018 single Ddu-Du Ddu-Du was the most-viewed Korean music video within 24 hours of its release with 36.2 million views and this year set a new record with 1.6 billion views in total. In 2019, the group kicked off its first international tour in Bangkok – by which time Blackpink had become one of, if not the most, famous K-pop groups in the world.
“I still remember the first time I went back to Thailand after my debut,” Lisa says. “Because Thai teens see me as a Thai who has made it this far they would say, ‘I want to be like Lisa’. But at that moment, I wasn’t sure if I was good enough to be their role model. I’m a singer, but I didn’t know what kind of singer I wanted to be. I kind of lost the goal. I was trying to find myself. Could I really become their role model? What should I do to not let them down? These kinds of thoughts kept running through my mind.”
“The moment I set foot on the stage [at Coachella]— Lisa
and saw the whole crowd shouting and cheering, I got the feeling, ‘This is it!’
All races and all kinds of people came together there.
So it helped emphasise and just represent Blackpink”
Nevertheless, Lisa pushed through the gruelling tour and discovered a newfound commitment to her craft while on stage at none other than Coachella – where Blackpink became the first K-pop girl group to perform at the legendary music and arts festival.
“I was so nervous. The moment I set foot on the stage and saw the whole crowd shouting and cheering, I got the feeling, ‘This is it!’” she recalls. “All races and all kinds of people came together there. So it helped emphasise and just represent Blackpink. It makes me feel that I had chosen the right path. This was what I really wanted to do with my life.”
Since their international debut, Blackpink has continued to break records and barriers. They collaborated with Lady Gaga on her album Chromatica, released their first Korean studio album (becoming the first K-pop girl group to sell a million copies) and have a fifth-anniversary documentary premiering this month. YG also announced each Blackpink member would release an individual project, with Lisa’s debut said to come later this summer.
The lead dancer of the group, Lisa has already widened her fan base with her own YouTube channel featuring vlogs and dance performances. Established on October 25, 2018, Lilifilm has racked up 307 million views and 7.85 million subscribers. Lisa has also served as a dance mentor for a Chinese online music group competition and appeared as a permanent member of a Korean military variety programme.
Earlier this year, the South China Morning Post reported that all four Blackpink members were Instagram’s most-followed K-pop idols with Lisa topping the list at 46.1 million. Six months later, that number has reached 56.1 million and shows no sign of stopping. For Lisa, who has broken so many barriers as a Thai teenage dancer turned global K-pop sensation, it seems she is truly enjoying this moment in the spotlight.
“It doesn’t matter if we grow old and get replaced by a younger generation. As long as there is still someone talking about us,” she says in the closing scene of Blackpink: Light Up the Sky. “Because they’ll remember how we shone so bright.” #
Photographer and director / Txema Yeste