The eagerly awaited Netflix documentary “Blackpink: Light Up the Sky” follows Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé and Lisa from their debut in 2016 under YG Entertainment to becoming global superstars and the biggest girl band to come out of Korea.
Director Caroline Suh talked with Variety about traveling to her native Korea to sit down with the quartet, twice, and tell their story. Through archival footage and interviews, “Blackpink: Light Up the Sky,” premiering today, gives fans and non-fans alike an intimate, never-seen-before look at the girls behind the music.
VARIETY: How did the idea of the Blackpink documentary begin?
SUH: Netflix had been trying to develop a project with Blackpink and they wanted to do a K-pop project. I guess this was their first project and they reached out to me to direct it. I was thrilled because first of all, I’m Korean and it was an extra nice incentive to be able to go to Korea. I got my team together, and it came together fairly quickly after that.
The documentary follows the introduction of the band to the world through to the tour and features such great footage of concerts and the girls on the road, but you also have sit-downs with them. How much time did you spend with the band?
We did two shoots over two blocks of time. The first time was in fall 2018, and we went back in February 2020 — luckily, finishing shooting before COVID blew up. During those blocks, we were able to film the girls in the studio, spend time with them in their personal lives and spend time in their downtime. We also got to see that YG had a ton of archival footage because they’d had cameras on them from when they were teenagers. We decided that would be a centerpiece for the film.
You capture their rise and tell their backstory through it all. How did you map out the narrative?
We knew we wanted to tell the story of how they came to be Blackpink to where they are now. We talked about that with the girls and how we would tell that story. They were very open about talking about their trainee days and what it feels like to be them at this moment. I thought it was very interesting because it wasn’t what I expected.
What were your expectations going in, if you had any?
I didn’t have any expectations about what they would be like, but it was interesting to see how driven the girls are and how tight they are — in a positive way. They feel they’re at the very beginning of this, rather than how they’ve reached the top. So that was fun to see.
How did you balance telling their individual stories in the editing while charting their success?
We filmed all of them for an equal amount of time because we wanted to make sure everything was equal. My hope for the film was that people who weren’t Blackpink fans would watch the film. I think we had to economically introduce each of the members at the beginning, and because they were talking about their childhood, we decided that would be a good way to meet them and see them when they were little. That context helps with the emotion the end of the film because you see who they are and how far they’ve come.
There are so many key moments that stand out, and one is Jennie talking about feeling so empty after a show. An edit like that really gets into her mindset. How do you decide which moments like that to keep in and what not to keep?
We all watch the footage and see what are the moments that tell the story, and you put them all together, and then you lose some of your favorite moments because it’s not necessary to get to where you need to go. The girls are very articulate about their feelings, and they’re very candid, and it was clear about what was important to them.
In terms of the emptiness, that was the first time that they had gone on a world tour, and they had never been away for that long. I think that was exhausting for them. I think they were really appreciative to have had that chance and grateful, but it was also very hard for them.
One thing that comes across is this trust between you and the girls. How did you build that with them?
I think having them understand what the film was about and why we were doing it was important because I don’t think they had ever been involved in anything like this. They had done a lot of social media stuff, but never anything like this. We really listened to them; we were really true to their lives. When they said, “I don’t feel comfortable doing that,” we’d agree with them and try to make the whole thing as honest as possible, and that sets that stage for people to feel comfortable.
What has their reaction been to seeing it?
They loved it. We showed them the film when it was done. Of course, you always have a lot of anxiety, but they love it because it’s true to them and it really tells their story.
What would you say to the Blackpink fans who super excited to see the documentary?
I hope for them it shows a different side of the members. I hope it’s inspiring in its message. It’s a story about these girls who come from different backgrounds and all worked really hard and didn’t give up, and now they’re living this dream. It’s a very sweet story.
How do you find the perfect ending in a story that is still evolving? You show the girls having this intimate conversation over a meal.
That was the first thing we filmed with them. Once we saw that scene in the dailies, we realized it would be a great ending because they’re talking about “old” being 40 years old. They’re talking about their future, and that we thought that’s a perfect open ending to the film.