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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Kill This Love": what a sound, and what a title

Furthermore, the title echoes a message not as frequently heard in the breakup song canon: kill it off now to save yourself the pain later.

I start this article by very willingly admitting that I am not well-versed in K-pop at all. Obviously, I've heard some of the Korean tracks which have achieved the greatest success here, but it isn't a type of music I actively seek out. The language barrier is definitely an issue here, and it's hard to pinpoint why else... but it's not that I dislike the style; I just don't really connect to it as strongly as others.

Why, then, would I be writing about a K-pop track? It's because that was the theme of the Cal Band's halftime show today. The Band took five Korean tracks and made them their own, and I was really impressed by just how well the electronic-heavy pop style translated to a marching band's sonic profile. After the game (a win I very much did not expect), I listened to each of the five songs in their original form, and I nodded my head and moved to them a bit just like I did to the Band's renditions at California Memorial Stadium. I decided to dedicate today's post to the track the Band used to open the halftime show: BLACKPINK's "Kill This Love," which stood out to me both on and off the field. I had heard "Kill This Love" a decent amount back in the middle of 2019, and I recognized it today from the first beats of its signature horn hook.

(Also, that video is quite striking in a good way. The first word that came to my mind was 'dynamic,' and that echoes a feeling I get from a lot of K-pop videos. I also found out this video was banned from play on Korean national public broadcaster KBS because of a scene in which group member Rosé is driving without wearing a seatbelt.)

"Kill This Love" is a more active and visceral take on the longstanding pop tradition of the breakup song, written as taking place during the process of beginning to end a relationship, rather than afterward like the ones I've previously discussed on this blog. The raw emotional backdrop is firstly reflected by the instrumental, most clearly in the first element heard in the track, the aforementioned horn hook. It's hard to get more aggressive musically than with a loud brass line outlining minor seconds (half-steps) and tritones (three steps between notes) — two of the most dissonant intervals, and sounds which are often used in warlike settings (think of the tritone that dominates the latter section of Holst's "Mars," from his orchestral suit The Planets). Add to that a massive sub bass and hard-hitting trap drums, and you get an atmosphere reflective of the intensity BLACKPINK and their production team intended for the track.

The in-breakup perspective allows the lyrics to be even more biting, as the outpouring of emotion during the process of ending (or, shall we say, "killing") the relationship can often be greater than in the more reflective aftermath. Jennie's first verse sets the tone for the breakdown of love that will follow, singing in essence that what goes up must come down: (translated lyrics) "After a sweet 'Hi,' there's always a bitter 'Bye' / After every crazy high, there's a price you have to pay." The 'high' and the adventurous feelings that come with it are detailed in Lisa's second verse, before the mood abruptly shifts as the pre-chorus begins.

It's as if the illusion of healthy love suddenly disappears, with the reality that the narrator is only being hurt by it all setting in. She realizes she's getting the short end of the stick, and she also knows that she'll only continue to be hurt if she doesn't act and end it now — as the outro states, "Gotta kill this love / Before it kills you too." Hence, the 'killing' of the love commences in full force, backed by the horn hook, the sub bass, and even bigger drums and claps.

Speaking of the outro, I honestly love it from a narrative standpoint that the song ends without going back to the standard chorus/break hybrid. While 'killing' the love is good and necessary, it sure doesn't feel satisfactory in the moment. A final, even more explosive chorus may sound like it's been fully 'killed,' but that sort of finality in a newly single person's mind is in no way immediate. Plus, "Kill This Love" doesn't look at the long-term effects; while it sets up for the long run to be easier, it's a very in-the-moment narrative, and in the moment, breaking up still hurts even when you know it's best for you to do so. The song is unresolved because one's mind remains in tatters when you're trying to kill off something that's been such a part of you for so long. Ultimately, it's up to each individual to healthfully move on from that phase in their life, and BLACKPINK leave the listener to do so themselves if necessary.


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