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The World’s Biggest K-Pop Sensation and What Makes Her Everyone’s Darling.

From now on, Tom Yum Kung, Durian, and Muay Thai will not be the only must-try foods when visitors want to have a taste of Thai cuisine. Unless you have Luke Shin Yuen Gin (Street Meatballs) from Buriram province, your stay in Thailand is unlikely to be complete.

Although the food, which originated at a stall in front of Buriram Train Station, has been around for 40 years, its popularity has never gone beyond the province. But when Lalisa Manobal (aka Lisa), the Thai main rapper and lead dancer of South Korea’s girl group Blackpink said she missed this snack from her hometown province, it became an instant global hit.

The next day, the Internet and YouTube were flooded with the Thai snack’s history, recipes, and everything about it.

Yes, we’re talking about the soft power of Korean pop culture, also known as K-Pop.

A Little Girl With a Big Dream

Like hundreds of thousands of young girls from Asia, Lisa grew up watching Korean TV drama series like Full House and listening to Korean pop music since childhood. Her favorite artists are Bigbang and 2NE1. By the time she was in elementary school, her interest in K-Pop turned into a passion: She wanted to be part of it.

An opportunity came when YG Entertainment, seeing that Thailand was a huge market, opened an audition for Thai youngsters to be their trainees. Lisa immediately jumped in, beating 4,000 other candidates to become the only winner. At 14, she flew to Seoul to start a new chapter of life that led to global stardom.

Since Blackpink’s debut in 2016, she has won more than 40 awards as a Blackpink member and solo artist. Among them are seven awards from Asian Pop Music Awards 2021 including People’s Choice Awards, Song of the Year from her album LALISA, Best Dance Performance, Best Female Artist and Record of the Year (Lalisa and Money). Her latest achievement is being the first and solo K-Pop artist to recieve the Best K-Pop Award at MTV Music Awards 2022 both for the US and Europe. It’s no wonder why YG founder Yang Hyun-suk said that Lisa is “the best female dancer in YG.

Trained Like a Korean, Raised Like a Thai

Lisa isn’t dubbed the queen of soldouts for no reason. Before she was named the global brand ambassador of Celine and Bvlgari, she had collaborated with several major brands including MAC cosmetics, Adidas, Penshoppe, AIS Thailand, Chivas Regal, and True (Thai network operator). Everything she touched and wore from top to toe was sold out in less than an hour. According to South China Morning Post, the Korean media has reported that her endorsement is worth at least US$600,000.

Although she is usually the less talkative one during a group interview, the younger member of Blackpink exudes positive atttiudes and confidence, with the right dose of friendliness and humility when she answers questions in interviews. But there is one thing she is never shy about: her motherland.

As an ethnically homogenous country, South Korea has a long history of xenophobia and derision against foreigners, particularly those from developing countries. Since her arrival in Korea, Lisa had faced constant discrimination for being a Southeast Asian. The fact that she was the only foreign trainee who made it to YG did not bring respect, but disdain. Even after Blackpink’s debut, she was often the target of bullying from haters and received death threats on social media. There were also attempts to pressure YG to fire her as they viewed her as a disgrace to the group.

The Wind Beneath Her Wings

Lisa credited her family as the biggest influence in Exclusive Talk shaping her attitudes and strength. She admitted of calling her mother every day after she moved to Korea. For three months, she cried every day because the pressure was overwhelming. Luckily, her mother always encouraged her to keep going.

“She’d say, ‘Don’t come back! Just hang on for another year!’ there would be times when I’d say, “I just want to go back to school. Our debut plans kept being pushed back and back and I couldn’t see the end of this,” Lisa told the magazine. But everytime she said that she wanted to quit, her mother would reply, “Think about your situation. How many kids want to be in your place? If you give up and come home, do you think you can have a normal life? You’re just going to try again. You’re here now, just hold on until the end.”