Behind the Making of the World’s Toughest Barbie Doll
If there is someone who is the object of love and admiration by the entire world, and yet the target of hatred and hostility at the same time, it is hard not to think of Lalisa Manoban or ‘Lisa’, the youngest member of popular Korean girl group, Blackpink, and the latest Global Brand Ambassador of Italian luxury house Bvlgari.
Criticism, envy, putdowns, and bias – these are a part of fame that every celebrity must learn to cope with. The higher you are in the pyramid, the more scrutiny you will face. It does not matter how much hardship and how many obstacles you must endure in order to succeed, the truth is, those factors could worsen the hostility, as we can see in the case of Lisa. The reason is simply because she is different.
At the age of 24, Lisa is among the few K-Pop artists who have made a breakthrough in the global market. It has been more than a decade since the Korean entertainment giants (YG, SM and JYP) tried to export their top-selling artists to the American market, the biggest music market in the world, but without success, despite collaboration with famous producers and artists there.
Then came the four-member girl band, Blackpink, in 2016. Within months after their debut under YG Entertainment, the group created a global sensation beyond the K-Pop world and Asia. Its unique music, fashion style, and each member’s outstanding personality deliver a perfect combination that captivates both Asian and international fans. The group’s singles, music videos, clips, and individual social media accounts receive the most views across all media platforms and continue to break their own records today, and their concert tickets sell out within minutes.
But there is definitely something about BP’s ‘maknae’ (a Korean term used to describe the youngest person in a group) that the world seemingly cannot get enough of.
Koreans are notorious for their discrimination of foreigners, mainly because the nation is historically homogeneous and thus finds it difficult to accept different ethnic groups. The prejudice is stronger for Asians from less-developed countries, particularly if that country exports a lot of migrant workers to South Korea.
So, it is not surprising that Lisa started out as the least popular member of the group. As a Thai national, the 167-cm main dancer of Blankpink was often overlooked by the audience. Although Jennie and Rose grew up overseas, they still have typical Korean looks, along with Jisoo, the oldest and most ‘visual’ member (the K-Pop term denoting the most attractive person of the group) who was born and grew up in South Korea.
But it is exactly Lisa’s different looks that make her stand out from the crowd. Her bubbly, outgoing personality, and goofiness are hard to ignore. Together with killing dance moves and a Barbie-like face that suit the Western definition of “cool and beautiful,” it is no surprise why she is now one of the most sought-after K-Pop artists by global fashion houses and magazine editors. So far, she has secured advertising contracts from major companies in the USA, Italy, China, Thailand, Japan, and Korea.
Lisa’s success has less to do with luck and passion, and more about self-discipline and grit. In Korea, idols are made, not scouted for on the street or in shopping malls. Despite her strong dancing background and a collection of dancing/singing awards since the age of four, Lisa continues to be the hardest-working member of the group.
In 2010, Lisa auditioned to join YG in Thailand and was the only qualified person out of 4,000 applicants, prompting YG CEO Yang Hyun-suk to offer her a place to train in Korea. At the age of 14, she flew alone to Korea to become the first non-Korean trainee.
From Day 1, Lisa had to undergo a crash course in Korean although she did not speak the language at all Everyone at YG was ordered not to speak to her in other languages than Korean. Everyday was a grind, consisting of waking up early to attend classes and training which lasted between 10–12 hours. For Lisa, the training often lasted for 12–15 hours, from 12pm to 12am, on top of daily language study. “I usually kept practicing until 3 or 4am,” she recalled. The first three months involved daily phone calls when she cried and complained to her mother. The fact that trainees are not allowed to see their family also added to her stress. But Lisa endured and kept her focus despite not knowing if she would be selected to sign a record deal.
According to Jennie, Lisa always had a perfect score in every exam she took during almost six years as a trainee at YG, ranging from singing and dancing to songwriting, media training, and basic etiquette. Although she is the group’s main dancer, her rapping and singing skills are also hard to beat, earning her the title of the most swag (stylish and confident) Blackpink member, following the group’s smash global hits, such as ‘Ddu-Du Ddu-Du’, ‘How You Like That’, and ‘Let’s Kill This Love’.
As Lisa is not the kind of person to share her pre-debut life that much, fans only slowly learned about Lisa’s struggles and efforts through other BP members, and during her conversations with candidates she mentored during her appearance as mentor for the Chinese idol competition/survival show Youth With You.
When she saw how the candidates lost their courage after several mistakes in their dance routines, Lisa told them to believe in themselves and practice more. “There’s nothing scary about naturally talented people; hardworking people are the ones to be afraid of.”
Today, she is still the target of hate speech about her race and looks. The more she remains silent, the more people come out to protect their idols. Once the trolling got so offensive that BLINKS (BP fandom name) from over 30 countries around the world fought back, pushing the hashtag #RespectLisa as the world’s 4th most tweeted person on Twitter, with almost one million re-tweets in one day alone.
During this time, Lisa just kept working on her dance projects and vlogs to share on her YouTube channel, Lilifilm Official, and all productions on this channel are financed from her own pocket. Currently, she is preparing for her first solo album which is expected to be released sometime soon.
The Chinese government has recently put Lisa’s journey into school textbooks to encourage youngsters to stay inspired, following rising stress levels in youths due to stiff competition in the modern world. For a young girl who went to Korea alone with nothing but dreams and determination, Lisa certainly knows how to stay positive while living with prejudice for almost ten years. As she once revealed, “Don’t tell people your dreams. Show them.”