South Korean girl group BLACKPINK were in the Greater Toronto Area at the beginning of November as part of their BORN PINK world tour. A pop-up shop with exclusive merch from the tour rolled out the pink carpet for fans to provide an immersive shopping experience while the group were in the province performing.
BLACKPINK performed at Hamilton’s FirstOntario Centre November 6 and 7, the only Canadian dates on the BORN PINK tour. The four-piece girl group’s second album of the same name came out earlier this fall. Their sweet and sultry K-Pop infused with hip-hop, ballads, and a bit of disco earned them a spot on the top of US and UK charts, marking the first time an all-female group has done so since Destiny’s Child in 2001.
BLINKS — fans of BLACKPINK — began lining up as early as 6 a.m. on the first day of the pop up. The exclusive merch available to purchase included a BORN PINK beanie, a Pink Venom tee, and four hoodie designs, each featuring an individual member: Jennie, Lisa, Jisoo, and Rosé.
On my way to the shop in Toronto’s Liberty Village, I spot a license plate engraved “BLKPNK.” The line wraps down the alleyway next to the Universal Music building on 80 Atlantic Ave. I stood in line for roughly 40 minutes, and the wait only seemed to get longer as it got later into the afternoon. Apparently I arrived at the right time, as the queue behind me appeared to double in length by the time I got around the corner. Security guards in suits handed out a list of the items for sale.
Inside, larger-than-life-sized cutouts of the members stood on a small stage with a projector playing all their music videos. Fans sing along to every lyric in both English and Korean while we wait for a photo booth inside. Hot pink LEDs beam around the room and the pillars are covered in wallpaper with the K-pop quartet’s logo.
By the time I arrived at noon on Saturday, the “Shut Down” water bottles were already sold out. I overhear fans discussing what swag they’ll buy inside and their desires to bring in their heart-shaped hammer light sticks to the shows. They wonder if the singers will surprise them and show up at the pop-up shop – unlikely. Many are already adorned with BP merch but can’t resist looking at more and experiencing the love for their idols a few days ahead of the scheduled concerts.
“They are fierce, they are beautiful, and they are strong, independent women,” says Alison Pacheco, a fan since BLACKPINK debuted in 2016, when asked what draws her to the foursome. Waiting in line wearing a Lovesick Girls tee, Pacheco tells me she loves how different this album is from their previous work. She’s already looked at the setlist from prior recent shows and laments that her favourite song, “The Happiest Girl,” likely won’t be played.
Standing in front of me are two friends, Youdon Tenzin and Dechen Lhamo. Tenzin can’t contain her excitement about seeing Jennie perform an unreleased solo song live when they go to the first of two shows. After the show, she tags Jennie on a post on Instagram affectionately captioned, “my wife.”
“I like every single one of their songs,” Llamo says. “I’m just happy with how they can reach different countries.”
Back inside, a masked man hands out free strawberry and vanilla cotton candy and we stand in front of a shimmery pink backdrop. The lineup for the photo booth was roughly 15 minutes, well worth it for a personalized souvenir. Everyone who came through left with a hot pink printout of three cute shots.
The pop-up shop showcased the BLINK fandom’s loyalty, their willingness to stand in line, and even pay $115 for a hoodie or $70 for a limited edition t-shirt. The most dedicated fans happily made the trip from Toronto to Hamilton. It’s unusual for a group as popular as BLACKPINK to play outside of a major city, but the fact that they draw tens of thousands of K-pop stans wherever they go is a testament to their stardom.