How the creative director of BLACKPINK’s tour brought it to life
Written by ABR on 23/11/2022
“I love K-pop,” enthuses Amy Bowerman, the 33-year-old London-based creative director whose work is currently being seen by thousands as superstars BLACKPINK take their Born Pink show global. “I’m fascinated by it… how they build campaigns around their singles, the way artists debut. It’s such an incredible world and fans are at the heart of it.” Amy runs two companies — the music and live production-focused WFB Live alongside her husband, William, and the visual production company Ceremony London — with clients including Post Malone, Rina Sawayama, Holly Humberstone and Dua Lipa. “I started Ceremony in 2020 with tour director Pete Abbott and we just went, ‘We’ll make this work’. It snowballed really fast.”
Ceremony London was approached by BLACKPINK’s label — YG Entertainment — in spring 2022, for their Born Pink tour, and was up against a fast-ticking clock. “We started in May, so really not that long ago. The music was there and with that the choreography, but that was it. So it was, like, ‘This is what we have… let’s make a show around it’,” Amy recalls. “That’s the climate at the moment, there’s not a huge amount of lead time on tours; a hangover from COVID is that people are hesitant on locking down hefty dates. They announced the tour in August and the shows began in October, so everything was really whizzing past!”
Born Pink_ is extravagant, with all the hallmarks of an arena pop show — sprays of pyrotechnics, moving stage sections and huge screens — but it’s also human; they travel with a full backing band and cast of dancers. In true K-pop fashion, BLACKPINK pepper proceedings with chats to their adoring fandom and moments of affectionate camaraderie between the members themselves. “I’ve learned about just how valued the fans are in K-pop,” Amy continues. “K-pop fans are given just as much consideration in the live environment as the group are, which is incredible. That was an amazing thing to learn more about.”
As Born Pink arrives in Europe, i-D talks to Amy about the show’s creation, its challenges, and the surprises encountered while working with the world’s biggest girl group.
So what was the starting point? Was there an initial idea that YG or BLACKPINK **wanted you to evolve?
**“Pink Venom” and “Shut Down” were about to come out and BLACKPINK were like: ‘this is our new direction, these are the songs we want to make a huge moment about in the show’. They’re very proud of those songs. So we took “Pink Venom” and put it at the heart of everything.
**Has there been much evolution from your original idea to the final show?
**Yes and no. We went through so many iterations but it happened organically. When the girls go into music rehearsals, you hear it in the room when songs don’t work together, so we have to move things around. And as that happens, we change the visuals, how everyone moves around the stage, the stage itself. The idea we had on the first day, that’s still there — “Pink Venom” is at the centre of the show.
Maybe fans won’t realise but you don’t actually see the colour pink in the show until “Pink Venom”, then for the rest of the show there’s lots of pink. The start is all greens and blues — this woodland, nymph-esque world where it’s very flirty and feminine. Then it moves into a heavy monochrome that’s very harsh and powerful. Then the girls’ solo sections are a weird trippy mix. Then it’s a real celebration of BLACKPINK as a whole. So the wider narrative has remained — the duality, the individuality, the group — but everything around it has evolved.
Was considering the fans in the live space a challenge for you? It was definitely a challenge. When Western acts leave the stage, we get them off as fast as possible and cover up the exit — it’s smoke and mirrors. In K-pop, live shows are treated as an opportunity for fans to spend time with the artist. It took a little while for me to adjust to that but it’s lovely. If you look at videos of the tour so far, it’s mostly BLACKPINK engaging with their fans.
**A lot of artists won’t break character for their entire concert, so that fans stay fully immersed. But K-pop acts snap in and out of it. How does this affect the world you’re trying to build?
**Designating specific moments within the show was so important — you’re having this very intimate moment and then boom: you’re straight back into the fierce energy. There’s a Western view, I think, that the K-pop world is quite cold because their performances are highly polished. But breaking those for a human moment turns it from this huge, untouchable thing into something the fans can really engage with.
**What was the thinking behind YG Entertainment’s decision to bring in a Western production company to such a big K-pop show?
**They have everything they could possibly need in-house. Their team is incredible; a fully female production team, which was amazing to be a part of. But a lot of YG’s team are mixed — their band is American, their music director is American, and we’re based in London. These girls have a lot of different interests, they pull from a lot of different narratives, they’re in the fashion world, they have a wide variety of music references — it made sense that all these people were brought together. It felt like a huge collaboration; a buzzy hive of throwing ideas around, seeing what was going to work, sitting down with the girls and seeing how they wanted to push themselves in different directions.
**It’s sometimes assumed that women aren’t running things in K-pop, so I think people might be surprised to hear that there are fully female creative teams with that kind power.
**Walking into YG Entertainment I was like, wow, I’ve never worked with a female lighting designer ever. But they were like, ‘all lighting designers here are women’, which is amazing. I also arrived with the sense that we wouldn’t speak to the artists that much, that they wouldn’t be that involved or have an opinion, but they were very involved across everything they do, especially the music. If BLACKPINK aren’t happy, they’ll just walk into the studio and be like, ‘we need to change this’. I don’t think it’s a secret but it’s definitely less accepted that they might have autonomy.
**What were BLACKPINK eager to see happen in this show?
**Oh, so much! They are heavily invested in their music, they spend all of their time in the dance studio or in their studio with [their producer] Teddy. They said to me, ‘we have this new record and it’s very much like us, we want to show the world us and what we can do and who BLACKPINK is’. The feeling was that they really hadn’t been able to showcase themselves as much as they wanted to during this whole lockdown period, they had the amazing Coachella show, but this tour felt really big. So it was about stamping in what everyone already loves about BLACKPINK, then showing off the new record and how amazing these shows can be. It’s a huge celebration of BLACKPINK, of K-pop, and the effect they’ve had across the world. I think that sums up what we were trying to achieve with it.
**What’s a major memory for you from making this show?
**There was one day in production rehearsals where we got to see it all come together. We finally saw the staging, choreography, content and music, lights and lasers. Up until that moment, it was all very theoretical, with a lot of conversations, and a lot of planning. As soon as the members stepped out onto that stage, we all knew the hours of drawings, rehearsals and meetings were worth it — they would get to go out and give this to their audience. There was a real buzz that day.
The visuals during the introduction are huge florals combined with hard-edged glitch effects: would this also be a way of defining who BLACKPINK **currently are as young women?
**Something we were working into the show is that their name is BLACKPINK: they’re both dark and feminine, so we have these hyper-feminine floral scenes but there’s a little bit of the grotesque in it; like a lily that’s leaking this weird metallic liquid, and of course the music is really dark. There’s a strong energy about them and I think that’s what sets BLACKPINK apart, and they wanted that to come through — to show strength and beauty. Towards the end of the show we were working with two dichotomies — water and earth, fire and ice — and showing those continually. And that sums up BLACKPINK for me; it’s about cohabiting those two spaces in harmony.
**Were BLACKPINK a little nervous starting this tour, since there was a lot riding on it?
**There was a lot of excited energy. It meant a lot to them. It was like, ‘it’s finally happening, we really want to go out there and make this the best show possible’. It came to a point where they felt they really needed to give the fans something that they’d been waiting for, because they weren’t able to do this during lockdown. That was the general vibe — no negative or nervous vibes, no fear.
As a creative director, you had a strong vision for Born Pink but also a huge team to work with and four strong-minded artists. How easy is it for you to compromise and be flexible?These shows take an absolute village to execute, but you’re there as the only person whose role is on the creative side, so you’re like: Where do I push? Where do I hold back? Where do I really try to put my stamp on it? There were endless sleepless nights because it’s so hard to get right. I’ve not worked in K-pop before; it’s a different world where some things are a given and you can’t change them. Something might not really work with my vision but you have to ask: What’s most important here? You can go forward and change things, but what for? Is it really achieving the goal of delivering a great show that the fans love and the artists are happy and proud of? If you put something on that the artist isn’t happy with, you’re going to see it in their performance immediately.
Finally, which moment in Born Pink gives you goosebumps?That’s hard because the show has so many special moments. Obviously “DDU-DU DDU-DU” is iconic. “Kill This Love” though… we have them rising up behind the screens with all the lights and the horns of the intro — having done the creative for it, that will always be a special moment for me.
BLACKPINK’s Born Pink tour comes to London’s O2 on 30 November and 1 December. See the full tour dates here.