2023 was destined to be a major year for Blackpink. The staggeringly charismatic K-pop girl group, which includes members Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé and Lisa, capped off a 66-date tour that counted headline slots at Coachella and BST Hyde Park. This year also marked another major milestone: the end of their seven-year contract with label YG Entertainment. And so, when the deadline passed in August, the future of the world’s biggest girl band was called into question.

But first, some context: K-pop groups typically sign contracts under a seven-year term, rather than the customary promise of a certain number of albums in Western music industries. Fans are well aware of how significant an artist’s seventh year is. If all members don’t renew their contracts, it usually spells an end to the group as they know it. For Blackpink to leave YG, the results could be, to their millions of fans, cataclysmic.

Since that elusive deadline, it seemed like Blackpink’s members were establishing paths stretching beyond the group: Jennie recently starred in The Weeknd’s controversial pot-stirrer The Idol, Lisa stopped by Paris for a residency at cabaret Crazy Horse, and Jisoo filled her schedule with more acting gigs in Korean dramas. As for their pending contract, YG commented as recently as three weeks ago that negotiations were still ongoing.

And then Blackpink made their long-awaited reappearance as a group in late November, in Buckingham Palace of all places, accepting honorary MBEs for their advocacy roles at the COP26 summit. Their presence seemed to suggest you’re more likely to see them mingling with royalty than ever break up. After months of virtual silence, all four members of Blackpink renewed their contract at YG, ensuring their survival.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what made Blackpink explode – after all, dozens of star groups debut in Korea every year. But it could be partly because over the years, they’ve refined their songs to pop perfection – their music is made of spitfire rap verses and angelic vocals leading to lyric-light, beat-drop choruses. That sound went on to permeate the rest of K-pop for years to come.

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