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‘LALISA’: How a Thai girl became the Queen of K-pop

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“I wanna be one of… part of them. I wanna be a K-pop artist,” BLACKPINK main dancer and lead rapper Lalisa Manoban, better known by the mononym Lisa, says in a voice over in the fan-made documentary “LALISA”.

Posted on the TIN x LISA YouTube channel last year by a fan from the Philippines to celebrate Lisa’s birthday on March 27, “LALISA” chronicles the unlikely story of a young girl in Thailand who loved to dance and dreamed of becoming a K-pop artist. Who was born as Pranpriya Manoban but changed her name to Lalisa (“one who is praised”) after a fortune teller told her it would bring her prosperity. Who overcame the odds and beat 3,999 other applicants during her audition on her way to becoming the most popular female K-pop artist — in fact, one of the most popular K-pop idols around the world.

“I remember she jumped off the stage and like came right in my face and I was like, ‘Yo!’ You know what I mean? She has the courage to do that? She is confident,” says Danny Im, a former member of the Korean hip-hop group 1TYM who was a YG Entertainment producer and one of the judges when the company decided to hold its very first audition in Thailand in 2010. It was an open audition, with not only Thai applicants joining, but also South Koreans and other foreign nationals living in Thailand.

Born to do this

A then 13-year-old Lisa beat the other 3,999 applicants, and the following year she flew to South Korea alone, without even knowing how to speak Korean. She became YG Entertainment’s first non-Korean trainee, and, more than five years later, their first non-Korean K-pop idol when BLACKPINK debuted on Aug. 8, 2016.

“When I first arrived, I couldn’t communicate with anyone at all. So at that time, it was really hard because I couldn’t understand anyone. And in the company, no one was allowed to speak English to me, because my Korean had to improve quickly,” Lisa says.

Determined to make her dream come true, Lisa shares she would usually practice until 3 or 4 AM.

“You may not have a second chance,” she says.

In fact, her talent, passion, and determination made her truly stand out among the trainees. Her fellow BLACKPINK members Jisoo, Jennie, and Rosé have said that Lisa was the only trainee to get straight As in all her evaluations.

“It’s sad to say the very first group of people that trained with me, none of them are here with me right now. And as soon as Lisa came in, that’s when I thought, ‘Wow, there are people born to do this,’” Jennie said in the Netflix documentary “BLACKPINK: Light Up the Sky”.

‘Lalisa’ and ‘Money’

"I wanna be one of... part of them. I wanna be a K-pop artist," Lalisa Manoban says in a voiceover in the fan-made documentary "LALISA". Image credit: YG Entertainment
Image credit: YG Entertainment

Already one of the world’s most popular and successful K-pop idols, Lisa’s fame is expected to grow even more with her solo debut tomorrow, Sept. 10. In fact, her solo debut album, also called “LALISA”, has already surpassed 700,000 stock pre-orders worldwide as of Aug. 30, setting a new record for a female K-pop soloist.

Apart from the title track “Lalisa”, Lisa’s first single album features the song “Money”, as well as instrumental versions of the two songs. Both “Lalisa” and “Money” will be hip-hop songs, according to YG Entertainment.

Anticipation for the “Lalisa” music video (MV) has reached a fever pitch, with the MV teaser generating one million views in just 18 minutes when it was uploaded on YouTube on Sept. 7.

Lisa will hold a “LALISA” V LIVE countdown on Sept. 10 at 12 PM Korean Standard Time (KST) — one hour before the launch of her album. She will perform “Lalisa” on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” on Sept. 10.

On Sept. 11, Lisa will have her first exclusive talk in Thailand when she guests on the popular “Woody Show“. The episode will air at 7 PM KST.

“I know you’re not gonna lie to me, Lisa,” Woody quips in the preview clip.

Lisa will also hold a special online show for her fans worldwide on Sept. 14 at 8 PM KST. Dubbed as #OUTNOW Unlimited: LISA, this will be broadcast live through Naver NOW.

Lisa will be performing her first solo album title track, “LALISA” on this broadcast. She also plans to actively interact with fans through the TALK LIVE corner and XR (extended reality) technology, where fans can participate and add fun to the broadcast.

Thai and proud of it

Lisa’s rise to fame, however, also has a dark side. As a non-Korean K-pop idol, she has been subject to discrimination and racist attacks all these years.

“Many Korean netizens have been attacking Lisa for not being a pure Korean idol,” says a voice-over in the documentary. “There were some Korean netizens who started bashing Lisa, from her appearance at awards shows to just downright racist attacks.”

The unfortunate truth is that some Knetz and K-pop fans are racist and misogynistic. Imagine, then, how much they hate the fact that a female Thai K-pop idol is wildly popular and successful.

Lisa’s fans worldwide, however, have always rallied around her to protect her, and Lisa’s fellow BLACKPINK members are there to support and encourage their maknae (youngest member).

“Whatever these people were trying to accomplish has failed. Support for Lisa is off the charts and it’s only brought her even more fans. And because of that, hashtag #RespectLisa wasn’t just trending within the fan community. It was trending worldwide.”

As a successful K-pop idol, Lisa is also sharing the lessons she learned and encouraging a new generation of trainees. She became the dance mentor on the Chinese idol survival program “Youth With You” starting with its second season in 2020.

“I used to want to be a successful idol, too. Now I’ve become an idol myself,” she says.

Her advice to trainees? “If you keep sticking to your dream, it will come true.”

Lisa proves that dreams do come true. That K-pop belongs to the world, not to some toxic Knetz. And that Lisa belongs with the people who love her, not with haters.

In one of the clips, someone asks Lisa: “If you can be born again, what do you want to be?”

And Lisa replies: “Just myself.”