In 2018 BTS broke through to an English speaking audience with Love Yourself: Tear. Since then public demand for K-pop has only continued to surge. The arrival of Blackpink in 2020 marked another dramatic step in the genre’s evolution. With The Album topping record charts across the world, the road to superstardom was now open to girl groups as well. With both BTS and Blackpink currently between studio album releases, it seems inevitable (in hindsight) another K-pop act would take the opportunity to seize the spotlight.
The next phase in K-pop evolution
With the enormous success of their 10th minialbum Taste of Love, 9-piece K-pop ensemble TWICE are currently topping the US Billboard 200 charts. As with BTS before them, the group have a steady record of hits in Asia. Since forming as the result of the reality show Sixteen in 2015, they have proven themselves more than capable of satisfying a sizable pop audience in Korea and Japan while also building a growing following in the US.
With surrealistic summer anthem ‘Alcohol-Free‘ accumulating over 100 million views on Youtube within 14 days of its release, it is clear TWICE are becoming international sensations. It is a definite refinement of the group’s own previous material. TWICE were once known for their cute choreography and bubbly sound. Taste of Love explores heavier feelings of love and lust. It is clear TWICE are progressing towards a more mature sound and message.
“We previously had a song called ‘What Is Love?’” TWICE member Sana informed Rolling Stone earlier this year. “We sung about how love must be sweet like candy, and that we must know what love is, since we are releasing ‘Taste of Love.’ When I saw that, it made me reflect on how we’ve continued to evolve.”
Chaeyoung sips a mocktail while posing for an ‘Alcohol-Free’ promotional image
Taste of Love showcases mature themes
Taste of Love‘s lead single is ‘Alcohol-Free’. The much talked about song is a summery anthem blending pop and bossa nova. It, like much of the group’s material, is a bright, catchy novelty song. The music video conveys fantasy elements with the members singing about feelings of infatuation which makes them feel ‘drunk.’
For five of the Taste of Love’s tracks, TWICE collaborates with co-writer Jade Thirlwall, an English singer best known for her work with Little Mix. Slow number ‘First Time’ places a strong focus on the vocals of Nayeon and lead vocalist Jihyo. The song continues to make clear how much the girl group have matured since their first singles. There is a sense of gravity and pulsing energy to the group’s previously airy production.
TWICE’s Jeongyeon Yoo
The songs of Taste of Love
The genre skipping Taste of Love expands K-pop’s sonic ambitions. ‘Scandal’ describes when you fall in love with someone for the first time. A catchy track with a funky disco- riff. In ‘Conversation’ TWICE tackle flirting. The moment when you make eye contact with someone you have a crush on.
With a hook that captures a retro aesthetic evocative of Dua Lipa, ‘Baby Blue Love’ conveys a sense of longing for a relationship. Breathy closer ‘SOS’ is reminiscent of the laid-back, city pop tracks of ’80s Japan. Its groovy bass is carried by flirtatious vocals of Dahyun.
Dahyun poses for a promotional image
TWICE speak openly about mental health
Tase of Love also represents another step in the evolution of K-pop. With BTS and Blackpink dominating international K-pop, it was inevitable their success gives rise to competition. TWICE are eager to make their point of difference known. On a surface level, the group is more diverse, including members from Japan and Taiwan in addition to South Korea. While their public personas are still tightly controlled by management (rarely have fans scratched below the surface of TWICE’s clean-cut exteriors), they are more willing to speak openly about important social issues.
TWICE have made it their mission to raise awareness for mental health. Previously, group member Jeongyeon has withdrawn from TWICE activities due to anxiety. Mina has also publicly spoken about mental health and the issues artists such as her face in the music industry. With growing rates of suicide in the K-pop industry, statements like these have never been more important.
The full TWICE ensemble
Final thoughts on TWICE and Taste of Love
Taste of Love highlights TWICE’s versatility. They bring their own unique tone to K-pop. While TWICE does not break free from the escapist caricatures of their contemporaries, they continue to develop a strong sense of identity within the genre. With public persona a secondary consideration in K-pop, it is the music that matters most. In this sense TWICE are notable for their strong vocals, energetic production and, even by K-pop standards, slick execution.
As TWICE’s recent success makes clear, K-pop’s current heroes have enjoyed an all too easy ride. The arrival of this 9-piece is far from a bad thing. Competition, after all, inspires creativity. This considered, what is really most remarkable about Taste of Love may not be TWICE themselves but how this constellation of Korean acts will continue to evolve and inspire one another as their international audience grows.
TWICE 'Taste of Love'7
So-so lead single
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