In their latest music video, the nine members of K-pop girl group TWICE are in a beachside resort, mixing cocktails, basking on pool chairs, and dancing to a Latin-influenced beat. In one particularly surreal scene, vocalist Nayeon levitates while surrounded by floating citrus fruits. The single is called “Alcohol-Free” but it could lower your inhibitions and make you feel tipsy just the same.
Released on Wednesday, the video resulted in hundreds of thousands of tweets, gifs, and memes within an hour of its drop. Six minutes after it premiered on YouTube, the music video already had close to 500,000 views. As of writing, this number is up to over 26 million.
The track is more mellow than TWICE’s past hits and may be too sugary for some, but like the cocktails name dropped in the lyrics—margarita, mojito, mimosa, piña colada—it is for lounging by the beach, or for pretending that you’re not wherever life forces you to be right now.
Jihyo, the group’s leader, told VICE that the song might not have a clear-cut message, but is meant to be something “for the summer that you can enjoy.” Referring to the song’s title, she said, “It means that the drink is zero percent alcohol but I am still getting drunk with you.”
Sat in two rows inside a warehouse studio about an hour away from Seoul, she and fellow members Nayeon, Jeongyeon, Momo, Sana, Mina, Dahyun, Chaeyoung, and Tzuyu, recalled the time they spent filming the beachy music video. “We shot our music video in Jeju Island,” main dancer Momo said. “We had lots of tasty food.”
The song, and the rest of the album, drops at a perfect time. The world missed out on summer getaways last year, and now halfway through 2021, TWICE’s latest and 10th mini album Taste of Love is a sonic escape.
In many ways, it’s more of what fans have come to love about the group. All six tracks (plus an English version of the song “CRY FOR ME” exclusive to the CD) lean on catchy pop hooks, but they’re also more intimate, speaking of love, first encounters, and fatal attractions. Five of the songs also credit TWICE members as writers.
“Our previous songs were a bit darker and tough, but now we are coming back with a very bright song,” Jihyo said.
They’re certainly bright, but less colorful bubblegum pop like past TWICE songs, and more shining and ethereal. True to its name, the album is a tasting menu of sorts.
Whereas “Alcohol-Free,” is a samba-inspired track, “First Time” is light and soulful, with hints of 90s R&B. “Conversation” is essentially beach house music, while “Baby Blue Love,” and “SOS” are relaxed dance songs. The sound goes hardest on the track “Scandal,” which goes from a whispered line to a breathless succession of beats. “Scandal is like a dangerous mode,” Dahyun, who wrote the song’s lyrics, said during TWICE’s comeback livestream. “Secretive and dangerous.”
TWICE emerged from the reality competition show Sixteen by JYP Entertainment, one of the biggest companies in K-pop. Like most idol groups, they were born out of a carefully crafted concept: watch any one of their past performances since debuting in 2015, and this is instantly obvious. TWICE is bubblegum pop, cute, girls-next-door. It’s agency-driven but fans say the connection is real.
“When I discovered them, it was really inspiring to hear their individual journeys and really go for their dream,” fan Aiky Cruz, 24, said. “There are tracks in their discography that tackle this subject. It's really uplifting and the songs and stories really pushed me through a dark time.”
A similar bond connects the nine women of TWICE. K-pop idols train and live together for years before their debut, away from their parents and siblings, and continue to do so well into their careers. Mina, for instance, grew up in Japan.
“I have an older brother. [Being a member of TWICE], it feels nice that I have sisters now,” Mina said.
TWICE’s youngest member Tzuyu was only 13 years old when she moved from Taiwan to South Korea, debuting with TWICE at 16.
“As a member of TWICE, I’ve learned about the Korean language and social life. There is so much, it’s hard to express in words,” Tzuyu said. “Living with the members, I’ve learned a lot of small things unconsciously.”
Like other artists, the past year was an unexpected slowing down for TWICE. They canceled shows on their world tour during the height of the pandemic and have since only interacted with their fans, collectively known as ONCE, online.
“We used to be a group that performs a lot but we haven't performed in about a year, which is the hardest thing,” Nayeon said. “When we prepare for albums, communicating with fans through concerts was a motivation, but it’s tough now because we can’t do that.”
Around 100,000 people reportedly watched their first online concert, TWICE: World In A Day in August, a good showing but vastly different from the more personal live fan meets and concerts they’re used to. Afterall, K-pop is as much about the fandom as it is about the songs, and TWICE has one of the largest—18.5 million followers on Instagram; 10.8 million subscribers on YouTube; 8.4 million members on live streaming app VLIVE. In May, TWICE became the girl group with the most music videos to hit 100 million views on YouTube. They’ve been called “the nation’s girl group” in South Korea but fans come from all over the world.
“We once traveled to Chile, which is so far away from South Korea, wondering if anybody there would know us. Surprisingly, there were so many people who recognized and cheered for us,” Jeongyeon said, recalling a 2018 performance where fans sang and danced to their hits like “Likey” and “TT.”
TWICE also has a huge following in Japan, where members Momo, Sana, and Mina are from, and Southeast Asia, which has one of the largest fan bases of South Korean pop culture.
“They have feel-good and catchy songs that you can dance to again and again,” Jennifer Sison, 27, from the Philippines told VICE. “Watching their [music videos] is always enjoyable because they're very colorful and their aesthetic is nice.”
Twenty-six-year-old Krisna Pradipta from Indonesia has been a TWICE fan since 2015. “I like them because they're bright, refreshing, and they just make me really happy,” Krisna said. “Just watching them and listening to their music lifts me up.”
Now in their sixth year as a group, Nayeon said it’s the promise of returning to the stage and seeing their fans again that keeps them going.
“We travel to different countries to see ONCE and we get to learn their culture,” she said, reminiscing about their past shows. “I think it’s great that K-pop connects us.”