When a group becomes particularly popular in K-Pop, it’s for one of three reasons. One is that they take another group’s concept and do it (arguably) better – many boy groups tend to be offshoots of each other for this reason. The second reason is that they’re marketed really well to specific demographics. BTS’s popularity in particular largely lends itself to the brilliant marketing by Bighit Entertainment and the American label handling their US distribution, Columbia Records. But then of course there’s the third option: that the band is doing something unique, that hasn’t been done before.
Now that we have a couple of generations of K-Pop stars to look up to, not to mention a massive amount of younger groups, it’s a lot harder to find that one, unique idol that speaks to you personally. A lot of it boils down to personal preference – how you relate to the singer and the art matters just as much as what the company is trying to market. For me personally, I try to find artists that have something to say. Usually this translates either into the artist is in control of their writing or they have a spin on something we already are accustomed to. I tend to quantify that as combining different “concepts”, changing “concepts” frequently, or using their platform as a way to subvert expectations in some way. I don’t like it when groups get too comfortable in something safe – when I see a group do something challenging, that’s when I get interested.
I was regrettably a bit late to the Twice train, but I must say I’m on board now. It’s honestly hard for me to quantify what makes them unique because, like Super Junior upon their 2005 debut, they’re a bit of a perfect storm. A series of seemingly incidental things that seem to line up perfectly. Twice was formed through a TV show called Sixteen, similar to I.O.I, Wanna One, and VIXX. The nice thing about TV shows is that, while edited, they do expose an organic side to a person, particularly young artists. Often, this organic nature is revealed when the person is under pressure, for example some sort of singing challenge or test, or when people are interacting with each other in a somewhat private situation. Therefore, fans got to see the group form in real time based on relationships formed between members. This is easily one of the better ways to form a group.
Twice’s popularity has been rapidly increasing. Their most recent videos, “Fancy” and “Breakthrough”, have been doing incredibly well – “Fancy”, which came out 2 months ago as of this article’s posting, now has 143 million views, while “Breakthrough”, which came out on their Japanese channel three weeks ago, has 25 million. Their older videos, “Like OOH-AHH”, “Cheer Up”, and “Signal” all have 309 million, 342 million, and 180 million views, respectively. They’ve maintained a TV presence, they’ve been on tour in the US and abroad, they’ve done multiple commercials and had many endorsements: they are the biggest asset to JYP Entertainment overall.
If you ask me, the reason behind this success lies in Twice’s music and approach to videos and concepts. Their musical style evolves not in broad strokes, but smaller, more subtle ways. They generally maintain a bubblegum pop style, but even that is a bit unfair to the band. I’d say they have a cinnamon bubblegum pop style – that is to say, their music has a bit more kick to it. The underlying beats actually sound more like songs that would be in a boy group’s musical repertoire while the overall melody is an uplifting, sweet style quintessential to most K-Pop girl groups. It’s an interesting mix that isn’t common in K-Pop anymore – generally you either go hard and fast, or you go soft and sparkly. But why not have sparkles moving at the speed of light? That’s effectively what Twice is.
Visually their videos emulate this complicated nature in a lot of interesting ways. This article will be part of a series on Twice’s videos – specifically “Like OOH-AHH”, “Cheer Up”, and “Likey”. “Like OOH-AHH” because it’s the first music video, “Cheer Up” because it’s a perfect example of what I want to share, and “Likey” because…well I really like “Likey”. Don’t judge.
“Like OOH-AHH” has a number of different styles going on. The verses generally are fast paced pop bits mixed with slower, higher, melodic elements. Korean words are mixed with English throughout, in fact less so in the chorus than other parts of the song. The bridge is comprised of one incredibly soft and slow singing bit to recalibrate and then an incredibly fast and vibrant dance break. In layman’s terms, this song is an absolute bop.
Ironically, Twice’s “Like OOH-AHH” has a video based entirely around a duality. The video takes place in a zombie apocalypse while all of the girls are wearing girly, clean, adorably fashionable outfits and not showing any fear or sense of self preservation. Zombies have been done before in K-Pop. T-ARA’s “Lovey Dovey” featured a zombie apocalypse breaking down in a dance club with a number of references to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”; Cross Gene made an entire zombie movie called ZEDD to promote their song “Billion Dolla”. But Twice taking two entirely opposite concepts made for something surprisingly fun. Whatever your expectations are going into the MV, you have none by the end. That’s what makes it so entertaining.
Looking at the intro sequence in particular, it’s clear we’re not dealing with something normal. We see a number of zombies walking around an abandoned helicopter and what appears to be an abandoned hospital. But the colors are saturated – particularly gold and rose colors, as opposed to blue like in most zombie films. Twice’s logo is in pink. The song itself is starting happy. We know we’re not in for anything normal.
Suddenly Nayeon pops out of the bed with perfect makeup in an adorable white shirt and yellow, red, and black plaid skirt, fishnet pantyhose and wedge heels and even a choker.
So already the tone of the video is set and it’s basically about as “normal” as a 40 minute movie to promote one song. But in many ways that’s a good thing. Twice doing something so different right out of the gate set the stage for what the band would be like in the future. This theme of changing expectations is rampant throughout the first half of the video – Jihyo walking past zombies on red treadmills, Tzuyu reaching for the screen while the zombies reach ahead, cutesy dancing in a building that’s actually crumbling around them, all of which makes the girls in particular seem like they radiate all that is well in the world.
Weirdly enough, the song is about something directly opposite that. Rather than the lyrics being about a girl who is a shining beacon around people who don’t care, the girl is the one who doesn’t care, and the people around her are trying to get her to feel something. It’s about a girl who wants to fall in love but just can’t, so she needs someone to prove to her that they’re worthy so that she can open up to them. So to see a video that deliberately turns this concept on its head makes a very interesting video.
Costume-wise, this bizarre rift becomes obvious with the way the girls are dressed versus how the zombies are. All of the zombies are wearing tattered clothes, more in dark tones, whereas all of the girls wear bright, clean clothes that has no rips, whether for style or for aesthetic. The girls’ outfits are mostly reds, pinks, blacks, and whites, in a variety of styles to bring out the character/personality of each member. The leader, Jihyo, wears athletic wear while Tzuyu, the youngest, wears a schoolgirl uniform. Sana dresses like a cheerleader while Momo dresses in tighter, more mature clothes. Each member has a particular way of dressing to make sure you can immediately know them.
There are also moments throughout the video that allow you to immediately remember the members. We see Mina and Momo doing stretches like trained ballet dancers while Sana struggles to get her foot up but tries to impress whoever the viewer is. This scene on its own establishes Sana as a funny optimistic person – aligned with her reputation in the K-Pop community and online profiles — and Mina and Momo as the trained dancers they are (Mina trained as a ballerina for 11 years and Momo was brought back after elimination during Sixteen because of her superior dancing ability.) That one moment in the video lets us into what kind of people we’re dealing with, both on screen and in real life.
As the video progresses, the girls dance in front of zombies in a small cement lot and inside a school bus while the zombies slowly descend upon them. This eventually turns into dancing with the zombies, who then dance with them – at first in a spastic way, but then in a more fluid way. The girls don’t care at all about the zombies being undead and have fun with each other, ultimately this leads to the zombies becoming human, as we see in the tail end of the video.
“Like OOH-AHH” is a surprisingly exciting video, with a lot of twists right from the first few seconds. Twice ultimately tapped into something that K-Pop has lacked in many respects – combining concepts and subversion of the typical tropes associated with idols. While they’re still very much a popular group, with accolades and endorsements to boot, they have an angle that’s been missing from K-Pop for a while. They’re aware that they’re popular but they also have a level of risk-taking that very few groups have had in the past fifteen years. I think what we need to keep looking for in the future with Twice is if this is maintained – but as we’ll see with “Cheer Up” next time, cinnamon bubblegum pop is definitely very much a successful endeavor.