Right off the gate, you know that ‘Formula Of Love: O+T=˂3’ is coming at exactly the right time for TWICE. It doesn’t have to do anything with the fact their long-deserved global domination is well and truly underway – this album, their third full-length studio release, sees the group expand their repository of English-language singles – nor does it relate to the massive success of ‘The Feels’, although both of these factors do play a part.
It’s the fact that conceptually, musically, and lyrically, TWICE have been laying the foundation for ‘Formula Of Love: O+T=˂3’ for years. Even a cursory look at their oeuvre reveals it: no other act in K-pop has spoken as much and as expansively about love and its multitude of complexities as they have.
They depict the exhilarating push-and-pull of courtship in ‘Cheer Up’, the frustration of being torn about loving someone who doesn’t get you on ‘TT’ and ‘Signal’, the ugly monster of jealousy raising its head on ‘Jelly Jelly’, the nervousness of finally confessing your love on ‘Next Page’, and even the bitter aftertaste of realising just how many parts of yourself you freely gave away to someone else in the aftermath of a breakup on ‘Bring It Back’. They even turned this constant introspection of what love is inwards, making it the bedrock of a new, confident, mature TWICE, glimpses of whom we recently saw on tracks such as ‘Conversation’ and ‘Love Foolish’. So, one would think that if there is anyone who intrinsically understands love and how to be good at it, it is TWICE.
Yet, as ‘Formula Of Love: O+T=˂3’ tells us, they don’t. After having explored love and all its facets for years, they’re left with one simple, delightful realisation: this is no formula. There are no guidelines or tricks or shortcuts or ‘Love 101’ courses to love – as frustrating as it sounds, you have to trust “the feels”. Herein lies the genius that makes ‘Formula Of Love: O+T=˂3’ a winner. TWICE’s absolute and unapologetic embracing of their concept has led them to the point where they can subvert it and still be considered credible.
The idea is best portrayed in the album’s title track ‘Scientist’ – “Love ain’t science, don’t need no license / the more you sit there thinking, it’s a minus,” the group says during what is an absolutely satisfying chorus, which is preceded by an equally charming climb. The consistent bass makes a solid foundation for the track, allowing for a comforting breathing space for the group’s anchored vocals.
The successor ‘Moonlight’ – their latest all-English offering after the previously released ‘The Feels’ and ‘Candy’, both of which appear on the album – dials up the high, coming entrenched in retro-fever from top to bottom. With funky orchestration that sounds straight out of an ’80s stage performance, the song twinkles just like its namesake. It also makes the confident energy of ‘Icon’ – another all-English track – that much more impactful.
Segueing from the glittering disco ball of ‘Moonlight’ to the hard-hitting, sensual ‘Icon’ is whiplash of the best kind. The track carries the determination of ‘Fancy’ and the irreverence of ‘Don’t Call Me Again’, wrapping them up neatly in the confidence of an act absolutely secure in their vision and position. While TWICE revisit this bravado on ‘Hello’ much later in the album – more hard-hitting and hip-hop adjacent – something about Momo’s “Damn, I got it, I’m iconic,” just hits different.
Revenge becomes a deliciously cold dish on ‘Cruel’, a fast-paced track about turning the tables on someone while still maintaining innocence. Conceptually, ‘Cruel’ has the same calculated and dangerous allure as the sublime ‘Scandal’ from ‘Taste of Love’, which is no coincidence – both tracks come from the pen of Dahyun, who seems to be quickly positioning herself as the queen of fatalistic charm through her witty lyricism.
The energy carries over to ‘Real You’, where Jihyo channels her inner Britney Spears circa ‘Womanizer’ and gives us a bouncy anthem about being able to see right through the mask of a guy too full of himself. She’s much nicer about it, though, giving him the chance to show the real him (before she completely obliterates him, of course). And while ‘Real You’ gives us our daily dose of femme-fatale, it’s on ‘Cactus’ – appearing much later in the album – where Jihyo’s lyricism spreads its wings and soars. Vulnerable, personal and evocative, the rock-leaning track brings a refreshing honesty to the release.
The triple whammy of TWICE showing off their lyrical prowess comes to a close with ‘F.I.L.A. (Falling In Love Again)’, written by Nayeon. If it’s TWICE bringing more dance pop to us wrapped up in glamour and disco-glitter, you best believe we’re eating it up with a soup ladle. The genre is a staple on the album, appearing again as married to future funk on ‘Push And Pull’. While the latter takes a more simplistic, classic approach to the two genres, it’s no less heady in it’s proclamations of ‘playing it cool’ in the game of attraction.
If ‘F.I.L.A. (Falling In Love Again)’ sets us up on a precarious cliffside, ‘Last Waltz’ and ‘Espresso’ sucker punch us one after the other and send us hurtling down deeper into the ocean of TWICE. Where ‘Last Waltz’ – the best B-side on the album – is sensual, seductive yet restrained, ‘Espresso’ has none of those inhibitions. More perfect is how complementary the two tracks are, both sonically and conceptually – when the Latin pop-inspired ‘Last Waltz’ puts you in a trance, a shot of hip-hop leaning ‘Espresso’ wakes you right up. And while TWICE give Latin Pop another spin on ‘1,3,2’, it’s ‘Last Waltz’ that takes the cake in its experimentation and sizzling power.
The most surprising track on the album, however, is the slow, atmospheric ‘Rewind’. In a release populated by frenetic dance pop and scintillating Latin pop, the R&B influences of ‘Rewind’ catch you off guard. It’s almost akin to living through a play-by-play of an intensely personal, private moment – it makes you feel like an intruder, but you understand the heartbreak of the moment all too well.
Thinking back, it’s simple to see why ‘Formula Of Love: O+T=˂3’ works so well as an album. It seems as if once the need to measure and calculate and predict everything was abandoned, we were left with pure, distilled emotion. When positioned against their previous releases, ‘Formula Of Love: O+T=˂3’ paints a picture of a masterful act, one who has learned to wield their talent and concept into one cohesive banger after another. TWICE give us “the feels”, and we’re just here to enjoy the ride.
- Release date: November 12
- Record label: JYP Entertainment