TWICE’s cheerful core flips the script on the perception of girl groups in 2021

While fierce female empowerment continues to become an integral part of the modern girl group DNA, the JYP act show there are other ways to be just as impactful

Since the release of their ‘Fancy You’ mini-album in 2019, TWICE’s sound has been steadily growing cooler and more mature. No longer do their songs explode in an ecstatic burst of bubblegum brightness, nor do they feature the kind of giddy hooks that appeared in the likes of ‘Yes Or Yes’ or ‘Dance The Night Away’ and sweep you along to a place of pure euphoria. But, despite this development, the JYP Entertainment girl group’s cheerful core remains steadfast – a key component to their very being and a challenge to the perception of what a modern girl group should be.

In the years and decades since the Spice Girls burst onto the scene in 1996 with the in-your-face ‘Wannabe’ and wielding the idea of “girl power”, there’s almost been an expectation on girl groups to portray themselves as badass women setting the world to rights. In K-pop, that often rings true too. Just look at the groups that are dominating the scene right now – the likes of BLACKPINK, ITZY and even up-and-comers EVERGLOW thrive on messages of empowerment, with performances and MVs that are dripping with an independent attitude.

That mid-’90s cultural shift was important for redefining femininity in pop and allowing female artists to have their own autonomy and agency. But, just as it would be problematic to expect women to be girly and cute 24/7, it’s just as much of an issue to expect them to front as strong and resilient all the time. Both are just as valid representations of womanhood as each other and TWICE remind us that the latter can have just as much impact.

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With TWICE, their cheerful approach plays a vital role in their listeners’ lives. Being unabashedly upbeat and happy is often considered less worthy in music than songs that dissect pain, suffering or sadness. But dispersing joy in their sugary songs and lifting up our moods in the most colourful of fashions is just as impactful as providing catharsis and courage. TWICE’s back catalogue has the power to pull you out of a funk in an instant.

This might seem true of the TWICE of old and less so of the girl group’s last couple of years of output, but listen closer and you can see their core mission remains the same. The title track of 2019 mini-album ‘Feel Special’ finds happiness in the support of a loved one – a role TWICE are more than happy to play for their fans – while their new, Bossa nova-inspired title track ‘Alcohol-Free’ centres around a romance so intoxicating you don’t need any booze to make you feel drunk. Both take on cheerfulness from different angles, but have an equally strong effect on your mood.

In our prescription of one set attitude to modern girl groups, we overlook these artists’ complexities and abilities to be a whole host of moods, feelings and spirits. TWICE might be largely associated with a bubbly, vibrant image, but they can be just as empowering as the groups who are seen as being a lot fiercer. “I don’t want to be restricted to a stereotype, it’s not too late,” they sing on the garage-driven ‘Rainbow’. Later, they add reassuringly on the chorus: “You can go anywhere / Wherever you want.”

Similarly, 2020’s ‘More & More’ opens with Nayeon declaring: “I’m not gonna try to please you anymore / ’Cause I deserve it.” On the brass-laden retro pop of ‘Queen’, they focus on boosting the poise of another woman. “You are the main character / You are the bright one,” they sing. “You’re a queen.” These are exactly the kind of messages girl groups in 2021 are expected to share, but with TWICE they’re delivered in a tropical club-ready banger rather than something more hard-hitting.

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The cute and girly image might still be more popular in South Korea (and Asia in general) than it is in the West, but TWICE have taken it on a journey, fleshed it out and made it four-dimensional. As they continue to graduate out of the saccharine pop sound they once utilised, they’ll hand that baton on to younger acts. Those newer generations should find that, in TWICE’s world, you can live up to that oft-used sentiment of being anything you want – be that cheerful and sweet, independent and resilient, or anything else your heart desires, regardless of what’s in vogue. In their more mature phase, the K-pop queens will carry on proving that, with happiness at the heart of their mission.

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