There's a fan-favorite moment in Twice's "Likey" when member Dahyun delivers a charismatic rap verse over a momentary trap beat. She ends with a customary dab, as one does. It's brief and unexpected but extremely memorable. Watching Twice perform their hit 2017 single at the Prudential Center in Newark on Sunday (July 21) — the stage a multitude of rainbow colors and their faces adorned with glitter — I realized two things: One, Dahyun is the only person who can get away with earnestly dabbing in the year of our Lord 2019; and two, Twice is kind of brilliant.
The music industry loves to put artists in boxes, to package them up into a single marketing message and place them on shiny pedestals. The K-pop industry is no different, especially for women. Korean girl groups are often one or the other: sweet or sexy; girls who sing perfect pop confections or girls with attitude. But one concept can hardly contain the artistry and multitudes that today's girl groups really have to offer. Twice is a perfect example of this.
When members Sana, Dahyun, and Tzuyu take the stage for their unit stage — a sultry cover of Beyoncé's "Dance For You," complete with slinky choreography — it's a powerful display of feminine energy and sexuality. "Is this allowed?" tweeted one fan from inside the venue. For some reason, "sexy" and "sensual" aren't words that people often associate with Twice, a group known for their bubblegum bops, legendary hooks, and playful point choreography. But on Sunday night, on the second U.S. stop of their Twicelights world tour, the eight members of Asia's most popular girl group — ninth member Mina is taking time to recover from "sudden extreme anxiety and insecurity towards performing" — proved that they're not defined by a single image.
The nearly three-hour set traversed the group's many hits ("Cheer Up," "Yes or Yes," "What Is Love," "Dance the Night Away," to name a few) and some sparkling b-sides ("Strawberry" was a standout) through a kaleidoscope of colors: black, gold, white, red, blue, purple, and pink. As Dahyun kept reminding their fans (called Once) throughout the night, they wanted to show their various charms through these colorful, prismatic stages.
The surprising amount of actual flames and pyrotechnics during songs like "Stuck in My Head" and "Touchdown" didn't hurt either.
But perhaps Twice's true power was displayed during the ballad stage, where the night took an emotional turn during "After Moon," which fans have unofficially deemed Mina's song. The members sang out to a sea of mint green light sticks — Mina's designated color — and some even became emotional themselves. "I miss Mina," Jihyo said through tears after the performance. Ballad stages are tricky; they can sometimes kill the momentum of a good show. But Twice, dressed in white, matched the kinetic energy of their opening set with pure emotion, proving themselves as dynamic and empathetic performers.
Dancer Momo, who performs with a breathless intensity, and leader Jihyo sang a mesmerizing cover of Taemin's "Goodbye," but it was their contemporary choreography that took their special stage to even greater emotional heights. While powerhouse — both in terms of vocals and personality — Nayeon took the stage alongside members Jeongyeon and Chaeyoung for a plucky performance of Lady Gaga's queer anthem "Born This Way" that was all sparkle and sass. And the cheers from the crowd — a diverse mix of genders, ages, and ethnicities, some holding rainbow Pride flags — were deafening. After the performance, Nayeon explained that the stage was rapper Chaeyoung's idea. It's an undeniably bold pick for a K-pop group, seeing as explicit support of queerness is still quite rare.
But subtlety has never been Twice's thing. The final act of the set was an explosion of color and camp. The members took the stage in a holographic prism, wearing an array of bright colors and even brighter smiles. They concluded with their most recent single, "Fancy," a song that saw the group experimenting with more mature sounds. The opening synth adds a layer of mystique that has previously evaded Twice's singles, and the newly added dance break — just for tour — is a striking accumulation of the entire Twicelights experience: Twice are so much more than their concepts.
Jihyo, Nayeon, Jeongyeon, Momo, Sana, Mina, Dahyun, Chaeyoung, and Tzuyu are multifaceted artists who are more complex than their bops often allow. The entire night was a display of their duality and empathy. As they worked the stage during their energetic encore, dressed in plain white tour tees and light-wash denim, I saw a glimpse of Twice as they really are, not as Korea's chart-topping girl group but rather as a group of young women bursting with charm and charisma and inside jokes — who undeniably find strength and solidarity in one another.
As they depart the stage in their giant prism, back to their pedestals, they leave the crowd with one final image: eight girls (nine in spirit) striking dramatic poses and making goofy faces, dramatically inching closer to the ground as the curtain closes down on them — each member wanting to be the last to say goodbye. Of course, when it comes to Twice, who had no trouble filling the New Jersey arena on their first U.S. tour, this is clearly a see you later.
And next time there will be even more colors to show.