Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

Twice – What Is Love?

In lieu of the obvious subhead joke, please accept this photo instead…


Leonel Manzanares de la Rosa: Twice are finally in the middle of their imperial phase. Anything they release at this point will become huge. And while this tune is not as instantaneously iconic as “Cheer Up” or “Likey”, and definitely not as captivatingly weird as “Signal”, it sure reinforces the strengths that are now synonymous with Twice — catchy, stomping pop rhythms, strong call-and-response hooks, a certain shouty sass. The problem is the somewhat flat structure; it feels like producer JYP is playing it a bit too safe, even for the sake of taking a “classic” approach. Twice work much better when there’s a lot more going on. 

Ryo Miyauchi: The pronounced synth bounce reminiscent of “Heart Shaker” or a more contained “Like Ooh-Aah” (that movie-referencing video, especially) aligns “What Is Love?” musically closer to Twice’s Korean singles, but their naive perspective suits the group’s Japanese records. And it’s fascinating to hear them sing like a different unit, whose innocence has yet to be tainted by anxiety or mania that comes from being so deep into an obsessive love. Though, that impatience to experience that unknown feeling for themselves turns into a manic rush in itself.

Alfred Soto: Hooks galore tethered to a momentum that won’t quit, “What is Love” answers the question and keeps its savoir-faire too. 

Alex Clifton: I had a weird blog when I was in high school; I still have the archive and will read through it sometimes, just to remind myself of the person I once was. I was obsessed with crushes and romance, finding someone new and beautiful to fall for whenever I could, writing poems about boys’ noses or how a crooked smile made me feel like I’d fall over in the middle of class. It was never a casual interest, and I’ve never been a casual person: it was truly a single-minded pursuit of figuring out what, exactly, love is. I’m half a life away from when I made that blog, and I’ve had more experience now. I know that whatever I felt back then was never actually love–I didn’t know those people, I never would–but I didn’t actually care about ending up with them. Instead I chased the feeling of “love” itself, of saccharine sweetness mixed with fear and anticipation and a weird, unyielding sadness about how it could all die tomorrow. Somehow Twice manages to hit on that exact set of feelings here, with a sunny melody and twinkly backing but with a final chorus dropout that put a lump in my throat.

Katherine St Asaph: Remarkably like a 2007-era off-Disney TV theme: power-pop boiled down to sugar, with Shut Up Stella and “Irreplaceable” melodies in the water. Except those themes didn’t always sound this chintzy.

Stephen Eisermann: This feels too Disney and juvenile to be taken entirely seriously. I’m always impressed by just how committed Twice sounds in their singles. I can’t think of any American artists who could sell this song (or the much better “Likey”) with the conviction that the girls of Twice have. But I also can’t think of any that would want a song like this.

Will Adams: Twice’s boundless energy will never not be winsome, but “What Is Love?” feels almost perfunctory, in the way the similarly fast-paced “Knock Knock” did. Contrast to “Likey,” which sounded like a roller coaster from start to finish; this is more like a ferris wheel, pleasant with zero acceleration.

Micha Cavaseno: “What Is Love?” feels drastic for Twice because of its emptiness despite the sugary sweetness. Whereas other songs have the singers fixating on others, or others fixating on them, now there is no caller but a void where they know a caller should be. Twice’s pattern of never commiting to one sonic or image-based concept, instead pivoting between extreme reactions to perceived failings of each successive single, has produced a song that feels like a point of finality. And unlike on “Signal,” JYP has finally taken the time to study his label’s act and master their highlights with Black Eyed Pilseung in a easy composite: the light “Knock Knock”-reminiscent electro throb pulsing beneath the song, starting underneath each verse, the end melody of the chorus faintly echoing “Cheer Up,” the trap-drum build of the pre-chorus throwing back to “TT,” the shift from a simple half-step drum on the first verse, to a dissonant Oris Jay-styled breakstep beat embedded deep in the mix beneath the second verse. Twice become streamlined into something still so frantically desperate, but without the seemingly wistful energy of JYP’s aforementioned first attempt. The descending “Know, know, know, know” into the phantomic plead/demand/wonder of “WHAT IS LOVE” reveals the frightening reality behind the girls’ regurgitation of ideas of romance and affection that are so unrealistically sweet. This love, which they and us back home are bombarded with, always seems to elude our actual grasp. And it’s impossible to know if this love will do all the things we’ve been told it can do, or be all it’s hyped up to be. All we can do is pursue this dream we’re promised, treasuring its briefest of moments in our lives.

Reader average: [6.53] (13 votes)

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39 Responses to “Twice – What Is Love?”

  1. maxwell stop overrating twice challenge

  2. mina’s parts >>

  3. Yeah but what a video

  4. Honestly insane to me that there have been six singles since “Likey” because all of them (except this, arguably) feel inconsequential. Also, is La Boum a popular movie around the world? Was already surprised that Laboum named themselves after the film.

  5. yeah but how hard did the screencapper have to WORK to get a shot without Dahyun in it. I am full of rage

    is this your doing Max

  6. my doing, sorry Jessica. the size restrictions put her JUST outside the reasonable clip area. Blame the video director!

  7. i ain’t hearing whatever the high scores are hearing


  9. so uh, how is [8.00] “likey” holding up for everyone

  10. I don’t think anyone’s championing their Japanese singles, they’re pure filler.

  11. @dorof “Likey” is still really good and better than any K-pop song released in 2018. It’s the apotheosis of everything Twice and has the best Black Eyed Pilseung production to date (especially in terms of how it’s coupled with the songwriting to do a whole lot of text painting).

    *extreme dork voice that’s not meant to sound hostile* Also, just because something “doesn’t hold up” doesn’t mean it’s bad (or has revealed itself to be bad); ephemeral enjoyment of any piece of art should be more fully embraced!

  12. Also, I’d argue that the [8.00] likey holds up better than the [8.12] girl front

  13. Still sounding fantastic to me

  14. likey is still an 11/10

  15. @joshua good lord no

  16. anyway, i’m not saying that “likey” or any twice song is meritless – i think a lot of what they’ve done is great, despite the shortsightedness of their approach. but imo the jukebox consensus on k-pop tends to go in some really odd directions, perhaps nowhere moreso than in twice’s discog. and i think that’ll become more apparent with time.

    and sure, hey, it can be argued that pop is ephemeral by design, and i agree there’s a personal value to flameout obsessions with any kind of music (and critically, there’s a time capsule value to having a record of those moments in time). but i’d still say there’s good reason for, idk, the abject shame i feel when thinking back on how much i liked girl talk in ’07, and that that sensation is more meaningful than whatever i would’ve written about him at the time.

  17. Likey is easily the best Twice single! i was down on it at the time but it’s actually so great

  18. I thought I’d underrated “Likey” when I blurbed it but I would still put it at a high [7] today.

  19. Also, I’d argue that the [8.00] likey holds up better than the [8.12] girl front

    i listened to girl front the other day. it’s an 8.12

  20. I stand by every word I originally wrote about “Likey” (and “Cheer Up,” for that matter). (Also, I still find the baby-talk aspect of “TT” off-putting, I still don’t understand why everyone gave SM a pass for the blonde-and-super-white-cheerleader-blowjob aesthetic of “Ice Cream Cake,” and I still think “What’s Happening?” is genius and well worth the only [10] I have given in my Jukebox career to date.)

    (For those reading and this and wondering “WHAT Jukebox career?” I’m on leave while working on my dissertation. Also, hi Anna, I hope it’s a bop on the level of “Navillera” and “Me Gustas Tu.”)

    More to the point: Jakob, I’m not sure why you seem invested in a defense of shame (as a feeling about criticism in general, although in this case you seem to be implying that we should feel some sense of shame or regret about our collective love of “Likey”). What does shame accomplish in criticism? Are you a better critic because you’re ashamed of having liked Girl Talk, as opposed to simply having changed your mind about it? I mean, off the top of my head I can think of two cases where I wince to think of how I liked a song and now I no longer do — the first being the Lady Gaga / R. Kelly “Do What U Want” and the second being Anohni’s “Drone Bomb Me”. And in the wincing is a lesson — that as much as I’d like to separate the artist from the song (and in the Anohni case, the artist’s reasoning behind the song) I can’t; or, more accurately, in some cases I’m too self-conscious to embrace a song regardless of what its artist might have said or done. And I haven’t quite worked out how and when to give my experience of / interpretation of the song full power in such cases. But speaking personally I’m not sure how much the wincing contributes to that learning.

    Shame implies that the critic has somehow transgressed — against what? Public opinion? Received wisdom? An objective understanding of what makes for a good song? The critic’s own personal standards? And I’m not ready to say there’s no place for shame. For me, though, shame in thinking about my music listening is so inextricable from self-hatred (“Jesus, I can’t believe I thought this was so gorgeous and profound.” Well, I was eleven!) that if someone were to imply I should be ashamed of my enjoyment of “Likey” / “Knock Knock” / “What’s Happening” / “The Chaser” / “Rookie” / “Lip & Hip” / “Liar Liar” / “Wiggle Wiggle” (standing by that one too) / what have you, I get defensive immediately.

  21. @Jessica the world wasn’t ready for wiggle wiggle and in an alternate timeline it was a breakout smash that made SK twerk for 1000 years

    Also i think girl front is gonna hold up – that rush you get when it comes on as you walk down the street on a warm, sunny day can’t be touched imo

  22. I mean I feel more shame for how older critics disbelief of Twice while upholding what I consider the mediocrity of Sunmi’s solo career or the very existence of 2NE1 as positive alternatives; but that’s due to my own subjective tastes and perspectives and vitriolic bits aside I’m not obligating any other critical opinions to appeal to mine as I don’t to any others.

    Honestly if I or TSJ defer from the typical critical perceptions I welcome it because I’m personally going to be happy standing behind every score I give Twice because I’m legitimately enthused by them musically in ways groups before and parallel don’t provide for me and while I don’t wanna speak for anyone else’s taste because there are groups/acts in K-Pop alone who this site may feel more strongly about than I do in both positive and negative ways so there isn’t a uniform impression. Its kind of the benefit of TSJ I’d feel especially considering the perspective isn’t always from aficionados of the genre.

    And anyway I can’t overrate these songs because there isn’t a scoring option over the range of 10, so

  23. @William: I love EXID unabashedly (and like Momoland) but I do wish the Magic Viral Fairy that found EXID (and Momoland) would come back and wave their wand over HV’s next comeback. “I’m Art” was great; HVTV was hilarious; the ladies need the money so they can buy Fantagio out from whoever owns Fantagio at this point; and as badly as they’ve treated 9Muses the Magic Viral Fairy owes us one.

  24. @Jessica yeah, shame is probably not the right word for it, haha – i think my own shame for having been in too deep with Night Ripper is fine, but i wouldn’t necessarily want anyone else to feel shame for the same (or for having liked anything else, for that matter). what i mean is: Girl Talk is one of the top examples of an artist that was hugely acclaimed for a period of years – three full album cycles and nonstop touring – but became something pretty much everyone feels embarrassed for having liked/intellectualized so much. and that transition was super sharp. to his credit, Girl Talk himself caught the shift before just about anyone else – he hasn’t dared release a true followup to his project since 2010, which must have taken remarkable foresight given its universal acclaim and six-figures touring gross. and sure, while i think you can’t understand what it was like to be a music fan (or a part of youth culture in general) in the late ’00s without fully digesting some breathless Girl Talk reviews and documentaries, the fact that in the ’10s his name is on the level of profanity is much more interesting. and that it all happened without a personal scandal, or like i said, without him even releasing any real new material. the backlash was pure hindsight. (same deal with the example you cited about the lightspeed critical whiplash for “drone bomb me” – you were certainly not alone in the “lesson” you say you learned about that song and how you once felt about it.)

    Twice isn’t due for quite such a dramatic reversal, but they’re definitely on track for the typical JYP artist career trajectory, and i guess i’m just surprised TSJ is so far behind the ~true heads~ and even the Korean public on this one. so, i’m staking a flag in the ground to say i think a lot of likey-likey minds ’round these parts are going to change in the coming year or two – all in good fun, of course. ;P

    i think it’s interesting, btw, that a lot of the critical (and general market) reappraisal we’re discussing here comes from shifts in social framework and what we as an audience are aware of: it’s obvious the way that applies to “drone bomb me” and a song about sexual liberty-taking feat. R. Kelly, or even Girl Talk’s overall MO. and i think that same dynamic is going to apply to Twice (much moreso than what you call the “blowjob aesthetic” of that RV single) when some of y’all get a better sense of what kind of audience their music/image is designed to appeal to (very successfully). and there’s a whole lot less babytalk in “TT” than in “Likey,” btw.

    (and yeah, not to join in the dogpile on one off-handed remark from Joshua, but while i’m not sure where Loona is headed as a project, i do think the fascination for their pre-debut discog is sturdy and well-earned. that’s not going to drop off one bit – even if i do think all of their highbrow self-reference is likely going to add up to one big circular nothingburger.)

    (lastly re: EXID, not to make any assumptions about what you know/don’t, but since fans outside of Korea are notoriously off-base re: real K-pop market dynamics and whether or not something was actually a “hit”…it’s worth noting that while that Magic Viral Fairy was a huge blessing for EXID, it’s done little good for them past 2015, and i’d recommend anyone personally invested in them to speak with their wallets as much as possible. the group needs it.)

  25. i guess i’m just surprised TSJ is so far behind the ~true heads~

    lol and who exactly are these true heads.

    anyways, taste is pretty useless in general but especially when it comes to k-pop considering it’s all so easy to follow (i literally just have a script that automatically collects new video uploads and posts them in a telegram chat. that already covers the overwhelming majority of new k-pop releases). i’m primarily interested in taste w/r/t mainstream pop music as a vehicle for interesting writing (which you don’t really do anymore, but i’d like to see more of) and to better understand writers themselves.

    i think that same dynamic is going to apply to Twice when some of y’all get a better sense of what kind of audience their music/image is designed to appeal to (very successfully)

    do you… think we’re dumb. obviously we don’t live in korea and fully comprehend it all but pedomorphism isn’t new in k-pop or asian pop in general, nor is it particularly less gross than what happens with western artists (the immediate “maturation” of a teenage artist once their image is explicitly more sexual).

    re: loona, they’re obviously the best newer group around. i think people are getting a little crazy about some of their releases but i’d rather have that than people fawning over KARD or something.

  26. the true heads are few!!!

    thank you for the encouragement – i’ve been playing a longer game with k-pop writing (and somewhat regretting it, lol – it’s taking much longer than is reasonable), at least in english. basically i’m either getting back to doing a ton more of it soon, *or* never touching it again. it’s a long story that i’ll be sure to tell when it makes sense to, but the short of it is that i got sick of the limitations of writing about k-pop for western media, and also sick of my own limited understanding. after 3.5 years of daily research and endless interviews in seoul, the sheer volume of what i didn’t understand back then is that much clearer to me, and i’d say i’m just now beginning to arrive at a level where i feel like my knowledge is actually worth sharing in a structured way. it’s just a question of whether i can actually pull off a few big maneuvers that would allow me to do it in a way that actually feels worthwhile.

    i wouldn’t say pedomorphism is really the issue w/r/t Twice, by the way, although i guess yeah, there’s some element of that in the mix.

    and KARD…man. they sure did not become the group i hoped they were when they released that first single. but that one’s still great.

  27. forgot to address the thing you said about taste – which is pretty much exactly what i mean. there’s very little accurate writing about k-pop out there to date, what’s been written (even in korean) is almost entirely based around personal taste and, occasionally, the smoke and mirrors of the typical mainstream media k-pop interview. and then there’s the academic writing that, while typically more substantive, necessarily comes at it from its own limited perspectives. and i think a lot of the obstacles to writing about k-pop in any setting stem from this type of misinformation/misrepresentation of what it really is.

  28. What exactly constitutes “accurate writing” though? Can you give an example of something (be it in English or Korean)? Are we just talking about oral histories that involve the artists/producers/performers/directors/stylists/etc?

  29. ‘accurate’ as in factually

  30. …but if someone’s writing about their personal taste factual accuracy doesn’t come into it and arguably shouldn’t

  31. i think sometimes it does if one’s opinion is taking into account (or in effect disregarding) information that is central to the object (/tradition /culture) they’re judging. there’s a lot of genres/industries of music in which i could write a totally uninformed spit take on a song or album (in fact, a lot of the music criticism i published as a teen/college student did exactly that) and i don’t think that would do anyone much service at all. (perhaps myself?)

    which is not to say everyone needs to be an expert all the time, necessarily. and sometimes i do personally find value in criticism written by people who don’t really know what it is they’re judging. but as a writer, it’s not something i’m remotely interested in doing anymore.

  32. also i can’t really say how much of this applies to writing on other scenes these days, but when it comes to k-pop it is the supposedly ‘objective’ writing (as in, histories and cultural context) that’s often the farthest off-base.

  33. there’s a lot of genres/industries of music in which i could write a totally uninformed spit take on a song or album

    i too remember when you compared william basinski to john cage ;)

    but whatever, everyone should be encouraged to write because writing in and of itself is a fun (!) practice. i just find it odd that you made claims about Twice not being good without actually explaining anything explicitly, especially when that was coupled with ragging on kpop writers for not writing accurate stuff.

  34. @jakob yes X 100000 as queen brandy said, “we need the audience to buy the album”

  35. hey at least quote the part where i admit that’s often what i used to do. :P i’d disown a lot of the stuff i wrote about k-pop early on, too, pretty much just landfill anything that comes up in my google cache to be safe ;)

  36. Ah, we’re back to “this music isn’t as good as it sounds!”

  37. hm no

  38. I’m late af but this might be the best song of all time

  39. And to think you haven’t even heard the latest Good Twice Single AKA The Best Song of All Time as of this moment.