TWICE—Yes or Yes
November 5th, 2018
TWICE enter a whole new phase of a fruitful but strained career on their latest mini-album. For roughly the past two years, TWICE have not only made strides in establishing themselves as a premier K-pop act, they’ve also managed to become one of the front-runners of a new generation of girl groups. Though not quite perceived as a ‘survival group’ in the same way as more recent acts IZ*one and fromis_9, TWICE have never been considered a ‘cutting-edge’ group either, with older fans deriding what they see as a conservative and infantile ‘cringe’ approach and preferring to praise more adult and musically adventurous groups such as Red Velvet or LOONA. Despite several singles such as “TT”, “Cheer Up,” and “Likey” impressing and putting the group ahead of the pack, they’ve always struggled to maintain their position in K-pop.
The group is often thwarted by a habitual need to release singles in opposition to the preceding ones, especially if the preceding single does less than anticipated. In the case of “Yes or Yes,” the ghost of the previous Japanese single “BDZ” and its failures have not quite been exorcised—literally, as JYP Entertainment have graciously managed to slip it onto the mini-album in a Korean rendition once again, as if the initial choice of tongue was what undermined the performance of easily the group’s worst single to date.
“BDZ” is actually an apt representation of the problems surrounding TWICE and in particular its author, the “Asiansoul” himself. J. Y. Park and TWICE can be a fruitful pairing, resulting in great singles for the group such as “Signal” and this year’s “What Is Love?.” Yet consistent still is his grating need to homage the Spectorian/Brill Building classic era of pop as he’s done for previous acts he’s ‘tutored’ such as Wonder Girls and miss-A. These tics, while once a particularly unique trope to explore have now become an unflattering cliche, fitting alongside his love of juvenile toilet humor and suspect taste in underage group members to champion.
Whereas before those retro-tinged habits could be revamped and made bold with slick modern production, “BDZ” is flat and charmless and does little to benefit the various girls strengths and weaknesses (not to mention the barely concealed revelation of JYP’s newfound evangelical turn in the lyrics). The song is a low for him and in forcing his label’s now-flagship act to handle the responsibility of redeeming his career going awry, it’s made TWICE look as rote and infantile as non-fans have often accused them of being. In many ways, Yes or Yes is a long overdue attempt after this career low to finally come to terms with TWICE as a group and try to break past the holding patterns that have made them feel relatively inert.
The title track of TWICE’s latest 7-song mini-album does its best to reinvigorate the group, without straying too far from the patterns the group have fallen into post-”What is Love;” the verses and intro ooze Sha Na Na/Grease vibes, albeit propped up with a soft Atlanta pillow-bass vibe à la DIA’s “WooWoo” (a callback to “Likey”). The track picks up into a chorus out of Stock, Aitken & Waterman along with occasional shifts into rapped post-reggae bridges. Its success has been a boon to TWICE, but this is the most creative and strong single they’ve had since last year’s “Likey.” Despite all the familiar conventions, it’s perhaps the most eagerly TWICE have deviated from their expected formula on a single and while some decisions work less than others (the recent emphasis on Dahyun as a non-rap vocalist seems ill-advised when divorced from music videos) this gambit indicates that the group are able to move away from the most basic of pop gestures and still sound as determined as they’ve previously demonstrated.
As for the bulk of the mini-album, there’s a demonstrated effort by the group to work on their own material, with members Jihyo, Chaeyoung, and Jeongyeon all appearing as credited writers. Material here lacking their imprint ranges on the generic, as the ballad “After Moon” does nothing to top the previously established peak of their deep-cut ballad “One In A Million”, while “Say You Love Me” is an unmemorable guitar-tinged number. Chaeyoung contributes to the group’s hyped collaboration with the Dr. Luke-affiliated Kim Petras on “Young & Wild,” which features playfully restless production but is let down by a fairly flat Nayeon vocal on the chorus. Meanwhile Jeongyeon’s ELRIS-esque Broadway energy on the nostalgic “Lalala” is a delightful form of light propulsion, and Jihyo’s efforts with the fizzy electro-pop of “Sunset” feel akin to dance-pop such as Chvrches. While the notion of K-pop as open to meritocracy often feels like a carrot on the stick for connoisseurs (especially when women producers/writers are much more anomalous), one would hope that given Jihyo and Jeongyeon are also the group’s most reliable singers that Yes or Yes might convince their label to give them more creative reign and freedom for the group’s future releases.
Yes or Yes is easily the best multi-track release to emerge from the TWICE camp in 2018 and maybe their best since 2017’s Lane1 mini. Given that the majority of TWICE’s discography tends to treat non-singles like a chore rather than an opportunity, the bar to clear here was admittedly very low, but that they’ve put this much effort in to clear that bar implies a change in the air. TWICE, for all their successes, still have a great deal to prove if they are to ever truly establish themselves as a girl group of their generation not only to be admired for commercial success but to be respected. Seven EPs into their career, TWICE are only just beginning to sound confident in themselves to explore their stylistic voices. It is hard to say what the future may hold given the Grand Guignol-style torment that is the group’s singles (in)consistency, yet Yes or Yes offers optimism that maybe TWICE’s future can herald greater rewards than even their initial heights promised.