Touching the hearts of fans Twice over

Touted to be the next big thing in K-pop are Twice's (from left) Jeongyeon, Tzuyu, Chaeyoung, Sana, Nayeon, Dahyun, Mina, Jihyo and Momo.
Touted to be the next big thing in K-pop are Twice's (from left) Jeongyeon, Tzuyu, Chaeyoung, Sana, Nayeon, Dahyun, Mina, Jihyo and Momo.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

Visuals and aesthetics are important to the South Korean girl band, but do not ask them about their ideal guy

Since debuting in late 2015, South Korean girl band Twice has raced ahead of their rivals to become the next big thing in K-pop.

The nine-piece outfit made a strong entry with Like Ooh-Ahh (2015), followed with equally catchy and chart-topping pop tunes Cheer Up (2016) and TT (2016).

Each music video has generated more than 100 million YouTube views.

The secret to the success of the songs lies in the embedded sing-along and dance-along opportunities.

Touted to be the next big thing in K-pop are Twice's (from left) Jeongyeon, Tzuyu, Chaeyoung, Sana, Nayeon, Dahyun, Mina, Jihyo and Momo.
Touted to be the next big thing in K-pop are Twice’s (from left) Jeongyeon, Tzuyu, Chaeyoung, Sana, Nayeon, Dahyun, Mina, Jihyo and Momo. ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

"One thing in common about our songs is the point choreography," says member Momo, 20, referring to the hand gestures performed during the pop tunes' chorus.

"The moves are easy to follow and the same goes for the song lyrics. In Cheer Up, lyrics such as shy shy shy catch the audience's attention."

At Twice's show here last Saturday, fervent fans were seen performing the choreographed actions and shouting out the lyrics with gusto.

The nine members sat down for an interview with The Straits Times last Friday, ahead of their first concert in Singapore.

Twice was born out of a Survivor- style reality show, Sixteen, where 16 JYP Entertainment trainees competed for a coveted spot in the group.

The group's numeric number name points to a two-pronged approach to capture the hearts of fans.

Leader Jihyo, 20, says: "We want to touch the hearts of people first with visuals and aesthetics. Secondly, through their ears."

Twice may be a K-pop act, but not all the members are South Koreans. The multinational make-up is a means to appeal to fans outside of South Korea. Momo, Mina and Sana are Japanese, Tzuyu is Taiwanese and the other five - Nayeon, Jeongyeon, Jihyo, Dahyun and Chaeyoung - are South Koreans.

The strategy seems to be working going by last Saturday's show.

When youngest member Tzuyu, 17, spoke in Mandarin, the crowd went wild at the rare chance to fully understand the words coming out of their K-idol's mouth.

She is also able to articulate herself in Korean, a foreign language which she picked up since moving to South Korea to undergo training at age 13. Speaking in Korean during the interview, she says: "It was really challenging because I didn't know any Korean when I moved from Taiwan to Korea. I learnt Korean through interaction with the other trainees."

Tzuyu's Taiwanese roots got her embroiled in a controversy after Chinese netizens slammed the teen for waving a Taiwanese flag on a South Korean television show in 2015.

No questions about that debacle were allowed in the tightly controlled 30-minute session, an unfortunate norm for K-pop interviews, where only approved pre-submitted questions can be asked.

Understandably, the sensitive topic is a no-go, but even harmless questions did not make the cut.

Questions on the qualities of their ideal guy and tips for fellow aspiring foreign K-pop stars were struck off the list. But the strict management was fine with their artists talking about dormitory life in Seoul.

Chaeyoung, 18, says: "The members get along well. Jeongyeon is in charge of cleaning. If we have free time, we like to watch movies together. We also order fried chicken for supper."

Infectious cute mode and sexy moves



The Star Theatre/Last Saturday

The K-pop idols performing here in recent months have been boybands with predominantly female fanbases.

For a change, last Saturday's K-pop concert was packed with testosterone-charged males, with only a smattering of women among the 5,000-strong crowd.

The act of the night was Twice, a multinational girl band which has dominated the music scene since debuting in 2015. The nine rookies, made up of five South Koreans, three Japanese and a Taiwanese, were raring to meet fans for the first time in Singapore.

Like their girl group predecessors, such as Girls' Generation, Twice's concert was a display of well-rehearsed dance moves and abundant declarations of affections for fans.

Leader Jihyo, 20, could not join in for intense dance sequences due to a knee injury. But kudos to her for taking part, even if it meant she was seated awkwardly onstage for a large part of the three-hour affair.

She still performed key dance moves with her hands, as if acting as a rah-rah cheerleader demonstrating moves for fans to follow.

It was not as though Twice's supporters needed any prompting. They knew the moves by heart and busted out the song's signature hand gestures, such as using the thumb and index fingers to make a crying face, during the chorus of viral pop hit TT.

The track, where the girls sing about yearning for love, is named after the crying emoticon used in South Korea as TT resembles streaming tears.

The singers occasionally veered into sexy territory during their dance covers of American divas Madonna's 4 Minutes and Beyonce's Yonce. They quickly switched back to cute mode - waving lollipop-shaped light sticks in their sailor-style school uniforms - when performing Japanese animation Sailor Moon's (1992-1997) theme song, Moonlight Densetsu (Moonlight Legend).

As part of the standard fan-pleasing package, the K-pop princesses also threw in the girlfriend experience in a pre-recorded video. Members took turns doing things such as playing a block-stacking game and presenting handmade chocolates to a date not seen on camera.

Even if this female reporter does not fall into Twice's target demographic, their fans' enthusiasm proved to be infectious. During the sing-along encore, I found myself doing the moves along to TT.

Gwendolyn Ng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2017, with the headline 'Touching the hearts of fans Twice over'. Print Edition | Subscribe