K-Pop Queens TWICE on Breaking Through in the U.S. — And Going Even Bigger in 2023
With its signature bright pop sound and devoted global fan base, Billboard's 2023 Women in Music Breakthrough act is making an impact on the charts and, soon, stadiums.
It’s 9:15 a.m. in Seoul, and most of the nine members of TWICE have just woken up. They’re barefaced, dressed casually and cozily in warm knits and sweatshirts; Chaeyoung still wears her parka hood, her blonde hair peeking out of the bottom. Nayeon, seated next to her, cleans her glasses with her shirt sleeve. Tzuyu, however, is alert and attentive. When I ask (through a translator) who’s the early riser of the group, everyone points to her.
This morning, the women of TWICE look more like students who’ve arrived at an early-morning class than the wildly popular K-pop girl group they are. But for their globe-spanning cohort of fans (known as ONCE), this is a familiar sight. The group’s long-running YouTube reality and vlog show, TWICE TV, along with other online vlog content, have gone behind the scenes with the act since its 2015 debut. Over the past seven-plus years, fans have followed along as Nayeon, Jeongyeon, Momo, Sana, Jihyo, Mina, Dahyun, Chaeyoung and Tzuyu (who range in age from 23 to 27) have recorded music; toured across South Korea and Asia; attended award ceremonies; debuted their first-ever English-language single, “The Feels”; and, last year, played and sold out U.S. arenas, a still-rare feat for K-pop artists.
“That was our first time having a concert of that scale, so it was really shocking for us to see so many fans in the U.S.,” says Jihyo, recalling TWICE’s two nights in May 2022 at Los Angeles’ Banc of California Stadium.
“At that time in Korea, we couldn’t perform in the same way as in the U.S.,” adds Chaeyoung, referring to South Korea’s stringent COVID-19 restrictions. “So it was really refreshing to see the fans face to face in the U.S.”
Only a few of TWICE’s members speak English, but their fans’ raging devotion has long dispelled any questions about the group’s ability to successfully cross over. TWICE crafted a strong foundational identity early on with technicolor, rush-inducing pop exemplified by hits like 2018’s “What Is Love?” and 2019’s “Fancy.” More recently, it has expanded its sonic palette. Last year, “The Feels,” a groovy, disco-inflected song about a budding crush, became the group’s first entry on the Billboard Hot 100 (peaking at No. 83). Its subsequent album, Formula of Love: O+T = <3, helped TWICE top the Billboard Artist 100 for the first time.
In late January, TWICE released its second English-language single, “Moonlight Sunrise” — a track with thumping Atlanta bass rhythms and more sensual lyrics that seems further proof of the group’s intention to cement its status in the West (in the U.S., TWICE’s music is released and distributed through a partnership between JYP Entertainment and Imperial/Republic). “I think it’s the songs of ours that carry TWICE’s color rather than the language in which the song is sung,” Jihyo says. “I don’t think the language is that relevant in carrying out TWICE’s [identity].”
“When the composers make songs for us, they already know each of our characteristics and strengths,” adds Chaeyoung, referring to regular collaborators like production-songwriting duo Black Eyed Pilseung. “They really express our personalities well, so I think that really establishes our style. That’s why it carries over different languages.”
For this year’s Billboard Women in Music Breakthrough honorees, this path feels a bit like destiny. Growing up, Chaeyoung says she looked up to the Wonder Girls, the first major K-pop girl group to try to cross over into the U.S. market: “They were the inspiration behind how I developed and became a singer.” JYP — one of the original “big three” entertainment companies of the K-pop industry, which has produced acts like miss A, 2PM and Stray Kids — also happens to have been home to the group. After a lukewarm reception and lineup changes prevented them from gaining meaningful traction in the United States, Wonder Girls ultimately disbanded in 2017. But the group’s impact — and the lessons it learned — still directly influenced TWICE’s members.
It’s uncommon for K-pop groups to last longer than seven years, even more so for one to still be as firmly united as TWICE. And the group is still evolving, finding new ways to be even more open with its fans. In 2022, it created individual Instagram accounts for the first time to share more personal moments — learning new hobbies like ceramics, goofing off and being normal 20-somethings eating street food on nights off. “We wanted to show ourselves through Instagram more freely, for ourselves,” says Nayeon.
It’s ultimately that relationship with its fans that is TWICE’s “driving force,” Dahyun says. “They are the reason for our existence as artists, and this year, thankfully, we have a lot of chances to meet our fans globally and domestically” — including nine U.S. dates, four of which are stadiums. “We are really looking forward to that.”
Those opportunities will arrive alongside the group’s next mini-album, Ready To Be, which was announced mere hours before our interview — a project that, Nayeon says, signifies its ambition to “grow up even more, further, as artists.” And along with that comes an even bigger dream: “My personal goal going forward,” Chaeyoung says, “is to top the Billboard [Hot 100].”
This story originally appeared in the Feb. 25, 2023, issue of Billboard.