When Korean group TWICE released their single “Signal” in 2017, it was an undervalued bold move. Following their big hit “TT” (2016), and the bright “Knock Knock” (2017), “Signal” took a different approach. Its production is closer to minimalist, the vocals more subtle, and the chorus lacks the massive, striking power of TWICE’s usual singles.
They took a risk with “Signal”. In a way, “Alcohol Free”, the lead single of TWICE’s tenth extended play, Taste of Love (2021) can be compared to “Signal” in that it aims for an easy listening experience. (The most obvious resemblance is with their 2018 single “Dance the Night Away“, also a song with a summer theme.)
“Signal” and “Alcohol Free” can be compared in terms of strategy, but the songwriting in “Alcohol Free” is less captivating than it is in “Signal”. It has less allure than all of TWICE’s previous lead singles.
Taste of Love continues TWICE’s transition from K-pop little princesses to confident women pop stars. However, the best moments of the new phase of TWICE are not heard in Taste of Love, but rather in its predecessors, Eyes Wide Open (2020) and More & More (2020).
Taste of Love comprises six new songs; 5 lyrics are written by TWICE members. It’s an enjoyable dance-pop album with touches of disco and funk in “Baby Blue”, bossa nova and salsa in “Alcohol Free”. But it’s not the production that makes “Alcohol Free” less interesting as a TWICE track.
“Alcohol Free” may be the most simplistic composition TWICE has recorded. While this is not a bad thing per se, it doesn’t achieve TWICE’s strengths and signature musical traits. Few times, if any, had a TWICE melody used so little variation and left so much space between the song section’s lines. One waits, wondering if there’s more to come.
This is a different songwriting approach for TWICE: more linear, easier to memorize, less overwhelming to the ear than their usual fare. “Alcohol Free” deserves credit for bringing a different perspective to TWICE’s catalog. But when you get nine charismatic recording artists like TWICE on the studio, you might wonder if a different genre/rhythm wouldn’t have been a better choice to introduce this composition style.
Is “Alcohol Free” a bad song? No; it’s decently written, and it’s actually lovely. But it’s the type of song that could’ve been recorded by any, or at least many, other K-pop girl groups or Korean indie artists. This can be somehow praising (the K-indie scene is filled with prolific talent too), but it is also where the weakness of the track lies.
A steady mark of TWICE’s career and discography is that their tracks have that unique, hard-to-describe TWICE factor; songs like “TT” (2016), “Likey” (2017), and “Fancy” (2019). Even the nostalgic electropop “I Can’t Stop Me” (2020) was rightfully owned by the group. That it strayed the most from TWICE’s previous singles could go unnoticed.
Try as you may, it’s often hard to imagine a TWICE single that could suit another group unless you make changes in its production and engineering, which are a big part of the characteristic Twice sound. Also, most of TWICE’s repertoire is made of songs for which talent alone is not enough to carry them: it takes presence, spark, group chemistry, and charisma to pull it off. To sustain a discography like TWICE’s, a group has to have just the right mix of sweet and sexy, innocent and bold.
The magic of TWICE relies upon how their music and stage presence are tasty without overdoing the saucy “pepper”, if you will. Even when they exaggerate the “sugar”, the result is addictive rather than cloying. They inebriate viewers and listeners yet remain alcohol-free, metaphorically speaking and pun intended. Even when it was clear that TWICE were expanding their range, they never had to go out of their way to prove they’re more than just a bunch of cute, sweet girls. But this time, it seems like their unique flavor is watered down. For all these reasons, the titles Taste of Love and “Alcohol Free” read like wasted opportunities to summarize the best of Twice’s otherwise flavorful brand.
A glimpse of TWICE’s maturation is still present in the b-sides, though. That’s where Taste of Love‘s most fun can be found.
Jihyo and Naeyon’s vocals in the chorus of “First Time” elevate the sensual melodies (co-composed by Little Mix‘s Jade Thirlwall; TWICE’s Jihyo wrote the lyrics for the song as well). The other TWICE members show off their vocal ranges, varying from the first octave to falsetto. Elegant and assertive, “First Time” belongs among TWICE’s best, more mature b-sides, together with songs like “Up No More” (2020), and the stunning “Shadow” (2020).
The funky guitars and the disco instrumentals of “Baby Blue Love” show a more synergic side of TWICE’s musicality. “Scandal”, and “Conversation” (where Sana shows professionalism and confidence in her lyric writing skills) are good pop moments too. The last track, “SOS” recalls slower melodies of TWICE’s earlier days, such as in Twicecoaster: Lane 1 (2016).
Taste of Love is a good album, but it’s too “good” and not enough “wow” for its own good. TWICE can do better. They have the talent, the energy, the star factor, the access to good songwriters and producers — and lately, the members have taken more active roles in the creative process.
There’s a lot of room for growth. For example, we haven’t heard much (or not enough!) of the members’ low registers yet. It’s understandable that high notes fit the music TWICE has been making, but as they head toward a different sound, we might hear them singing in different registers (in “Conversation”, they prove they can do this). The thickness and depth of Jihyo’s voice can only get better as she matures; Jeongyeon’s timbre fits lower regions well too; Momo, too, might surprise people if she starts exploring more low-noted melodies.
The members are growing as lyricists. Dahyun wrote two lyrics herself in Taste of Love. Also, not all TWICE members have Korean as their first language, thus requiring more effort to write lyrics in Korean (and English too).
The work TWICE has put out so far is a wonderland for K-pop, bubblegum pop fans. For now, we can enjoy sonic diversity in “Cheer Up” (2016), “Tuk Tok” (2016), and the pop-punk of “Ponytail” (2016). Whether we look at TWICE’s past or future, there’s a lot to delight the listener.