A wobbly bridge in-between their career
There is an urban legend quite well-known among Kpop fans named the ‘seven years curse’, referring to how many groups in the past have either disbanded or gone downhill in terms of quality in their seventh year of activity.
2022 marked TWICE’s seventh year since their debut in 2015, and people were already worrying about what would happen to the girl group. Safe to say everyone can rest easy – the girls are not going anywhere, and they made that abundantly clear with the mini album following their contract renewal Between 1&2.
Did they Talk That Talk?
If Between 1&2 is a bridge between TWICE’s first and second stage as a group, the title track Talk That Talk is the perfect building block.
Sonically, the track fits the synth-wave/80s trend that has taken over K-pop since 2020 like a glove – it’s fun and upbeat, with its right dose of lavishing percussion and funky edges in all the right places. But thankfully, this isn’t ‘just another synth-wave K-pop song’ – as always, TWICE manage to incorporate their identity as a group into the sound, making this track as unique as it is mainstream.
The retro sound is not new in TWICE’s discography, as it is something they have previously tapped into in various b-sides and title tracks, such as I Can’t Stop Me and Scientists. But what makes Talk That Talk stand out from these other singles is its lack of a strikingly bombastic chorus – and I mean this as a compliment!
The song’s energy is high from beginning to end, but the seamless transitions between the verses make for a clean and smooth listening experience. It’s not too in-your-face and doesn’t take you aback either – that’s how it should be. This smoothness is mirrored in the members’ vocal delivery as well, as the way their voices swing from powerful to breezy adds to the energetic gracefulness of the track.
Talk That Talk is the ideal example of both the perfect TWICE title track, and the perfect K-pop title track – it’s fun, exciting, quirky, and charming. And most importantly, catchy as hell! But after all, that’s exactly what you would expect from the most Kpop group in Kpop right now.
The ups and downs of the b-sides
Unfortunately, the greatness of the title track is not a constant in the rest of the album – the b-sides waver quite a bit in terms of quality.
Queen of Hearts is part of the pop punk sound that has been made mainstream in both Kpop and Western music since last year, but instead of being a great example of how to do it right, it’s a good example of how to do it wrong.
This pop punk-influenced sound is pretty difficult to nail, as each song is always a small step away from being corny and contrived – and Queen of Hearts took a leap in that direction. From the cheesy lyrics to the overly manufactured boom-clap production, the track feels more like something you would expect from a low budget Disney Channel soundtrack than a comeback by an accoladed Kpop group.
Right after we have Basics, which is by far the second strongest track on the EP. With its flirty use of synths on the up-tempo groove, this song is a fun and sweet take on light 90s-influenced pop. It intertwines TWICE’s staple conversational rap verses with their rather floaty vocals, delivering a track that is as lovely as it is catchy (a lot!).
Next up on the tracklist is Trouble, an enthusiastic dance pop song reminiscent of early 2010s Kpop, with its punchy beat and the piano melody accompanying various moments. As said, the production feels slightly dated and been-there-done-that, but in a way that fits the overall sound of this album. Regretfully, the rap verse feels slightly out of the blue compared to the rest and hinders the otherwise seamless flow, but thankfully it’s only a short part and doesn’t cling to the ear.
These rather nostalgic production choices continue in the fifth track Brave, another synth-wave pop moment with an instrumental/acoustic background. The quirky and carefree b-side fits in perfectly in the context of TWICE’s discography, as fun music with a soft side is their bread and butter.
Sixth song on the EP is Gone, which – albeit being fun – can be a bit of a puzzling track. The production is interesting and detailed, and its approach feels almost cinematic and grand, with the opening that builds up in energy. However, the song ends up feeling stagnant when you get to the thick of it. Its energy and potential are left lingering in the air, as the track doesn’t really build off its climax in the chorus. It is not a lacklustre song by any means, but it’s not something one is likely to go back to.
The album closer When We Were Kids is a pop ballad with synths, a standard final song for any Kpop record. The track itself is nice and sweet, but this ‘Sisterhood of The Travelling Pants’ kind of anthem is something we have heard from the genre at least two… no, five… wait, a billion times. And TWICE are for sure big perpetrators of this particular style…
Perhaps, TWICE fans would appreciate this song much more given their attachment to the group, given that this song has more sentimental value than musical substance. Nonetheless, from a strictly objective point of view, it’s quite outdated and derivative.
Has the curse been lifted?
All in all, Between 1&2 is not their most cohesive and well-crafted releases, but it is still solid and very representative of TWICE’s identity. All the tracks stick to the group’s signature sound and don’t break from the formula that denotes their discography, while still maintaining that freshness and enthusiasm you might discover in newer artists.
As I said, this album is not their most cohesive one yet, since going from song to song can sometimes feel a bit messy. However, I am tempted to blame the messiness on the track-list order, as a less convoluted one might have rendered the transitions more seamless and the whole EP seem more easily digestible. Maybe this mini is simply meant to be listened to on shuffle, as not enough effort seems to have been put in the track-list to make me think otherwise.
The album keeps in tune with the group’s sound though, that has carried on with them since 2015, but does so without appearing too dated and tired, as it further experiments with their dabbling in the retro trend.
I think it’s fitting to refer to Between 1&2 as the bridge between TWICE’s first and second stages in their career. It draws back to the group’s previous discography enough to remind us of what has been, but it adds some new stylistic details here and there, enough to spark interest for their future releases.
It’s not their best mini album ever and likely won’t leave an indelible mark on Kpop, but it tells its story enough to be understood. Or to put it in bridge terms – it might not be the sturdiest of bridges but it will get you to the other side.