The first thing you need to know about the K-pop girl group Twice is that there are nine of them. There’s Jihyo, the leader; Nayeon and Dahyun; Momo, Sana, and Mina; and Jeongyeon, Chaeyoung, and Tzuyu.
“I don’t have to make friends outside this group!” Nayeon, who’s known as the face of the group and is one of its more outgoing members, tells me through a translator. “I’m not the most talkative person in the world,” Mina, the main dancer, adds. “When I am lost for words, I have eight other friends who will talk for me. They know what I want to say.” Plus, Chaeyoung, the main rapper, says, “I always have someone to eat with.” (In K-pop hierarchy, main means the top singer, rapper, or dancer, while lead denotes the performer just below.)
When we meet over Zoom, all nine members are squeezed into a single camera frame, arrayed in two rows—five in the back, four in the front—as if posed for a class picture. The sun has long since set where I’m sitting in New York, but on the other side of the globe, they’re just a few hours into a packed day promoting their new EP, Between 1&2. Like last year’s Formula of Love: O+T=<3, the group’s previous release, the EP title is a nod to their fandom, which calls itself Once. (That is: “1” means “Once”; “2” means “Twice.”) The songs describe how their relationship with their fans has evolved, Dahyun explains—and visually, the project’s aughts-influenced videos and art are also packed with numbers, colors, and codes for ardent listeners to puzzle out.
Twice is now the best-selling K-pop girl group ever, but their success wasn’t always so assured. They debuted in 2015, emerging out of the reality competition series Sixteen under the K-pop management company JYP Entertainment. Their first EP, The Story Begins, came out at the end of that year and received only middling attention; the following year, they had their first domestic hit in “Cheer Up,” a single from their second EP, Page Two. But it’s only over the past couple of years that their success has crystallized into international superstardom. They received a VMA nomination last year (for “Alcohol Free”), and another one this year (for “The Feels”). And in May, they became the first K-pop girl group to play an American stadium show, performing two sold-out nights at the Banc of California arena in Los Angeles. Over that time, their sound has evolved from bright, bubblegum pop into something a little more mature and complex—and their look has transformed alongside it, according to Won Jung Yo, a makeup artist at the Seoul salon Bit & Boot, where K-pop stars (including members of Exo and BTS as well as Twice) are frequent patrons. The group’s music and fashion may have started out as cute and playful, but these days, they’re game to experiment.
Still, they aren’t taking success for granted. They’d played a string of sold-out shows in the lead-up to their first stadium date, but Sana says she still worried whether their fans would fill the 23,500-capacity venue. By the second night, buoyed by the high of their previous performance, they relaxed into the show. Afterward, they ordered burgers from In-N-Out and went on TikTok Live to debrief. (At one point, Dahyun recalled picking a bug off of Jeongyeon’s forehead.)
“When we went to the U.S. for our tour, that was the first time in a really, really long time that we saw our fans face-to-face and heard their cheers with our own ears,” Mina says. “Just seeing them gave us so much energy and really proved why we are here.”
As we speak, I notice that the group members have an almost instinctive tendency to incorporate references to Once, their fans, in their responses to each question I pose. When I ask how their goals for the group have evolved over the past seven years, Chaeyoung describes observing their listeners connect Twice songs to important moments in their own personal lives. At first, it seems like fan service, but eventually, I realize this connection with their audience appears to be a genuine part of the group’s character. It occurs to me that the pandemic—with its isolation and lack of live music—may have been especially arduous for a band whose members thrive on fan energy. “When we do music shows without our fans in front of us, it doesn’t really cheer us,” Jeongyeon, a lead vocalist, says. “Their presence is very important to us,” Sana adds.
Seemingly just as foundational are their relationships within the group. After all, there are nine of them—and according to Nayeon, their ability to alchemize their diverse perspectives into a group identity is one of Twice’s big strengths. “We really learn how to co-live with each other and how to understand each other and how to care for each other,” she says. In 2019, Mina took a hiatus from the group due to anxieties around performing, according to a statement their management released at the time. (At the time, one music journalist remarked that it was refreshing for a K-pop group to be so frank about mental health challenges.) The following year, Jeongyeon took the first of two breaks from the group to manage her anxiety, according to a statement. And although the members decline to talk about specifics, Chaeyoung explains that they help each other manage stresses and anxieties more generally. “We usually go through the same thing at the same time,” she says. “We find each other to be the most empathetic when something happens, so we can relate to each other.”
They are sensitive to their professional duties toward each other as well. Earlier this year, Nayeon became the first member of Twice to release a solo album. There are a lot of feelings that might conjure: excitement, nervousness, trepidation, anticipation. But she says her prevailing feeling was one of responsibility. Sure, she’s making her solo debut—but she’s also one-ninth of Twice. “Over the last seven years, we’ve seen each other almost every day. Even family members don’t do that,” Nayeon says. They’ve shared countless experiences; for a while, they even lived together. “It’s hard to describe in words how close we feel and how close we are in our hearts.”