I cannot get over my shock at the fact that bubblegum K-pop megagroup TWICE just put out a title track lampooning the superficial social media culture its success thrives on, but Korea’s sweethearts really did that. What a welcome change of pace “Likey” was, both in regards to the current K-pop music scene (I mean, in what world will TWICE ever come out with a tropical house title? That’s not a world I want to live in) and with respect to K-pop’s habitually innocuous lyrics. You don’t often see social satire like this in K-pop, and even more rarely as a product of the Big 3, but JYP just gave the girls one of the most ironic songs of the year. And the appeal of “Likey” doesn’t end with its lyrics—it’s genuinely a good song, undoubtedly my favorite of TWICE’s title tracks up to now. The rest of the album, “twicetagram,” is also among TWICE’s best work, operating comfortably within TWICE’s established crowd-pleasing cutesphere while making intriguing stylistic and compositional choices of a variety unseen in earlier releases.
Musically, “Likey” came together for me by virtue of its full composition (that ash-sweet chord progression gets me, I’ll admit) and the performances of the girls, whose talents were finally put on display for all to see rather than obscured behind the curtain of cutesy sing-talking that TWICE’s past title tracks had been drawing increasingly tighter. I’m not saying “Likey” is perfect, of course. I would have liked to see the song’s tempo parallel the color more closely—synth-pop instrumentals like the one in this chorus usually carry more emotional weight when slowed down just a bit (take, for example, Red Velvet’s “You Better Know,” one of the best girl group songs of the year). And I can’t pretend to love the chorus of children occasionally shouting “Heyyy!” in the background or the echoing, PRISTIN-esque “dugeun-dugeun-dugeun!” in the hook. But I was very pleased to hear plenty of tangible vocals and substantial rap in this song, and Sana’s repeated “Me likey, likey, likey” won me over by committing to a note rather than abandoning melody in favor of talking.
But let’s talk about the nerve TWICE had to go after millenial selca culture in a title song. “BB cream, lipstick, pose for the camera: aren’t I pretty?” sings Momo, and Tzuyu instructs smugly, “When you see this, smile and press hard on that cute red heart.” The “cute red heart” alludes to the “like” buttons on social media platforms Twitter and Instagram, where our generation puts up selfies and then waits with bated breath for the likes to pour in. It may be that I’m reading too far into this, but it sounds to me like TWICE is calling out social media for presenting a fake version of ourselves that hides our real lives. Leader Jihyo confesses, “Inside the small screen, I want to be the prettiest, yet I still hide my feelings deep inside.” In this context, the repetition of “fluttering heart” and “pit-a-pat heart” in the chorus could be a reference to the rush of endorphins triggered by social media approval. Tzuyu and Nayeon certainly describe this feeling in the lines, “Makes my heart beat every day. That’s something you must never know, and I go on pretending.” What is Nayeon “pretending”? To me, it sounds like she’s pretending to be prettier, happier, or more perfect than she feels. This reflects the reality of millions of young people on social media around the world as well as South Korean idol culture, where celebrities are expected to look flawless at all hours of the day.
The chorus softens the critique a little, playfully complaining that the word “like” is not enough to express all of one’s emotions. In the context of the concept, this addresses the way social media restricts viewers’ feelings to one single reaction, “like,” so that “even if [we] can’t sleep, even if [we] run late, [we] like it anyway.” But casual Korean listeners may only pick up on this chorus, which may as well describe a crush. Chaeyoung and Dahyun’s rap expands on this crush sideplot, which I guess is at this point obligatory. Still, the concept reaches outside of just the lyrics. The first time I saw the music video, I thought, “Can you imagine how much money JYP just saved by using footage filmed by the girls for three-quarters of this video?” But when I read the translation of the lyrics, I understood that the selfcam is another clever layer of irony: the girls have filmed themselves and then uploaded the result to social media platform YouTube, whose “like” and “dislike” buttons allow us viewers to pass judgment on them in a single easy click. In this way, we’re all implicated in the satire that TWICE has constructed in “Likey.”
“twicetagram,” whose name is a pun on the word “Instagram,” includes a number of interesting tracks that follow “Likey.” This has everything to do with the fact that “twicetagram” is TWICE’s first full album. Its length allows room for more unique tracks which would likely be cut out of an EP in favor of generic, safe songs like “Turtle” and “Love Line.” Some of the album’s highlights include the jazz-kissed “Wow”; the 80’s-sounding “Rollin’,”; and last but never least, “You in My Heart,” whose unique composition combines with a GFRIEND-reminiscent rock sound to yield my personal favorite track on the album. I’ll be honest, I had been a little disenchanted with TWICE for a while before this comeback, but “twicetagram” bumped me right back into the girls’ lane. The first album is energetic and entertaining, and I hope the Korean public acknowledges it as some of the group’s best music to date.
LIKEY: KAYBOP OR KAYFLOP? Boppy!
Take a look at TWICE’s “Likey” MV below: