Entertainment

New Year, New TWICE

The global pop phenoms talk “Moonlight Sunrise” and conquering another year.

by Crystal Bell

Seven is often called the number of completion. In numerology, the lucky digit signifies a deep, inner wisdom, a state of totality that's intuitive and mystical. For TWICE, the number represents both an ending and a beginning. "It's been seven years since our debut," Dahyun tells NYLON over Zoom. She holds up seven fingers for emphasis with a characteristic grin, while Chaeyoung makes a seven with her thumb and index finger just a few feet away.

In the K-pop industry, time passes in seven-year intervals, or roughly the standard length of an artist's contract. At 7 p.m. on the seventh day of the seventh month of 2022, just as the sun started to set over Seoul, the nine members of Korea's highest-selling girl group renewed their contracts with their label JYP Entertainment. The timing was pure coincidence, Dahyun says. Or maybe it was fate; as day stretched into night over the city skyline, TWICE closed one chapter and began another. So, she adds, “Seven is a very meaningful number for us.”

It's early December, and TWICE is gathered in a stark white studio to talk about their forthcoming single, “Moonlight Sunrise,” a pre-release track from their new album due out in March. It's a little before noon, and they're dressed in comfortable off-duty attire — cozy sweaters, oversized sweatshirts, and relaxed smiles — looking more like regular 20-somethings than global pop phenoms who've sold 15 million albums to date. Jeongyeon's dark fringe is still wrapped tightly around a hair curler as she takes her seat. This is the TWICE their fans know best: casually amiable and at ease.

"We spend so much time together these days, so I really feel like we're all middle school students with the way we hang out," Nayeon says. She's the oldest, often taking the lead in interviews like this one. You can tell TWICE have spent years together by the way they can communicate without saying a single word. One look from Jihyo, the leader, can convey an entire conversation. When asked why they wanted to kick off the new year with “Moonlight Sunrise,” Nayeon points to Jihyo, who then points back to her, silently asking her to answer. With a laugh, Nayeon says it's a song that best expresses the group's “sophistication and elegance,” noting that it can have a different effect depending on who's listening.

Nayeon
Jeongyeon
Momo
Sana

There's not much they can say about it yet. At the time of this chat, the project hasn't even been announced. But here's what they can disclose: “Moonlight Sunrise” is sung entirely in English, capitalizing off the success of 2021's “The Feels,” which earned them their first entry on the Billboard Hot 100. (The bright, bubblegum bop bowed at No. 83.) With “Moonlight Sunrise,” TWICE aims to “reach an even more global audience,” says Chaeyoung. A mix of Miami bass and shimmery R&B, the track goes for a cooler, sleeker sound, evoking the maturity of the group's more recent work. No longer lost in the breezy love-drunkenness of songs like “Alcohol-Free,” TWICE now implores you to “come take a shot of me” under the moonlight.

Chaeyoung calls it mysterious and enticing; Nayeon finds it alluring. “When I listen to it, I feel like it's a sexy song,” she says.

TWICE knows how to make sexy music. Listen to the flirtatious B-side “Basics” off their latest EP, Between 1&2, or “Hell in Heaven,” a slinky cut off 2020's fantastic Eyes Wide Open. But many people still see them as the cutesy nonet whose string of quirky, confectionary singles from 2016 to 2018 defined an entire generation of K-pop. Catchy, saccharine songs like “TT” and “Likey” catapulted TWICE to the top of the charts in South Korea, while their energetic sound and playful demeanor charmed fans, called Once, around the world from Osaka to Los Angeles. Their 2019 hit “Fancy” and its glittering follow-up “Feel Special” signaled a sonic shift toward more refined soundscapes. And the electrifying nu disco of 2020’s “I Can't Stop Me” and deep bass on 2021’s “Scientist” show how they continue to play with genre and exercise more control over their music. “With every album, our goal is to be more involved creatively,” Nayeon says.

“We really act young when we are by ourselves,” Sana says. “We are very mischievous with each other, and we play around a lot. So we still feel really young.” But they’re also ahead of their peers in many ways. Growing up in the industry accelerated their own sense of maturity and purpose. “Since we started really young as a group, we learned to consider other people even more,” she adds. “So we actually feel more mature than our peers in terms of how to coexist as a group.”

“If we were to define ourselves at this point [in our careers],” Nayeon adds, “I think we are people who can pave our own way.”

“We're going worldwide.”

The path TWICE has built is less of a dirt road and more of a superhighway. They've spent the last seven years laying the concrete; now they're ready to race forward, not just as one cohesive unit but also as individual artists. In 2022, Nayeon became the first to make her solo debut. The album was pointedly called Im Nayeon — a playful double entendre that's both her birth name and a wink to the phrase “I’m Nayeon.” Over the course of seven buoyant tracks, she reintroduced herself and reignited her own creative flame. “I really found out that I love my job,” Nayeon says. “I love what I do. And I learned to appreciate the existence of my members.”

This year, Nayeon says, she's hoping to be a little less busy, though she knows it's unlikely. “[2023] will be really busy, career-wise,” she laughs. “[In 2022], we were so busy that when we had downtime I didn't really do anything but rest. I'd like to try more physical activities in the new year as a way to unwind.”

Meanwhile, Jihyo is ready to work. Despite telling Cosmopolitan last summer that she would like to have more “me-time,” the charismatic leader says, “I rested enough these days, so now I want to work.” Right now, she's studying English to better communicate with her fans across the globe. “My personal goal is to speak better English,” she says shyly.

Sana wants to step out of her comfort zone and “take on new challenges” in 2023. “I want to learn how to ski and snowboard this winter,” she says, in addition to traveling more and learning about more cultures. Sitting in front of her, Momo adds, “I would also like to visit a country that I've never been to next year and experience that culture.”

Jihyo
Mina
Dahyun
Chaeyoung
Tzuyu

Traveling as a means to see more of their international fans is a priority for all of the members this year. Last May, TWICE became the first K-pop girl group to hold a stadium concert in the U.S. when they announced two shows at the Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles. Who knows what 2023 holds?

“Individually and as TWICE, I would like to perform in more countries,” soft-spoken dancer Mina says. “I'm the kind of person who gets really nervous before I go on stage. But as soon as I get on stage and see the faces of our members and Once, the nervousness goes away, and before I know it I'm really enjoying myself.” Fellow dancer Momo calls the stage the place “where I feel the kind of happiness that I cannot find anywhere else.”

Youngest member Tzuyu's only wish is to spend “a year without any regrets.” “I want to play a lot and hang out with friends,” she says. As for Jeongyeon, she's looking to implement more structure into her daily schedule. “Next year, I would like to set my own rules for my life,” she says. “And I would like to have a more routine lifestyle.” Her immediate goal is to never skip breakfast and get her workout done in the morning. She also wants to run more, though admits that's a long-term plan. Beside her, mood-maker Dahyun details her own regimen: “I never forget my supplements, and I never forget to drink a lot of water and eat meals at the right time, and also sleep is very important.”

“First and foremost, the most important thing is health,” Dahyun adds in earnest. “I really wish good health for me and for my members and for our fans this year.”

Chaeyoung already has a head start on her 2023 goal: mastering a new instrument. “At the beginning of [2022], I set my mind to learning how to play [acoustic] guitar, and I stopped after a little while. So this year, I'll try again,” she says. After picking the guitar back up, will she also pick up her pen to write more songs? She laughs. “I love [songwriting], but it's not easy. But if an opportunity finds me, I am more than happy to do so.”

A few weeks after this interview, the initial teaser image for TWICE's new era dropped. In it, there isn't a cloud in sight — just baby blue skies and what appears to be a rocket in the distance, shooting up into the atmosphere. “Our youth,” the poster reads. Their future seems as limitless as this sky, forever expanding across time and space. They're not looking ahead; they're looking up, past the boundary between Earth and the cosmos and into the stars.

From there, they have a perfect view of what Chaeyoung confidently describes as the next phase of their careers: “We're going worldwide.”

TWICE’s “Moonlight Sunrise” is out now.

Photos courtesy of JYP Entertainment.