That’s right, friends. I did it. Beat the Ticketmaster bots, the ravenous fansite masters, and probably even my own mother to a floor ticket at TWICELIGHTS in Newark. Even had a stiff drink to commemorate the occasion. Given all that and my obvious excitement (as evidenced by my willingness to pay an extravagant price), I must have been ready for a show, right?
Well, not really. See, I’ve been down this road before.
TWICE is TWICE for a reason, right? They have the stage presence, the ability to charm anyone’s pants off, and a seemingly endless supply of energy. And above all that, when it comes to tours, they have production value.
But speaking from the point of view of someone who exclusively listens to girl groups, I’ve been played by high expectations for US tours on a couple occasions. Just this past year I’ve seen Red Velvet and Sunmi. Brilliant performers, no doubt, but they arrived with little more than a spotlight and a few backup dancers. Male idols have always seemed to be treated somewhat better in this regard, but whenever the women touch down in North America, I’ve always been forced to feel lucky just to have seen them in the flesh.
I’ve seen videos of South Korean concerts. They are incredible spectacles more often than not, from background graphics to costumes to the age-old confetti that has to be present (if only to scare the crap out of at least one member).
I watched TWICELAND ZONE 2: Fantasy Park. In theaters. They descended from the ceiling at the beginning, okay. On individual swings. Looking like a bunch of floral goddesses.
In contrast, when I saw Red Velvet, they used nothing more than the background screen for aesthetics. We watched an amusement park animation on a loop for the majority of the performances. A confetti cannon went off once. There was no interpreter for the speaking portions, so the members often struggled to express themselves and reverted to Korean when they reached a roadblock. (I recognize that Wendy speaks English, but are they paying her to play translator too?) There were some backup dancers, I guess. The setlist nearly matched that of the Asian leg of their tour, but one leapt to the next with little fanfare.
And they wore outfits that will be burned into my retinas for the rest of time.
Bless their hearts, they tried their hardest. However, the odds were stacked against them. They had a gig in Prudential Hall in Newark, a classic proscenium venue with all the history and beauty a place could muster. Yeri marveled that she felt as if she was in an opera house. But what they brought to the place wasn’t up to snuff.
Sunmi is perhaps a little bit different, as a soloist (and most importantly, as someone who didn’t demand nearly as much cash out of me). She played Town Hall right in the middle of Manhattan and gave a show for all of us having our hot girl summers.
And it worked a little better, at least, because it was as if she was amongst friends. She wasn’t looking to impress anyone. All she brought was a background screen and some dancers and you better damn well have liked it, okay. She spoke decent enough English to relay what she needed to get across. The bare bones of it all was perhaps a little more forgivable. Also, her costumes were expensive; she said so herself. That certainly helped.
With Sunmi, my issue was less what was shown and more about what I know she could have shown. She’s an immensely successful performer with all the charisma anyone could ever ask for. But the rest of the show didn’t meet her halfway.
The point is, I’ve been burned, pals. I wasn’t going into TWICELIGHTS like a fool, expecting anything like their Asian leg of the tour. My expectations might as well have been below sea level.
I listened to the Canadians and Puerto Ricans directly behind me chatter about how this was one of the best days of their lives. I thought to myself, oh, they must not know what they’re in for. Poor babies. They’ve come all this way for a shadow of what this tour could be.
But oh, did I have everything wrong. TWICE surpassed my expectations, and they did so brilliantly. The girls did not come to play, friends. (Particularly Chaeyoung. I was fully convinced she was going to cut me.)
TWICE gave us what no female act in recent memory has dared: some effort. It’s impossible to expect that any group or soloist would be able to replicate a performance in South Korea to the T. I know that. But TWICE gave us everything that they could, all things considered.
In very few instances are you going to get one group that’s willing to perform for over two and a half hours. No opener, nothing. Just them, and the stage, and a bunch of fans waiting for the time of their lives. Red Velvet lasted a bit short of two, with an especially long encore that consisted of very little singing. Sunmi gave us an hour and a half, give or take.
But TWICE went over the spectrum of their concepts and back again, leaving no stone unturned. They even performed my precious “Touchdown”, okay? I never thought I’d live to see that day. And it was two songs in. I nearly passed out.
I thought we’d be lucky to get a truncated version of the setlist with their greatest hits, a couple costume changes, maybe some special graphic effects. They gave us all 25 setlist numbers, never once feeling pressed for time. Each set came with its own collection of costumes. The graphics rivaled that of what I’d seen from the recording of their last tour.
And, most blessedly, they had an interpreter. Who translated immediately. We stan an underappreciated icon.
JYP has plenty of faults, as all companies do, but after the Wonder Girls Fiasco We Shall Not Speak Of, perhaps they learned a thing or two about international concerts. International fans are just as familiar with a group as the ones back home; they know what their faves can deliver. As such, they are also keenly aware of when they fall short.
TWICE played to their strengths, and they did so beautifully. They had moments both electrifying and tender. Jihyo cried during “After Moon” as the venue lit up with Mina’s mint green. She later admitted that she missed her. And just like that, she steeled herself up for everything to come after. The audience had come for a show; she was going to give them one.
Some highlights, besides “Touchdown” (a whole bop, fight me): the unexpected inclusion of “Sunset”, another underappreciated slapper, even if there was no choreo to accompany it; “Yes or Yes”, because problematic lyrics aside, the choreo is A1; “Like Ooh-Ahh” being given the respect it deserves. There were the usual VCR interludes during costume changes, but they came with decent payoffs; when the group was there to be cute, they delivered, and when they were meant to be sexy, they Did What They Had To Do.
Chaeyoung was an unexpected delight. She’s one of my favorites, but I’ve always considered her to be one of the more subdued members on stage. In Newark, she left nothing up to question. Her eyes were sharp, her poise was unmistakable, and never once did she relax when she assumed no one was looking at her. Of everyone, Chaeyoung was the most focused on bringing her all.
And there were some disappointments, to be sure.
The subunit performances were a little out of whack and miscast. Momo and Jihyo being paired for a rather intense Taemin dance cover, for instance, seemed to be only a disservice to Jihyo. Dahyun didn’t fit the sultrier nuances of “Dance for You”, though Sana and Tzuyu were spot on. There was nothing really wrong with “Born This Way”, but I gotta be honest and say I hate that song. I missed the days of “Partition” and “Greedy”, but what can ya do.
The VCR that played prior to the encore was a game of sorts, and far too cringy for my taste. It begged for cheers, for dance covers, for hand hearts as the group squeaked out when each “mission” was completed. Time and time again, JYP refuses to recognize that everyone in TWICE is now a grown woman; the game suited no one over the age of eight.
Each member had their strengths and weaknesses, and some were obviously more self-conscious than others. Given the circumstances surrounding Mina’s absence, it’s impossible to say how affected each of the girls were by outside factors. Though some members lacked confidence, that isn’t to say they didn’t give the concert their best college try. Some days, inevitably, will be better than others.
All things considered, though, the pros far outweighed the cons. I left the venue on a high, so thrilled to have finally experienced even a fragment of what Korean fans do regularly. I listened to the concert setlist on a loop for days after, trying to bottle that magic again.
Chaeyoung remarked that the concert was meant to show TWICE’s lights: all their colors of the rainbow. And they did. Above all, TWICELIGHTS in Newark proved not only what talents female idols are, but how far they can go if no one holds them back.