“Candy Pop” / “Brand New Girl” by Twice (2018)
“Please let me meet Twice.” That anonymous wish stuck out to me from the hundreds of other hopes and dreams written on flower-petal stickers pasted on a display fixture at a suburban mall in Japan. Other children wanted toys, and one looked to join idol group Nogizaka46. But the K-pop girl group had ultimately won the hearts of many Japanese tweens, whose scribbles of “Twice daisuki” (“I love Twice”) could be read all over the writing table.
Twice already greeted me on the first night of the week I arrived in Japan to visit my family. The girls suddenly came on a TV commercial for Y! Mobile to shill cell phone contracts by singing a catchy jingle to the tune of YMCA. Later that week, I caught them in a new ad showing off Nike Air Maxes for footwear retain chain ABC-Mart — a spectacle that doubled as a premiere of their then-new single “Wake Me Up!” Their faces graced every other item I saw that week from special-edition magazines to pins sold at novelty shops.
I got hooked on Twice in earnest after the K-pop group and their TT pose from their single “TT” went viral in Japan in 2016. Since then, they became very visible in the country from the Oricon charts to performances on TV shows, but it was an entirely different experience to be exposed firsthand to Twice’s Japanese fan base.
While I knew Twice were massively popular, I didn’t know who exactly would be their fans. The promotion for the group’s second single in Japan, “Candy Pop,” were geared towards young adults. A tie-up pop-up cafe featured Instagram-friendly cake, parfaits and a “rainbow-crusted pizza” to attract high-school and college students. Yet the music video spotlighted a much younger demographic who would need a chaperone for such an event.
The “Candy Pop” video featured the idols becoming an animated version of themselves to cheer up a tween fan, and the music, too, delivered a sweet message, wrapped in a very on-the-nose candy metaphor, palatable for a listener much younger than me. That very gap in perspective in perspective turned me off at first. The single flattened the group’s personality while ignoring what made their Korean singles so great. Twice literally became a generalized version of themselves guaranteed for even the kids to love.
But upon seeing those wishes to meet Twice, I really eased up on my opinions on “Candy Pop” as well as their overall approach to engage with the Japanese audience. It’s striking a chord with the people, the pre-teens, who they’ve set out to communicate with, and the charts reflect that success too. USEN polled elementary-school students about their favorite artists in 2018, and Twice placed fifth out of the top 20. Slotted above them were the usual suspects of J-pop: Nogizaka46, Keyakizaka46, Hey Say! Jump and Arashi. Yet Twice impressively beat a majority of other Johnny’s groups, such as Kis-My-Ft2 and KanJani8, as well as AKB48 and Exile’s Sandaime — who all have a stronghold in media exposure.
Those kids are on my mind first whenever Twice drop a single in Japan, and I can only imagine what it might mean for them to hear a song like “Brand New Girl.” The equally bubbly B-side of “Candy Pop” finds the idols trying to fill a role of a big-sister figure, and they attempt to have a heart to heart by sharing an experience with loneliness from a long-distance friendship. “A bell rings in a new morning/ a little sad feeling/ I hide it and my everyday smiling,” they start the song, and they hold on tightly to precious photos saved on their Smartphone.
Twice admit they get lonely too. These idols confess they also sometimes need to take a deep breath before tackling the big, bad world. They find comfort through the same means as any ordinary person: storing pictures of better times and revisiting them when times get dark. A sweet appearance masks a darker reality like the group’s Korean singles, which hide anxieties of love and romance underneath bubbly beats, and “Brand New Girl” shares a more accessible topic that the group’s intended audience can relate with.