One of the most anticipated comebacks of this fall, Twice returned this week with their eighth EP and title track, “Feel Special”. It follows their spring release, “Fancy You”, as well as a number of recent headlines involving the group. While they’ve suffered some setbacks, Twice have come back stronger than ever, making a musical and conceptual breakthrough that solidifies their place as one of the top girl groups.

In the four years that they’ve been together, Twice have maintained a remarkably strong track record of title tracks. From “Ooh-Ah” to “Fancy”, they’ve pumped out iconic chorus after iconic chorus, delivering a distinctive yet quintessentially K-pop brand of sugary, feel-good pop, rarely riding trends and yet somehow contemporary. With “Feel Special”, they’ve done it again – building on the dance music and electropop influences established with “Fancy”, they’ve combined it with their signature sweet melodies to create a pop banger that out-bops many of this year’s releases.

While the song is upbeat, it also has an emotional core that gives it more depth and maturity than any other Twice title track. Musically and lyrically, there is a sentimental element that makes the melodies melancholy and the story compelling, as it speaks candidly about Twice’s struggles and the comfort they find in one another:

You make me feel special
No matter how the world brings me down
Even when hurtful words stab me
I smile again cuz you’re there
That’s what you do

Previous songs like “Knock Knock” and “Heart Shaker” have used similar musical techniques, using chord progressions and melodies that, when combined, sound simultaneously happy and sad. However, it’s the sheer sincerity in the lyrics, performance and context of this song, that sets this comeback apart.

The MV tells a story belonging uniquely to Twice, hinting at the recent struggles that certain members have faced and the friendship and support they have offered each other in response. Beginning and ending with the sound of rain (likely a metaphor for the storm of troubles that has continually rained on Twice’s parade), five intertwining storylines unfold, illustrating how each member is, in their own way, lost.

Chaeyeon is trapped in a bare, white room, while Mina is trapped in a fantastical neon forest. Tzuyu is an enchantingly beautiful doll in a toy house, while Momo is a human exploring a room full of doll’s houses. Sana is cold and wet on a rainy street at night as faceless strangers pass her by, while Dahyun walks the same street, holding an umbrella emblazoned with Twice’s signature lollipop design. Jihyo is surrounded by television screens, while Nayeon is surrounded by diamond-like mirrors. Over the course of the video, these members find each other, breaking through the “walls” of their respective prisons and breaking into smiles while they see each other.

Meanwhile, Jungyeon, as the only lone member, is faced with herself – one version of her sits alone on a throne-like chair, while another sits nearby, laughing and joking with the rest of Twice. When their eyes meet, they share a knowing smile. Jungyeon’s story alone is somewhat ambiguous; perhaps it represents her past and future selves meeting and realising the joy that Twice brings into her life.

Narrative-wise, the MV keeps things simple but powerful, matching the clips of each member’s storyline to their song lines, so that there is no doubt about who is singing when and what their story is. The line distribution is unusual – instead of sharing a million tiny parts, everyone has one or two substantial (and often unique) sections. As a result, each member’s part feels more personal to them, and so becomes more meaningful, powerful and memorable for the listener.

Certain moments hit closer to home than others. Sana’s “even when hurtful words stab me” recalls her controversial Instagram post in May, when her mention of the current Japanese era changing elicited hate from Korean netizens. Tzuyu’s scene reminds us of her own flag-waving scandal, while Jihyo’s TV-filled room points towards the leaked news of her and Kang Daniel’s relationship.

However, Mina’s scene is the most powerful, not only because of her long-awaited appearance after an anxiety-related hiatus, but also because she directly addresses it in her verse. She confesses that:

I just wanted to hide
Didn’t wanna face the world
As if everything has lost meaning
As if I have lost meaning
I just sat there still

No other Twice song has spoken about a member’s personal struggle like this, and it is moving and uplifting to see her overcome it both in the MV and in real life, by choosing to participate in the comeback. More than anything else, this unexpected authenticity is what makes “Feel Special” something of a breakthrough for the group, and indeed genuinely special. It marks a turning point, from being simply performers, to something like artists.

It is not only in this artistic sense that the group have matured. In every other aspect, from styling to art direction and choreography, they’ve opted for a more classy, womanly concept, donning silky dresses and heavy amounts of glittering jewellery while dancing under golden spotlights.

The choreography is sharp and energetic, adopting a more sensual style than fans are used to. As seniors in the industry, their performing experience shows – every member exudes confidence and stage charisma. In particular, the choice to show almost four full seconds of Nayeon’s solo dance shot in the first chorus evidences her performing ability, in a music video industry where few shots linger for more than three. Jihyo, too, has taken to this more mature concept like a duck to water – it’s hard not to think that she has always suited this style more.

While they’ve adapted to the dance style perfectly well, at times the choreography is so sassy that it loses the song’s more vulnerable side. Likewise, some of the styling and fashion choices are gaudy bordering on tacky, dampening the attempt at sophistication. Still, there is no shortage of breath-taking visuals in this MV – Tzuyu’s stunning headpiece, Jungyeon’s queen-like styling and Jihyo’s high-ponytail look are all highlights, while beautiful set design and visual effects make the entire MV a pleasure to watch.

While the transition to a more mature concept comes as no surprise, given that they expressed their thoughts about it multiple times, it’s a pleasant surprise to see Twice really make the maturing process their own. The change has felt smooth and genuine, not jarring or forced, as similar concepts might feel from less developed groups. The sincerity shown in “Feel Special”, combined with their musical growth and the weighty context behind this comeback, gives it a power beyond that of just a catchy song – it marks a transition from youth to adulthood. Slowly but surely, they are moving in a better direction, and despite nearing their fourth anniversary in October, one can’t help but feel that the best of Twice is yet to come.

(YouTube [1]. Instagram: [1]. The New York Times. Lyrics and images via JYP Entertainment.)