Twice is indisputably one of the biggest names in K-pop today. They’ve had monster success that few other girl groups can dare to dream of. Yet, they’ve always been held back by two factors: their unchanging sound and reputation as singles artists. If you wanted fun, cutesy, bubblegum pop, they were your girls. However, their last comeback showed Twice moving beyond those limits, both in sound and quality. “Fancy” proved they could grow into a more mature sound, and the subsequent EP made our mid-year review for it’s experimentation. Now, Feel Special has proved that that Twice is serious about growing up. 

In a logical progression from their bubblegum past, Feel Special is a definitive turn towards dancepop. Filled with layered synths, drops, and bass, this is mini that is almost designed for the clubs. Tracks like “Get Loud” and “Trick It” have the energy needed to pull bodies onto the dance floor, with the latters’ multiple change-ups in rhythm and beats feeling like a particularly good fit for festivals and the like. Even the R&B track “Love Foolish” has a futuristic edge on it, mixing the cooing and sensuality of Twice’s vocals with autotune effects and harsher, more discordant synths. 

However, Feel Special is not music for a fun night out. This time, the production has turned much darker, going for more sinister tones in the instrumentation and shifting towards the bass register. The vocals also have matured in this manner. Gone are the cheerleader chants of yore. Instead, Feel Special has actual harmonization, allowing the members to emote more fully, and thank goodness. Twice excel at performance, and Feel Special lets them work in their lane. Sadly, Feel Special is another victim of bad post-production work, most notably the layering. The synths are put too close to the front of the mix, drowning out and distorting the vocal lines. “Rainbow” and “Love Foolish” are the worst offenders, but it is an issue across the entire project, which is a shame, because Feel Special is easily Twice’s most thematically interesting release.

Feel Special  is an EP that resonates growth, not just due to the maturing sound, but the content of the lyrics. Instead of idealized imaginings of love mixed with sugar and sass, we are given the breakdown of a relationship, from the highest of highs to its’ end. Not only that, we see a self-awareness and honesty that give Feel Special much greater weight.

 “Feel Special” and “Rainbow” are the purest love songs on the EP. The title track is a jubilant song that perfectly captures the sensation of being high on a new relationship. The bliss they feel are conveyed through energetic but not frantic synths and Twice’s own lovestruck delivery. Notable, though, is that the lyrics make clear that the biggest appeal in this relationship is that they are made to feel special and loved by somebody, rather than someone specific. “Rainbow”, on the surface, is the track of a supportive girlfriend encouraging their beau to walk new paths. However, the use of “wherever you want,” combined with Twice’s dispassionate vocals give the sense that Twice are not particularly attached, and will not be heartbroken if that path leads away from them.

The shine continues to come off the romance in “Get Loud” and “Trick It”. “Get Loud”– the album standout– is a melancholy dance track, mixing a bouncy beat and infectious groove with despairing vocals. Here, Twice are faced with a lying boyfriend who keeps pushing them to the edge, but are attempting to dance away their troubles instead of solving them. The blame is then split by “Trick It”, where Twice fully concede to manipulating their boyfriends. White lies and deliberate misunderstandings are tools to allow them to maintain the upper hand, guilt not needed. The rubbery, more textured synths, and repeated shifts in tempo highlight the dysfunction of the relationship Twice has found themselves in.

However, that dysfunction is highlighted on “Love Foolish”. Here, Twice look at their relationship full of ups and downs, being pulled along while attempting to control their boyfriend, the shift from love to hate and back… and realize this is not a good relationship. They flat-out refer to it as toxic, and on the next track, “21:29” end their relationship. The ballad is the first track outside of the darker dance-pop, a mellow electropop number as Twice sweetly ask their ex to remember their good moments, and promise to do so themselves, even when the clock runs out on this love.

Closing out Feel Special is “Breakthrough”, a Korean version of their most recent Japanese single. It has a different sound that the rest of the EP, brass and percussion giving a bold and defiant edge. That said, it works, as “Breakthrough” is a song of self-empowerment, of refusing to let yourself crumple. Twice make it clear that they are going to come out the other side as the best versions of themselves– the way you might need to do after getting out of an unhealthy relationship. 

Feel Special is not Twice’s most interesting album sonically, and the post-production issues really do hinder its’ overall enjoyability. But it is fully cohesive, allowing Twice to work within their skillset and expand as artists. Moreover, Feel Special does this with a sense of poise and maturity that cements how Twice are not just growing older, but up.

(Images via JYP Entertainment, YouTube)