It’s been a while since Twice came out with something unabashedly cute. Barring their Japanese singles, which have always leaned on ebullience anyway, “The Feels” stands out in the group’s latest slew of MVs not just as their first all-English comeback but, more interestingly, as a peppy callback to their earlier work. 

Movie references a la “Cheer Up” and “What is Love?” Check. High-teen outfits by way of ratty plaids and glittery pastels? Also check. Overeffusive thoughts on love? Check, of course. At first glance, “The Feels” seems as if it was fished right out of Twice’s rookie years, back when the group was still winning hearts instead of owning them.

After a couple of rewatches, however, it’s clear that “The Feels” is more of an update than a throwback. It executes old concepts with more restraint and finesse, while the sultriness that dominates Twice’s newer, lusher work subtly makes its way in. The MV’s choreography and fashion, in particular, are very telling of the group’s desire to highlight their maturity.

Because of this, “The Feels” feels at once old and new. It’s an all-too-familiar take on the cute concept, which Twice slip back into with excitable ease, and as well as a largely expected English debut, what with its simplistic lyrics and retro backing. The little novelty it has comes from Twice’s attempts to embrace their newfound sensuality in an otherwise youthful setup. Depending on where you stand, this juxtaposition can either be empowering (sexual liberation!) or disturbing (infantilization). Either way, “The Feels” is an interesting case study that tells us something about Twice’s past and future as one of K-pop’s most veritable titans.

The premise of “The Feels” is simple. The girls get an invite to prom, which they then get ready for and party at throughout the MV. This lack of plot leaves a lot of room to play with, and Twice do exactly that by bringing back a beloved (though somewhat overused) staple: film referencing. Whereas their 2016 MV “Cheer Up” is a fun mash-up of unrelated movies and genres, and their 2018 hit “What is Love?” an assortment of romance, “The Feels” is a loose patchwork of popular teen flicks. The girls channel Clueless’ Cher Horowtiz in their gigantic walk-in closet and preppy fashion, and recall The Plastics of Mean Girls with their Twice-ified burn book and shared crown. The prom scene, of course, is an homage more to the genre than any movie in particular. 

As a result, “The Feels” looks utterly familiar, if not a little worn out. Besides borrowing from recognizable movies, it also comes right after similarly styled MVs—Sunmi’s “You Can’t Sit With Us,” Somi’s “Dumb Dumb,” and StayC’s “Stereotype” to name a few. But it makes sense for the group to tread a familiar path for their first English MV. After all, they are reintroducing themselves to a different audience. This necessitates at least a glimpse of their past, along with an understanding of what put them on the map in the first place. 

Twice’s courtship of the West is also noticeable in their instrumental choices. Like BTS’s English entries “Dynamite” and “Butter,” “The Feels” opts for a distinctly funky beat. The bass fingerstyle that opens the track may have teased an off-the-cuff sound, but it is soon buried in heavy retro synths that nosedive into pure disco-pop. The genre is a K-pop favorite as of late, but as retro singles go, “The Feels” is surprisingly and pleasantly melodic. Vocalists Nayeon and Jihyo continue to impress with their strong pipes, and the hook, “I know I got the feels,” has a truly groovy ring to it, lending the track some much-needed soul. 

If “The Feels” is beginning to sound derivative, what with its recall of previous styles and other artists, know that the MV is somewhat livened up by Twice’s attempts to reconcile their signature twee charm with their newfound sensuality. Since 2019, the group has been transitioning from cute to commanding, and instead of shedding this new part of themselves, they incorporate it in their latest MV.

This may not be immediately obvious in the lyrics, which are rather facile and forgettable (“‘Cause you got me good and I wanna be ya boo / If it’s dumb, well, I wanna be a fool”). But Twice combine past and present (cute and mature) in other major ways, namely: dance and fashion.

In “The Feels,” the girls bust out their bustiest moves yet and continue their recent tradition of sensual, evocative choreography. They pop their hips and chests out more times than usual, as if to remind us that this is the same Twice that performed the comely and alluring routines of “More & More” and “I Can’t Stop Me.”

They do all this in get-ups that are reminiscent of their iconic wardrobes. The demure letterman jackets of “Cheer Up” are exchanged for bolder and sparklier cheer uniforms, while the memorable plaids of “Yes or Yes” get a spunky makeover, with rips, pins, chains, and chokers now evoking grunge along with prep.

Clearly, Twice are trying to both hold on to their cutesy roots and move on to more liberating roles, and in a way, this tug-of-war is fascinating to watch, like seeing the girls come of age in real-time. But it’s important to note (and frankly difficult to ignore) that Twice are grown women well into their 20s. Placing them in a prom—a uniquely teenage experience—squeezing them into too-tight uniforms, having them infuse the performance with the sensuality they’ve recently acquired, and addressing all this to some “boy” in the lyrics are all arguably grounds for infantilization. They’re cute to be sure, but they’ve clearly outgrown the lovelorn schoolgirl concept.

Only time will tell if this strange combination of Twice’s past and present style will fly in the West, their target audience in “The Feels.” A better move would’ve been to push forward with whatever reinvention “Fancy” started and “I Can’t Stop Me” solidified. In these kind of singles, Twice are arguably at their best. They’re in charge of their own narrative and physicality, both of which highlight their gaze, not their lover’s. When they return to this track and opt for personal growth instead of broader success, it won’t be a moment too soon.

(YouTube [1][2][3][4][5]. Images via JYP Entertainment)