Wasting no time in continuing with their famously jam-packed schedules, Twice are back at the beginning of the Lunar New Year with their English-language pre-release, “Moonlight Sunrise”. It is their second all-English release after 2021’s “The Feels”, and, being a whole fifteen months old now, a lot of time has passed in Twice world.
Whilst their first all-English (full English? No, too on the nose) song was a preppy, bouncy slice of disco, the mood of “Moonlight Sunrise” is far more relaxed and quieter. Unfortunately, this relaxation ultimately ends up being unexciting and forgettable, and is accompanied by an MV filled with dull colour palettes, little member interaction, and a surprising lack of inventive choreography.
The opening shots are promising and inviting, as we fly through the clouds following a glowing butterfly towards a giant key pierced through the moon. So far, so surreal, right? In combination with tinkling chimes, it feels as though we are about to enter a world of either fairy tales or lullabies. The giant key even gets paired with a huge heart-shaped lock archway, lit in neon. Where will we go from here?
Well, not very far it seems. We first meet Momo striding mysteriously across an ornate garden in front of said archway, and interest is peaked. But that is swiftly followed by Sana slamming a car boot shut, Jihyo musing in her bedroom, and Dahyun hanging out in her kitchen. These backdrops are not styled in any particularly memorable way, and they are even much more dimly lit than the interior world of “The Feels”, or many of Twice’s other MVs. There are the continuing motifs of the glowing butterflies to add a touch of magic, but they are so small an addition that they do not do much to liven up the backdrops.
Throughout the MV, these understated backdrops continue, undermined by their dulled lighting. Perhaps the most exciting place we see in the entire MV is a telephone box and Tzuyu and Chaeyoung manage to bring some quirk to—the former through an umbrella and a solitary raincloud, the latter through signs and flower bouquets—but it is a standout among the mundane. We see members driving cars, at barely adorned tables, on sofas, and in grand, hall-like rooms. In so many of these scenes, there seems to be an excess of shadow, either around or entirely engulfing the members.
For example, in the song’s bridge, where the instrumentation slows down and Jihyo sensually sings of “putting cards on the table”, the one she is leaning on is bare, with the surrounding windows in deep shadow. It could be seen as an attempt at minimalism, a sparseness that connotes simplicity, but it is ineffective. When Chaeyoung enters the same room in the song’s second pre-chorus, she, too, sees the room largely in shadow, with the pink and blue light dimmed to mimic the evening. With the room’s heart-shaped windows and delicate decorations, it doesn’t feel designed to appeal to an idea of minimalism. It just feels slightly overcast, a moody glance at a scene that could be so much bubblier.
Perhaps this is to echo the (ever so) slightly more mature tone of the song. A clear step away from pep and fizz, “Moonlight Sunrise” has a calmer beat, and a subtler house influence rather than the disco that dominated a year or so ago. Lyrically, the song is also a tiny bit more grounded and less cutesy, though the line “It’s “I need you” o’clock right now” does suggest otherwise. Perhaps the hesitancy of the words is what leads to these murkier, less exciting backdrops.
I don’t know how to say this
I hope this song’s on your playlist
This feeling’s so hard to explain
A far cry from the boldness of “Fancy” or “More and More”, there is a slight unsureness, almost a lack of confidence, being suggested here, which has been reflected in the MV by toning everything down.
In addition to the backdrops, the styling of “Moonlight Sunrise” is also underwhelming in its colour palette. Being K-pop, and being Twice, this MV would seem to be a safe space for playful fashion choices (“The Feels” certainly did not shy away from brightness), and there is some of that at play here. Members like Nayeon and Momo get bold cut-out necklines and waistlines, Sana gets an oversized bow as a crop top, and there are delicate ruffles aplenty in the second set piece featuring all nine members.
However, the details of these outfits—of which Nayeon seems to get the best selection—are just that, small details. The first dance sequence sees the girls styled in black and dark browns, while the second has them in saturated pastels, and a bit more black, just for good luck. Whilst the girls certainly do not always need to be in block primary colours or glittering neons, there is a lack of excitement in most of these outfits that renders them bland.
With the glowing butterflies flittering across at different points, there was potential for something ethereal or even magical, but the closest that we come to that is lightly baroque lace details on pastel corsets and dresses. Also, it may be a personal pet peeve of mine, but the combination of the pastels and black also felt underthought—why not stick with the pale colours throughout, or at least pick white as the neutral base colour?
Also underwhelming is the choreography, normally a high point for Twice. Whilst it is fair to say that not every song needs energetic, point-based choreography, having slightly slower verses and less disco is no reason not to be innovative. “Alcohol Free” managed the feat in a dramatically different style, but here there is just not enough to be memorable. The chorus has some attempts: arm movements that circle round in a full 360 around the members’ faces, or the chorus’s final moment where they rub their hands together. But again, they feel so pulled back as to be uninteresting.
This toned-down mood that purveys the whole MV is not helped by just how many solo shots there are. Again, we expect to see these, especially in a group with nine members, so that they can get showcased. But the balance feels skewed here, with almost no member interaction at all, aside from the group dance scenes. This decision takes away the opportunity for the spark that interaction can bring, and makes the MV feel more segmented and disjointed. With shot after shot of fairly mundane activities—Jeongyeon driving her car, Mina dropping ice into her drink—the overall effect is just a little bit boring.
Ultimately, “Moonlight Sunrise” disappoints as the group’s second foray into all-English territory. With the thoroughly muted MV, and a song that is both not strong enough nor light enough in tone, Twice have created something that feels under-considered. The goal of “The Feels” felt fairly clear in terms of what they wanted to show the Western market: this is Twice’s energy, and this is how we can bring it to the world. It doesn’t really feel like “Moonlight Sunrise” has much of an aim at all. As it is a pre-release, we can hopefully expect more of an impact from what comes next. Because this song does not have an impact, so determined to be subdued in all aspects as it is.