It was a sweltering September evening in London as crowds of Onces lined up outside the O2 to see one of the most successful girl groups of our generation, Twice. Despite a successful seven-year career, it was the nine-member group’s first time performing in Europe, and fan anticipation was confirmed with the night’s concert, a second date added after the first saw overwhelming demand. The evening also opened the European leg of their ongoing world tour, Ready to Be, which had just finished up stops in Asia, Australia, and the US, and will go on to Central and South America.
The concert eased fans in with a looping VCR of the girls’ angelic sleeping faces, set over what sounded like spa music. Around 8pm, they suddenly opened their eyes to eerie effect, and the crowd was set alight as nine long-legged silhouettes filled the stage’s three massive screens. Screams erupted as these silhouettes burst into colour, and the opening synths of “Set Me Free”, their most recent single, began to ring out across the arena.
Jihyo let loose her vocals on the intro, before making her way to a stool on the side of the stage (politely allowing the cameraman who nearly bumped into her to go first) – later, fans found out that she wasn’t feeling well ahead of the concert but braved the flight to perform regardless. She did an amazing job considering – her singing was by far the most powerful and she went out of her way to smile and interact with fans. Twice are not the strongest girl group out there in terms of vocals, but Jihyo’s stellar performance reminded us that they are, in fact, experienced musicians.
“Set Me Free” was followed by the edgy and dramatic “I Can’t Stop Me”, which saw the crowd singing along excitedly, before the group finally stopped to introduce themselves in English. They explained the theme for their tour, which was more clear and considered than most: Ready to Be represents their readiness to be themselves, to show us who they really are, and in doing so, inspire audiences to do the same.
It’s a theme consistent not only with their trajectory over the years, but the song selection and concepts explored in the setlist. It might seem overly straightforward, but honesty and simplicity work in their favour here; seeing Twice’s growth in the flesh makes the idea of self-empowerment much more compelling. Their chosen group songs reinforce that more mature identity, eschewing too many throwbacks in favour of lesser known B-sides from recent albums. The first of these was “Go Hard”, which was followed by “More & More”, “Moonlight Sunrise” and “Brave”. All four worked in unison to solidify the concert’s message – that Twice are now fully grown, self-assured women.
Performance-wise, the girls’ energy seemed a bit low initially, but fans responded so enthusiastically to every single thing that they warmed up noticeably over the course of the concert. They were surprised at the number of Candybongs (Twice’s fan lightsticks), asking, “Where did you buy them from?” When the audience stamped their feet, they stared in amazement as the rumbling reverberated around the arena; from a local fan’s perspective, it’s these fascinating cultural exchanges that make world tour stops like this particularly fun to attend.
In between group songs, two sets of solo performances saw members perform carefully chosen English cover songs, explore vulnerability on self-written songs, and reiterate independence on solo releases. The first set, from Dahyun, Tzuyu, Sana, Momo and Mina was the concert’s overall highlight, with each consecutive song gradually ramping up tension.
Dahyun offered a pleasant, technically impressive piano and vocal performance of Colbie Caillat’s “Try”, explaining that she chose it because of its message of being good enough as we are. Soft-spoken Tzuyu’s interpretation of Charlie Puth’s “Done For Me” was pretty and delicate, and while it lacked the sensuality of the older members’ stages, she still handled the stage well with elegant moves and airy vocals.
The three Japanese members then grabbed the opportunity to show us they deserve solo releases as much as Jihyo and Nayeon – these are women who have full ownership of their sex appeal and aren’t afraid to use it. Sana’s interpretation of Dua Lipa’s “New Rules” made the most of her signature coyness, while Momo’s dance performance of Beyoncé’s “Move” climaxed in an extremely impressive pole dance routine that the crowd went wild for. Finally, Mina’s Ariana Grande tribute with “7 Rings” was a perfect fit for her cool, stoic expressions, which only served to scandalise us more when she surprised us with some light twerking.
These performances gave us exciting hints of what these members are capable of moving forwards, and hearing a different unexpected cover from each person was very refreshing in a concert full of established hits. More importantly, they complemented each other stylistically, building up anticipation using one theme of feminine power, and thus working together to hint at a future version of Twice as well.
By contrast, the second set of solos was a scattered mix of sounds and ideas which didn’t contribute to their collective identity in the same way. A quiet, moody performance of “My Guitar” from the chic Chaeyoung had the audience slightly bewildered, as she took a creepy-looking patchwork rabbit toy and hung it by the neck on her mic stand. The self-written song featured only her vocals and a guitar, but despite holding a guitar for most of the song, she was accompanied instead by a backing track and only strummed along with a few chords later.
Artistically, it was the most interesting performance of the night – her eyes stayed locked to the side throughout, and the hushed vocals expressed a disarming vulnerability and melancholy quite at odds with the rest of the concert. After it ended, the silence was broken suddenly with Jihyo’s trendy pop solo “Killin’ Me Good”, which she jumped into as if nothing happened. Having sat for most of the concert, she danced for this one fully – her effort was appreciated by the audience and you could never tell she wasn’t at her best.
Still, the stylistic whiplash left audiences confused, and when Jeongyeon followed up with Justin Timberlake’s crowd-pleasing but slightly bland “Can’t Stop the Feeling”, it felt like another conceptual leap. To her credit, she performed well, injecting the cover with energy and funky locking moves while wearing a baggy school uniform – a marked contrast to the heartbreakingly unconfident Jeongyeon we’d seen hiding among the members up until this point. Crowds cheered for her loudly at every opportunity though, and when complimented on her solo, she seemed pleased at the warm reaction, before claiming shyness and passing the mic quickly.
Finally, Nayeon closed the series with the ease of a professional in her element. “Pop!” is a catchy, feel-good song that stands up to even some of Twice’s biggest hits, and her polished performance felt the most like something you’d see on Music Bank. However, while these four solos are enjoyable, unfortunately they don’t add up to something greater than the sum of their parts like the first set did; if they are another hint of the future, then it’s a future in which doing their own thing means choosing not to prioritise Twice’s collective identity anymore.
That night, though, both futures were just distant possibilities, and Twice’s efforts for their first European performance proved they are still very much together in the here and now. Theirs is a grand show which fills the expansive stage easily. Alongside the nine members, backup dancers, large-scale props, rising stages, and stunning on-screen visuals worthy of a high-budget music video all worked together to create festival-like scenes reminiscent of musical theatre at times. Along with a surprise live band, who appeared in the second half, Twice went above and beyond to bring European fans the full K-pop experience – a dazzling spectacle for the senses.
While the entrance of the band was exciting, it was a better idea in theory than execution at first – “Feel Special” and “Fancy” should have been the most energetic, crowd-pleasing dance floorfillers, but were dulled by unfamiliar, flat-footed rock arrangements. These first few songs were also a maelstrom of sound and the girls’ voices were mostly drowned out. They appeared to fix the sound later on, however, and songs which were originally arranged with band instrumentation benefited significantly more – “The Feels” is decidedly more fun and funky played live.
After a rendition of pop-punk B-side “Queen of Hearts”, they launched into a long medley of their biggest hits to appease the many fans who are seeing them for the first time. Racing through verses and choruses one after the other, they broke into sections of point choreography as a formality: “Yes or Yes”, “What is Love?”, “Cheer Up”, “Likey”, “Knock Knock”, “Scientist” and finally “Heart Shaker”. It was a good idea, and better than omitting these hits entirely, but also felt a little rushed and overwhelming, no time to get excited about one song before they whizzed onto another. However, it was a great way to make use of the band, who shined on this kind of more flexible structure.
Twice’s signature sound is extremely energetic, with strong high-pitched melodies and pounding beats, so it’s no surprise that the crowd tired as we reached the 26th song; the setlist would have benefited from more dynamics (which would also have helped Chaeyoung’s solo stick out less). At the very least, though, “When We Were Kids” and “Crazy Stupid Love” made for a refreshingly sentimental, rock-ballad-style ending before they headed backstage.
After a break, they returned for a long and generous encore, bringing out a roulette wheel filled with potential tracks. “TT” was the most popular encore choice, but the roulette stoped instead on a lesser known song; thankfully, Jihyo quickly noticed the response, interjecting: “I don’t think the fans know this song very well”. A chanting chorus of “TT, TT, TT!” emerged, and they eventually decided to give us what we wanted – a lively band arrangement of arguably one of their best songs. When that finished, they gave up entirely on the roulette and asked us what we wanted to hear. Fans near the stage made the signature dance move from “Signal”, appropriately signalling the crowd’s second choice – Twice’s alien-themed 2017 title track which, ironically, saw mixed reactions at the time.
It’s a welcome throwback now, and a testament to the depth and enduring quality of Twice’s catalogue of hits. The casual manner in which they discussed choices was similarly impressive – these are veterans able to recall dozens of songs with ease, well practised in interacting with audiences and adapting as needed. They remained professionals to the end, thanking fans for coming before proudly introducing their backup dancers and taking a deep bow together.
As the crowd began to filter out, you could sense an air of satisfaction, akin to having shared a hearty meal. After all, Twice just showed us that they are some of the best at what K-pop is best at – giving people the energy they need to get through the day.