K-pop act Twice draws swarms of fans during pop-up appearance on Melrose

via Los Angeles Times

Eighteen-year-old Matilda Oberman was one of the first people in a line of hundreds outside a Melrose Avenue storefront on Saturday morning. She’d come with a pack of K-pop-obsessed friends and family for the chance to meet Twice, the South Korean pop group and one of the most popular young acts on the planet.

To claim her prime spot in line, where fans hoped to score a rack of exclusive merch and get selfies with the group, Oberman had to camp out on the sidewalk beginning on a chilly Friday morning.

“It was so cold last night, we were freezing sleeping on the sidewalk,” Oberman said, relatively unbothered by the trials she endured to be there. A kind mom brought pizza for their crew, and “people brought us hand warmers and everyone from the store staff was so nice to look after us.”

The line to see the nine-member female group wound several residential blocks, leading one passing Uber driver to slow down to ask who they were all there to see. (He very loudly got his answer.) The all-night enthusiasm was a clear sign that K-pop, now entering its third wave of American popularity, has new stadium-sized heroes in Twice.

Since its 2015 founding, the group — now in their mid-20s, led by singer Jihyo along with singers, rappers and dancers Nayeon, Jeongyeon, Momo, Sana, Mina, Dahyun, Chaeyoung and Tzuyu — has been on a steady, relentless rise. Their upbeat music, inflected with R&B, synth-pop and hip-hop, is undeniably charming and nimble with genre, as evidenced on their forthcoming mini album “Ready to Be,” out this week.

But their marathon live shows — recent sets at the Banc of California Stadium spilled over three hours — is where they truly shine for fans. A June date at SoFi Stadium already has the Once (the group’s name for their fandom) ready to do battle with Ticketmaster anew.

“They have so much energy and they don’t lip-sync, which is rare in K-pop,” Oberman said. “They really care about their live performances.”

“I’m going to be fighting for a barricade ticket to see them at SoFi ,” said 17-year-old Luis Guerra, who arrived at 7:30 a.m. Saturday to score a decent spot in line. The chance to meet the women of Twice had him feeling “really, really emotional,” he said.

“I love their work ethic,” said 29-year-old Mariana Vasquez, who’d driven from Downey late that morning. She wasn’t fazed by her very distant spot near the end of the line. “You can tell they actually have a deep love for writing music,” she said, and she was willing to wait it out to tell them so.

As global supergroup BTS enters a long-expected hiatus for its members to perform their mandatory South Korean military service, and the mega-labels HYBE and SM Entertainment jockey for ownership stakes in an increasingly hostile war of attrition, the title of “Biggest Active Band in K-pop” is very much up for grabs.

One could credibly say it belongs to Blackpink, who will be the first K-pop act to headline the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in April. But there are more than 27 million Instagram followers, 15 million YouTube subscribers and 11 million Spotify fans ready to make a strong case for Twice, who in June will join BTS as the only K-pop groups to headline SoFi Stadium, home of last year’s Super Bowl. 

It’s a long way from KCON, the South Korean pop culture festival where they made their L.A. debut in 2016, and a big swing for a group that isn’t quite on the radar of U.S. pop fans who may know BTS or Blackpink. (Twice’s two English-language singles, “The Feels” and “Moonlight Sunrise,” stalled in the 80s on the Hot 100). Their ascent hasn’t been easy — its members have had to recover from debilitating injuries, obsessed stalkers and the meticulous perfection often expected of female acts in K-pop.

Upstairs at the Fairfax event, before doors opened, the nine women of Twice were very aware that their SoFi date was a pivotal moment in their career. If it goes to plan, they’ll enter a new class of global superstardom, a feat they don’t take lightly.

“We are going to be performing in one of the largest stadiums in the world,” said Nayeon (the group’s members spoke through a translator). “We’re so thankful to L.A. for this. But we are very proud of ourselves too.”

“Being able to go from KCON to here, I think we were only able to do that because of these fans,” said Jihyo, looking out at the mass assembled below.

While Twice isn’t as overtly edgy as Blackpink, a song like “Moonlight Sunrise,” with its rapid-clip R&B runs and stacks of harmonies, shows that the group members are ambitious musicians in their own right. They’re deft in English singing and Japanese lyrics. (They have dozens of Japanese singles like fan favorite “Doughnut,” and said they hoped to incorporate them into the U.S. setlist.)

Chaeyoung, the group’s petite, tattooed main rapper (a rarity for women in the clean-cut genre), sounded most excited about a new rock-leaning direction they’re taking on “Ready to Be.” “Every time we come up with a new album, we try to have a new genre and a new challenge,” she said. 

Twice has had plenty of those challenges in the last three years. In 2020, Jeongyeon had to take significant time off to recover from a herniated disc in her neck that required surgery — just before a much-anticipated arena tour. Both Nayeon and Mina have had to flee from stalkers, who tracked down their family homes and even bought plane tickets to try and approach them on a flight. The fear got so intense that Mina had to take a break from touring.

wice after their time at the pop-up.

(Roger Kisby / For The Times)

While male K-pop groups like BTS have more room to be candid about their mental health worries in the glare of superstardom, female groups like Twice have only just begun to feel able to speak up about needing rest and a veil of privacy.

“As time passed, we realized that when we had that small time to rest, you get a lot of positivity from taking that risk,” Jeongyeon said. “I think both the artists and the company now know that having a rest is good and positive for us.”

In the long-snaking line downstairs, fans were willing to slog it out for hours to land posters and photos and tell Twice how much they appreciated them. After SoFi, if they ever needed to take a break again, 19-year-old superfan Melany Figueroa would have their backs.

“They deserve time to get back to normal,” Figueroa said. “They deserve whatever it takes to be happy.”

via Los Angeles Times