TWICE’s ‘Formula of Love: O+T=<3’ gets free, experimental

photo of the Formula of Love album cover
JYP Entertainment Company/Courtesy

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Grade: 3.0/5.0

This summer, TWICE experimented with breezy, dreamy bossa nova music on its critically-acclaimed EP Taste of Love. Now, with its third album Formula of Love: O+T=<3, TWICE experiments with a greater variety of music genres, including funk, disco and city pop. Though not furnished with perfect skillfulness, this album still sparkles with witty playfulness and vibrant energy.

Diversity separates TWICE’s third full album from its previous work. The most conspicuous change is the increased proportion of English lyrics, with “Moonlight” and “Icon” written entirely in English. There is also a seismic shift in the group’s production team from mostly Korean to international producers; the lead single “Scientist,” for example, includes a dazzling list of foreign producers such as British singer-composer Anne-Marie and Ariana Grande’s chief producer Tommy Brown.

An inevitable conflict arises. TWICE has never worked with such a diverse, international team of producers, who are more experienced with R&B or retro pop than K-pop. If TWICE leaves its comfort zone, can the group still succeed in the K-pop scene with brand new sounds?

The lead single “Scientist” confidently dismisses such worries. On this lighthearted pop jam, the group’s nine members strategically simplify their vocals to complement funky, bouncy retro pop. Listeners find no ear-piercing cheerleading or awkward rap that most K-pop girl groups — including TWICE on its first and second albums — use extensively. As the members now reduce their vocals to a clean (though somewhat unpolished) state, “Scientist” shines with candor and chill not found in any of TWICE’s previous works.

“Moonlight” features similar vocals that are both effortless and comfortable. Although the Stereotypes-produced track has a signature Bruno Mars production, the nine members consciously avoid imitating his signature powerful falsettos. Instead, they sing in softly enticing, lower-pitched voices to produce a fun, relaxing harmony. Rather than a firework that blooms and vanishes in an instant, “Moonlight” thus glows with calm, unassertive delicateness throughout the night.

The newfound simplicity and diversity of TWICE’s sound correlate with this album’s simple yet profound message about love: Take it easy. In “Scientist,” TWICE delightfully banters with a know-it-all boy who overthinks and hesitates in every step of his romantic pursuit. “Love ain’t a science,” TWICE sings wittily, “don’t try to be a genius.” True, there is no formula of love. All love takes is a leap of faith.

Whereas the first two tracks open the album with a lighthearted mood, the third track “Icon” harnesses more powerful energy. This song celebrates TWICE’s unparalleled success in the K-pop scene. With much more assertive vocals, Nayeon proudly declares, “I ain’t goin’ nowhere. I’m an icon.” Such a confident gesture makes up for the self-love and girl power that the former tracks lacked.

However, as the album progresses, its initial glamour gradually fades. Tracks “Real You” and “Rewind” unsuccessfully invite experienced K-pop producers earattack and, respectively. Their missions are to balance experimental elements with their chart-topping K-pop formulas, but unfortunately, their formulaic production strikes as immediately familiar and quickly grows stale. Worse, the group’s earlier candid, simple delivery also gives way to generic statements about love already conveyed by its past two albums.

The record’s greatest pitfall appears on three tracks — “Push & Pull,” “Hello” and “1, 3, 2” — on which the nine members unprecedently break into groups of three. Members who are most skillful in vocals strive to rap, whereas members who excel at rap now sing at main choruses. Proving largely unsuccessful, this experimentation deprives all three songs of the coherency and harmony that the nine members can only produce together when each member does what she does best.

Although Formula of Love: O+T=<3 ends up with a mix of surprising and disappointing moments, it still speaks to the nine members’ growing mastery of more diverse musical genres outside K-pop’s borders — evidently, there is still much room for TWICE’s music to evolve.

Contact William Xu at [email protected].