The Untold Truth Of Twice

TWICE is indomitable. Since the girl group's debut single "Like Ooh-Ahh" dropped in October 2015, TWICE has established itself as an unstoppable force in K-pop and one of South Korea's most popular acts. The band consists of nine members: Sana, Mina, Dahyun, Chaeyoung, Tzuyu, Jihyo, Nayeon, Jeongyeon, and Momo. In less than two months, the video for TWICE's second single "Cheer Up" snared 50 million views on YouTube. (Since then it's gotten well over 288 million.) The song sparked viral trend, and was voted by Dazed and Billboard as one of the twenty best K-pop songs of 2016.

The band formed in 2015 on Sixteen, a reality show that found sixteen female performers competing for a spot in TWICE's lineup. According to Billboard, the name TWICE is a nod to the band's approach to winning over fans; a one-two punch emphasizing spectacle as much as songwriting. The band's genre is described as "Color Pop," a mishmash of influences from bubblegum pop to hip-hop to electronica. The result is a manic pastiche of gleefully garish noise, both catchy and cloying — a cuteness that will cut you.

Controversy found TWICE right away. In 2015, then-16-year-old member Chou Tzuyu waved the Taiwanese flag on a television program, allegedly causing an outcry in mainland China. A grim apology video followed, and even the President of Taiwan got involved. 

No, life in TWICELAND hasn't been all neon swirls and candy canes. This is the untold truth of TWICE.

​The flag controversy

During a Nov. 22, 2015 appearance on the South Korean entertainment show My Little Television, then-sixteen-year-old TWICE member Chou Tzuyu (pictured, far left) made a seemingly innocuous gesture: According to Taipei Times, she simply held the Taiwanese flag (also known as the Republic of China flag.) This reportedly caught the eye of 53-year-old singer Huang An (a.k.a Michael Huang,) a Taiwan-born, China-based pop star who was about to become "the most hated man in Taiwan," according to Quartz.

On both Nov. 23, 2015 and Jan. 8, 2016, Huang reportedly took to China's microblogging site Sina Weibo and fired off several posts, accusing Tzuyu of being a separatist who promoted Taiwanese independence from mainland China. The backlash was immediate. By January 10, the Global Spring Festival Gala show (which airs on Beijing TV) reportedly scrubbed any mention of TWICE from its website (via Australia Broadcasting Corporation.) Huawei Technologies allegedly stopped airing a smartphone ad featuring Tzuyu on January 11. On January 13, China's Anhui TV reportedly withdrew a TWICE appearance scheduled for their Chinese New Year special.

As The Straits Times reports, TWICE's agency JYP Entertainment claimed they felt "extremely regretful about this controversy," promising to hold off on any of Tzuyu's scheduled engagements in China until the issue was resolved. In a statement, JYP's founder and CEO Park Jin-young vowed "to make it up to [people] by contributing to Chinese-Korean relations as well as cultural exchange" (via allkpop.) 

As Australia Broadcasting Corporation reports, JYP shares "dropped dramatically." 

​The social media outcry: 'Uncontrollable' and terrifying

According to The New York Timesa large amount of Chinese people "bristle" at the notion that Taiwan isn't part of China. As such, the social media backlash of the "Tzuyu Event" included hateful comments strewn across numerous websites, with netizens allegedly attacking Tzuyu's character on account of "being a Taiwanese person," according to a detailed timeline from Taiwanese entertainment news site Taipeimain. Some particularly vicious comments reportedly included: "I now know she is pro-independence, do not come to China." "What kind of w***e is she." "Bomb up Taiwan Independence b****h's family."

By Jan. 12, 2016, the hashtags #boycottTzuyu and #boycottJYPE were reportedly trending on Sina Weibo, as were insulting phrases like "Tzuyu is a dog." That same day, a fake personal account for Tzuyu was reportedly discovered by netizens on Facebook, who subsequently pounced on the page's trumped-up "pro-independence comments." They allegedly took copious screenshots and posted them willy-nilly as Tzuyu's own. Meanwhile, other Internet dwellers reportedly photoshopped Tzuyu's face onto pornographic photos, distributing and posting them across the web. On social media, death threats to the young entertainer reportedly ran amok. 

One of five top comments that had allegedly started trending on social media networks: "Being 16 is no excuse."

The ludicrously grim apology video

In an attempt to dissolve the furor, JYP Entertainment reportedly uploaded a dismal apology video to YouTube on Jan. 15, 2016. In the clip, Tzuyu leaned against a drab ash-colored wall that wouldn't be out of place in an interrogation room. Far removed from the bright neon swirls of your average K-pop video, Tzuyu appeared dour and without makeup, clad in a shapeless black turtleneck sweater, with her hair pulled back.

In a halting monotone, Tzuyu said: "Hello. I have something to tell everyone." She then bowed before reading the following statements from a piece of paper: "There is only one China. Both sides of the straits are unified. I have always felt proud being a Chinese myself."

The apology — which PRI called "humiliating" and an effort to "teach the people of Taiwan a lesson" — lasted for a minute and twenty-seven seconds. "To the feelings of the company and the people from both sides that I have caused harm to, I am very, very sorry," Tzuyou continued.  According to the Taipei Times, "netizens" compared the video's grim aesthetic "to hostage clips posted by the Islamic State group." Tzuyu concluded the prepared apology with: "I have decided to halt activities in China, and will seriously reflect on my actions. Once again, I would like to apologize to everyone. I am sorry."

This certainly didn't succeed in putting the saga to rest. 

​The President of Taiwan even addressed the controversy

Chou Tzuyu's apology video caused such an uproar that Tsai Ing-wen, then President-elect of Taiwan, addressed the issue during her very first news conference, just after declaring her victory (via The New York Times.) "Over the past couple of days some news has shaken society," said Ing-wen. "A performer who was developing in South Korea, a 16-year-old girl, was set upon for holding the national flag. This has angered Taiwanese people."

According to Taipei Times, China's Taiwan Affairs Office asserted that TWICE's Chou Tzuyu was being "used" as a pawn to "stir up the feelings of people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait," adding that "compatriots on both sides should be on high alert over this." Meanwhile, former People First Party presidential candidate James Soong said he felt "angered and disgusted that the government lacked the rigor to protect even a teenage child." 

Taiwanese online fashion magazine JUKSY even waded into the controversy, reportedly offering to pay almost $3 million for the right to manage Tzuyu's career and bring the entertainer back to Taiwan.

​Did Tzuyu's apology sway the election?

Shortly after the apology video was uploaded, JYP Entertainment Corp released a statement claiming Chou Tzuyu made the clip of her own accord and hadn't been coerced (via Reuters.) "An individual's conviction cannot or must not be forced by a company and such a thing did not happen," the statement read. The company insisted Tzuyu's parents had visited South Korea, discussed the situation with their daughter, and the "final decision" to make the video had been made by the family.

As the BBC reported, Tzuyu's apology video may have helped pro-independence Tsai Ing-wen become Taiwan's first female president. In fact, the South China Morning Post reported roughly 1.34 million voters were swayed to vote for Ing-wen after learning more about the flag scandal. The BBC claimed that thousands of Taiwanese people woke up on election day, saw the video in the morning, and "united" in fury about Tzuyu's plight. Experts suspect the scandal could have added as much as "one or two percentage points" for Ing-wen.

According to KPopStarz, an article published on Jan. 17, 2016 in China's official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party ended Flag-gate once and for all. "Chou's waving of the flag [of Taiwan] is an act of recognizing the 'Republic of China,'" the article stated (via the South China Morning Post.) Emphasizing the importance of Taiwanese youth learning their history, the article stated: "Labelling them as 'Taiwan separatists' is the most unwise thing to do." 

TWICE followed up the flag controversy with a viral smash

And then the story of TWICE goes fluorescent again. As Billboard reported, the band bounced back from "Flag-gate" with the release of their aptly titled "Cheer Up" single, released on April 25, 2016 (less than a year after their first single "Like Ooh-Ahh" debuted.) According to Teen Vogue, "Cheer Up" became the most-downloaded song of 2016 in Korea, and it's easy to see why.

The perky tune is attached to a deliriously gaudy video, in which the group riffs on "film characters"— spies, cheerleaders, and cowgirls, among others. Utilizing whiplash transitions barely held together by frenetic beats, the song sounds designed to highlight each individual member's particular gifts, coming off more like a stitched-together medley than a cohesive song.

During an appearance on Korean Broadcasting System's Entertainment Weekly program, band members hailed the video's choreography as TWICE's "highlight dance." But some members reportedly dislike the choreography in live performances of the song. Interviewed on the Korean television show Happy Together on May 3, 2018, Nayeon said, "When we were watching the choreographers dance and we saw someone 'watering the flowers,' all nine of us thought, 'As long as I'm not that person'" (via Soompi.) Meanwhile, Dahyun quipped: "Contrary to how people see us, we honestly aren't very good at acting cute."

That arguably cheesy choreography certainly didn't hamper the song's success: According to Billboard, "Cheer Up" rocketed to the #1 spot on iTunes K-pop chart almost immediately upon release.

​Cheer Up spawned the Shy shy shy meme

One particular moment in "Cheer Up" immediately captured the public's imagination, and it's not the sort of thing any producer could ever plan for. When Japanese vocalist Sana sang the lyric "Shy Shy Shy," she pronounced it "Sha Sha Sha." Fans immediately picked up on this and found it hopelessly endearing, reportedly mimicking it at every opportunity. Talking to MBC's Radio Star (via AllKPop) in November 2016, Sana revealed she was initially thrilled with her newfound viral status. "I thought, 'Why are they pronouncing it like that? I'm working so hard,'" she said. The situation made her a bit paranoid: "I felt like I was being made fun of. Because I couldn't pronounce it properly. I felt wronged."

According to BIllboard, TWICE unwittingly started a "viral trend" in South Korea with the "Shy Shy Shy" phenomenon. If you feel like irrevocably losing your mind, you can watch TWICE superfan Amaani's ten-minute loop of these sections here. Several other fans also spliced together clips of other K-pop personalities paying homage to the "Shy Shy Shy" phenomenon, including stars from BTS, Akdong Musician (a.k.a, Akmu,) and the South Korean girl group Mamamoo. During a July 2016 appearance on the Korean talk show Happy Together, Sana was endlessly badgered about "Shy Shy Shy," and lip-synched the phrase several times. And then again.

Oh, and here's a one-hour loop of "Shy Shy Shy." Go nuts. 

​TWICE members were tearful over a canceled concert

On July 28, 2018, the nine members of TWICE were huddled inside Kuala Lumpur International Airport, preparing to leave Malaysia. Photographs and fan videos captured the mood: grim, decidedly un-bubblegum. According to AllKpop, some TWICE members were even in tears. A day prior, TWICE's concert in Kuala Lumpur, part of the band's "TWICELAND ZONE 2: Fantasy Park" tour, had been canceled over "safety concerns." Fans were at the airport reportedly trying to cheer up the entertainers, shouting in Korean: "Don't cry! It's okay!"

"We ask for your generous understanding that this decision has been made considering the safety of the artistes and audience as our top priority," said JYP Entertainment in a statement (via NST). "We are truly sad to deliver this announcement to all fans who have been waiting for TWICE." Koreaboo reported the announcement was made less than 24 hours before the scheduled show, which was allegedly canceled because the stage was "unstable" and couldn't be fixed in time for TWICE to work its magic.

According to Subject KPop, stagehands "found out the stage base was tilted after setting up," allegedly because of a stage prop that was "too heavy." The tweet assured fans that "TWICE will definitely come back to Malaysia for their concert," though no official date was immediately set.

​The kiss that caused a commotion

In what may have been a surefire strategy to make fans go nuts, during a characteristically giddy concert in Bangkok, Thailand, on Aug. 18, 2018, two members of TWICE reportedly kissed on stage. As the crowd whooped and whistled, Jeongyeon reportedly removed her sunglasses and turned coyly to Nayeon (via Gay Star News.) The two young women pulled each other close, Nayeon clinging tenderly to Jeongyeon, and the two stars kissed for five seconds or so.

Though decidedly of the "Did They Or Didn't They?" variety, this overly cutesy lip-lock sent social media channels into overdrive. The zealous concertgoer who captured the moment on video even captioned her tweet: "They are the gay legends!"

This exceedingly slight Sapphic provocation lit up Twitter. "Did Nayeon and Jeongyeon really just kiss on stage? BRB while I go scream," wrote a hysterical fan. One stray skeptic wondered: "Did Nayeon and Jeongyeon actually kiss or is it just the angle of the video? Will we ever know?"

Meanwhile, another K-pop devotee added, "Jeongyeon has these sudden outbursts where she just really wants to kiss Nayeon and i think that's beautiful." 

The dish that made ​Chou Tzuyu weep

Judging by one television appearance, Chou Tzuyu is a sensitive soul. On June 28, 2016, the blog for International Community Radio Taipei reported that the singer burst into tears during an episode of the South Korean cooking program Please Take Care of My Refrigerator (alternately known as Chef & My Fridge.) Shortly after Tzuyu tasted one of the dishes, the food apparently stirred up memories of cozy meals with her family. When the program's host asked if the food reminded her of her mother, Tzuyu lost control and cried.

Fellow bandmate Jeongyeon, who also appeared on the episode, tried consoling Tzuyu, noting how the performer wasn't so easily riled: She claimed Tzuyu didn't even get emotional when they'd won first place in a recent music competition. Immediately, social media was reportedly overwhelmed with support from TWICE fans (who are called Once), with many enthusiasts recalling how Tzuyu had remained upbeat throughout "Flag-gate." A post on TWICE's official Facebook page featured a photo of Tzuyu along with a message of support: "ONCE & TWICE will be always with you, TZUYU."

One fan felt compelled to write: "We are heartbreaking [sic] when seeing you cry, but it is more heartbreaking to see you pretend or force yourself to be strong and never cry, no matter behind or in front of the camera."