At this point, it’s almost pointless to review a TWICE single, at least in terms of impacting a song’s popularity. No matter the quality, the group’s brand will ensure any song is immediately lodged at the top of the charts and played into oblivion. Even if you don’t love the track on first listen, it’ll eventually wear you down through sheer ubiquity. And though their past few singles haven’t quite spawned the meme-worthy fervor of hits like “Cheer Up“ and “TT“, the girls are clearly operating at the height of their imperial phase.
“What Is Love?” opens with the now familiar synth-assisted pop stomp and layered shout that has become synonymous with TWICE. It goes on to follow the template set by almost all of their previous singles, but with a cleaner, more streamlined structure. Gone are the unpredictable, pop-up hooks of a Black Eyed Pilseung production, replaced by agency-head JYP’s more classic approach. This is a double-edged sword. “What Is Love?” lands as one of Twice’s least contentious, pleasantly innocuous pop tracks, but feels somewhat inconsequential when stacked against their biggest hits.
TWICE has always worked best when they push back on K-pop’s more generic leanings, puncturing familiar melodies with inventive asides and memorable one-liners. A song as straightforward as “What Is Love?” only reveals their shortcomings. Its chorus is certainly catchy, but nothing we haven’t heard from other like-minded groups. It’s a pleasure to hear the girls tone down their kewpie-doll performance style for the song’s chugging, melodic verses, and that shimmering call-and-response chorus works well enough. However, the song remains remarkably flat throughout its running time, lacking the kind of playful peaks we’ve come to expect from TWICE. With their level of success, they can definitely afford to coast. But wouldn’t it be all the more exciting if they were to leverage the immense pop culture capital they’ve earned to go even weirder and bigger and more idiosyncratic?