Twice’s I Can’t Stop Me didn’t usher in the new wave of girl group synthpop I’d hoped for, but the song remains a high watermark in their discography. However, K-pop moves quickly and the girls are already exploring new genres. Alcohol-Free tackles summertime sounds, forgoing the season’s traditional K-pop tropes for a surprising blend of trendy trap-pop, bossa nova and chill lounge music.
This is an off-kilter move for Twice, and that’s putting it mildly. I admire the chutzpah, even if I don’t think this works as a title track. I’m sure my own aversion to “chill” sounds in K-pop colors my opinion, though I do think laidback grooves have the potential to be transcendent in their own way. To do this, they require a killer melody and nuanced vocal performance. One of my favorite slow jams of all time — Janet Jackson’s classic That’s The Way Love Goes — possesses both of these qualities in spades. But unlike Janet, I don’t know that Twice are the best conduit for this tempo and style.
The girls are excellent performers with charisma to spare. However, their vocals lack the texture to drive a song this sparse. Alcohol-Free‘s arrangement doesn’t help, opting for a straightforward performance rather than a lush, layered soundscape filled with harmony and interplay. Because of this, the track just kind of limps from segment to segment. The production offers a few interesting elements — filtered strings + plucked guitar + that aforementioned bossa nova beat – but without a topline as engaging, Alcohol-Free sputters. This will no doubt grow with time, and certainly makes for pleasant summertime background music. But, it’s been awhile since a Twice title track felt so uneventful.