Eighteen-year-old Matilda Oberman was one of the first people in a line of hundreds outside a storefront on Melrose Avenue on Saturday morning. She had come with a group of K-pop obsessed friends and family to meet Twice, the South Korean pop group and one of the hottest young acts in the world.
To claim her first spot in line, where fans hoped to score a rack of exclusive merchandise and take selfies with the group, Oberman had to camp out on the sidewalk on a chilly Friday morning.
“It was so cold last night, we slept freezing cold on the sidewalk,” Oberman said, relatively unfazed by the trials and tribulations she had to endure to be there. A kind mother brought pizza for their crew, and “people brought us hand warmers and everyone on the store staff was so nice to take care of us.”
The line to see the nine-member women’s group injured several residential blocks, prompting a passing Uber driver to slow down to ask who they all wanted to see there. (He got his answer very loudly.) The overnight enthusiasm was a clear sign that K-pop, now entering its third wave of US popularity, has new stadium-sized heroes in Twice.
Since its formation in 2015, the group – now in their mid-twenties, led by vocalist Jihyo along with singers, rappers and dancers Nayeon, Jeongyeon, Momo, Sana, Mina, Dahyun, Chaeyoung and Tzuyu – has grown steadily and relentlessly. Their upbeat music, blending R&B, synthpop, and hip-hop, is undeniably charming and skillful with the genre, as evidenced by their forthcoming mini album “Ready to Be,” due out this week.
But their live marathon shows – recent sets at Banc of California Stadium have stretched over three hours – is where they really shine for fans. A June date at SoFi Stadium already has the Once (the group’s name for their fandom) ready to take on Ticketmaster once again.
“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 fight 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 Twice’s wives made him feel “very, very emotional,” he said.
“I like their work ethic,” said 29-year-old Mariana Vasquez, who had driven out of Downey late that morning. She was not shocked by her very distant position at the end of the row. “You can tell they really have a deep love for writing music,” she said, and she was willing to tell them.
As global supergroup BTS enters a much-anticipated hiatus for its members to fulfill their mandatory South Korean military service, and mega-labels HYBE and SM Entertainment jockey for ownership interests in an increasingly hostile war of attrition, the title of “Biggest Active Band in K- pop” is very much up for grabs.
You could believably say it’s from 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 will join BTS in June as the only headlining K-pop groups at SoFi Stadium, the home of last year’s Superkom.
It’s a far cry from KCON, the South Korean pop culture festival where they made their LA debut in 2016, and a big swing for a group that’s not quite on the radar of American pop fans who might know BTS or Blackpink. (Twice’s two English-language singles, “The Feels” and “Moonlight Sunrise”, retired from the Hot 100 in the 1980s). Their rise was not easy – the members 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 the doors opened, the nine women of Twice were well aware that their SoFi date was a pivotal moment in their careers. If things go according to plan, they’ll be joining a new class of global superstars, a feat they don’t take lightly.
“We’re going to perform in one of the biggest stadiums in the world,” said Nayeon (the group members spoke through a translator). “We are so grateful to LA for this. But we are also very proud of ourselves.”
“Since we were able to move from KCON to here, I think we were only able to do that because of these fans,” said Jihyo, looking out at the crowd gathered below.
While Twice isn’t as overtly edgy as Blackpink, a song like “Moonlight Sunrise,” with its fast-paced R&B runs and stacks of harmonies, shows that the group members are ambitious musicians in their own right. They are proficient in English singing and Japanese lyrics. (They have dozens of Japanese singles like fan favorite “Donut,” and said they hoped to include them in the US setlist.)
Chaeyoung, the group’s petite, tattooed lead rapper (a rarity for women in the tight genre), sounded very excited about a new rock direction they’re taking with “Ready to Be.” “Every time we come out with a new album, we try to have a new genre and a new challenge,” she said.
Twice has had enough of those challenges in the past three years. In 2020, Jongyeon had to take a lot of time off to recover from a herniated disc in her neck that required surgery – just before a highly anticipated arena tour. Both Nayeon and Mina have had to flee from stalkers, who tracked down their parents’ home and even bought plane tickets to try to approach them with a flight. The anxiety became so intense that Mina had to take a break from touring.
While male K-pop groups like BTS have more room to open up about their mental health issues in the superstar glare, female groups like Twice have only just begun to feel they can express their need for quiet and a veil of privacy.
“As time went by, we realized that when we had that short time to rest, you get a lot of positivity from taking that risk,” Jongyeon said. “I think both the artists and the company now know that rest is good and positive for us.”
In the long winding line below, fans were willing to slog for hours to land posters and photos and tell Twice how much they appreciated them. If they ever needed a break again after SoFi, 19-year-old superfan Melany Figueroa would have their back.
“They deserve time to get back to normal,” Figueroa said. “They deserve whatever it takes to be happy.”