There is great debate on Twitter about who the biggest girl group is right now. For some, it's the K–Pop giant BLACKPINK, who captivated the world following their 2019 Coachella set and 2020’s THE ALBUM. For others, it might be the British group Little Mix, who has had consistently solid showings with their past few albums and is arguably at the height of their fame.

A fair argument stands that it’s TWICE, who has been silently but deservedly taking the world by storm. Debuting in 2015, the group has released a whopping five studio albums and 11 EPs in either Korean or Japanese, with each subsequent release expanding their brand of colorful K–Pop. There’s no doubt that this nine–member group has been busy, and with their contracts expiring in 2022, one might wonder how they will ride their last leg—assuming their label, JYP Entertainment, is dumb enough not to renew their contracts.

In 2021 alone, TWICE has already released two projects: this summer’s Korean EP Taste of Love and the Japanese album Perfect World. While Perfect World was intended for Japanese audiences, Taste of Love teased their newest release, Formula of Love: O+T=<3, to the world at large. Songs from the EP like “Alcohol–Free” and “Conversation” showed a more mature side of TWICE compared to older songs like the jovial “CHEER UP” or the youthful “What is Love?” while still retaining TWICE’s quintessential girl–crush image. The sounds and instrumentals that were present in the EP reappear in Formula, showing clear continuity and a logical natural progression.

Another of the EP's key elements is an increasing presence of English lyrics. While the comeback was Korean at its core, choruses and even almost an entire song from the six–track project were in English—subtly hinting at the girl group’s international aspirations. TWICE is no stranger to releasing English versions of their hit tracks like “I CAN’T STOP ME” or “MORE & MORE," but up until now, they have never released an English–only song.

It’s fitting that listeners' first sample of Formula was “The Feels,” which was the group’s first English–language single. While the song chases the latest musical trend of '80s throwbacks, there's no doubt that the serotonin–packed production is undeniably TWICE. It combines the cutesy image from their earlier days with a modern pop sound. TWICE’s first attempt at a Western market–oriented release proved to be a success, landing the girl group their first chart entry in the U.K. and the U.S., and making them only the third K–Pop girl group to ever do so in the latter market.

The rest of the album follows in the footsteps of “The Feels,” with a clear goal of properly introducing TWICE to the English–speaking world. “MOONLIGHT” is another '80s–inspired disco–pop track that purports the fantasy of “dancing in the moonlight” with someone you love and kissing them "when the mood's right.” “CANDY” is a dreamy track that describes innocent love like “candy sugar, so sweet.” It would be perfect for a teen rom–com. “ICON” sounds like a Dangerous Woman outtake, with an instrumental akin to “Side To Side,” complete with charismatic lyrics such as “damn, I got it, I’m iconic.” All four of the previously mentioned tracks make up the English–only tracks of the album, ensuring that non–Korean fans can still sing along and connect with them. Also of note, UK singer Anne–Marie was a credited writer for the group’s second single, “SCIENTIST.” 

Yet, with all the Western influences in the project, TWICE’s personality is never diluted within the songs. In “CRUEL,” a spiritual sequel to Taste of Love’sScandal,” the girl group details their revenge against their former lovers while singing, “I'm just doing all the things that you do.” “F.I.L.A (Fall In Love Again)” is another groovy dance–pop offering with a chorus arranged to make you feel the back–and–forth energy the girls are experiencing as they “fall in love again.”  

While Formula has a stellar and cohesive first half, the second half fails to match the same intensity. Following the dramatic, string–filled “LAST WALTZ,” the tempo grinds to a halt with the slow funk of “ESPRESSO,” which in turn hampers the second half's pacing. The album’s only ballads, “REWIND” and “CACTUS,” are unfortunately placed between songs with wildly different moods and tempos, disrupting the listening experience. These quieter moments feel like reading someone’s diary, invading the girls’ personal space, and would benefit if they were better integrated with the rest of the project.

After these ballads, we are introduced, for the first time, to sub–unit songs, which feature a select few of TWICE's members rather than the entire group. The nine–member group is divided into groups of three, creating three distinct projects. While “PUSH & PULL (JIHYO, SANA, DAHYUN)” fits with the album’s '80s–inspired theme, “HELLO (NAEYON, MOMO, CHAEYOUNG)” throws the record suddenly into hip–hop territory with trap beats and swaggering rap verses. The random, Latin–inspired “1, 3, 2 (JEONGYEON, MINA, TZUYU)” has no place in the album, although it is a solid song on its own. While the ability for the girls to branch out is admirable, the removal of these songs wouldn't lower the album's quality. TWICE could’ve made the project into a tight 11–track album, and it would easily be one of the best K–Pop albums in recent memory.

Lastly, the album is indecisive on whether or not to properly include “The Feels” into its tracklist. The single is present only on streaming platforms, and if one were to buy the CD, they would find “The Feels (Korean Version)” in its place. The translated song is somewhat jarring given that fans are already used to the original version, making the Korean remake into a kind of pseudo–cover. For what is arguably the girl’s most successful single internationally, the dual identity of the song is disorienting.

At the end of the day, however, the girls showcase their strengths. The second single, “SCIENTIST,” summarizes the album the best. As the girls once asked “What Is Love?”, they reach an important epiphany: “Love ain't a science.” The true formula of love, TWICE argues, is the intangible love they have for each other and their fans, known as ONCE. The abbreviations in the album's title stand for "ONCE + TWICE = LOVE." Throughout the record, we hear the girls pour their hearts and souls. This is why TWICE has found the blueprint to a perfect pop album: Not only are they able to keep up with the times, but they never forget their roots—staying true to themselves and their fans. Every track exudes confidence and sincerity, qualities that ultimately make the project cohesive and the group’s best yet.

It’s a shame that the girl group only barely cracked the Western markets with their last few releases. One can hope that TWICE will showcase their true international potential if their contracts are renewed. However, if the group ends up disbanding, at least they have ended on a high note with the victory lap that is Formula of Love.