K-Pop Superstars Twice Touch Down on East Coast With Uplifting Concert

Jeff Auger
K-pop girl group Twice

Member Mina removed herself from Twice's first North American tour due to anxiety, but that didn't stop the girl group from showing their support with multiple tributes during their Sunday night stop at New Jersey's Prudential Center — which also included celebrations of confidence, sensuality and pride.

Nearly 20,000 K-pop fans on Sunday night gathered at Newark, New Jersey's Prudential Center to take in a three-hour spectacle from Seoul superstars Twice. The concert — a continuous celebration of self-expression — marked the latest stop on the North American leg of the nine-piece girl group's TWICELIGHTS world tour, produced by Live Nation. 

Twice — equally known for their countless catchy singles as they are for their progressive attitudes — are leading the recent shift in K-pop culture, which sees some of today's top artists speaking out about once stigmatic topics such as mental health. With support from their record label, JYP Entertainment, members Jihyo, Sana, Nayeon, Momo, Jeongyeon, Dahyun, Chaeyoung and Tzuyu are using their platform to empower those who might be suffering. As Twice's legions of admirers — collectively called "Once" — are well aware, beloved dancer and vocalist Mina removed herself from the group's latest round of concerts due to crippling anxiety.

"Mina is currently struggling with sudden extreme anxiety and insecurity towards performing on stage," JYP said of the 22-year-old performer in a July 10 statement. "No exact diagnosis has been identified yet, and we are consulting with several medical professionals to verify the cause in detail. After extensive discussion with Mina and members of Twice, we have decided that Mina’s current condition requires additional treatment, professional measures and sufficient rest."  

This open dialogue about a sensitive subject, a rarity in K-pop, has been laced throughout Twice's tour sans Mina, which kicked off last Wednesday at The Forum in Los Angeles. Paying tribute to her in various ways, both with sweet words and touching gestures, it was clear that she was on the forefront of the eight performing members' minds throughout Sunday night's New Jersey show. 

Before a powerful string of ballads — featuring Twice's "After Moon," "You in My Heart," "Sunset" and a stripped-down version of "Heart Shaker" — the arena's colorful glow from the band's official CandyBong Z light sticks turned entirely mint green, Mina's designated hue. Prompted by the crowd chanting Mina's name, a tearful Jihyo discussed her absence and the emotional toll it has taken. "I really miss Mina," she said through an interpreter, drying her eyes with a towel. "Seeing Mina's color today, I really miss her."

Later, Twice shared video footage of the moment on their Twitter page. "Many people beside you. Illuminated with your color," the group wrote. "No more cry. Always be with you."

Mina's presence was also felt when pre-taped visuals would play in between sections of the concert. The venue filled with deafening applause every time her face appeared onscreen. And, toward the end of the show, when Twice took a selfie with their ever-loyal Once, they purposefully left a space open for Mina — who, as Nayeon told the audience, "we miss so much." Echoed Chaeyoung, "Please remember us as nine members and always be with us."

Though Twice's accepting tone toward mental health certainly stood out, TWICELIGHTS also served as a sparkling exhibition of confidence and pride — complemented by an abundance of dazzling costume changes, exceptionally polished dance routines and eye-catching imagery, plus pyrotechnics, lasers, streamers and confetti.

The young women, who range in age from 20 to 23, embraced their sexuality during tantalizing numbers for "Strawberry," "Woohoo" and even a cover of Beyoncé's provocative 2011 anthem "Dance for You," performed only by Dahyun, Sana and Tzuyu. "A little bit sexy?" Dahyun later asked aloud, to which Once affirmed with ear-shattering screams. "Nice," she added with a smile and a wink, undoubtedly aware that the trio's spot-on re-creation of Queen Bey's original choreography, along with their red, skin-baring ensembles, was well-received.

In another ode to an American pop diva among their robust set, Chaeyoung, Nayeon and Jeongyeon commanded the stage with a high-octane interpretation of Lady Gaga's gay chorale "Born This Way." Practically mirroring Mother Monster's music video move for move, the girls beamed as they belted out the lyrics: "No matter gay, straight or bi, lesbian, transgender life / I'm on the right track, baby / I was born to survive."

Twice's subtle but frequent displays of affection for the LGBTQ community were reflected back in the sea of rainbow flags and clothing dispersed throughout the Prudential Center. Their demonstrated support for diverse sexual orientations and gender identities has garnered a massive queer fan base across the globe. (Gay marriage still isn't legally recognized in South Korea.) "There's a story behind this performance," Nayeon said of Twice's "Born This Way" bit, not going into detail. However, she did make sure to mention, "It's one of our favorite songs."

While wrapping up their show with an extended encore comprised of tracks "Signal," "Knock Knock" and, finally, "Stuck," the ladies expressed their gratitude for a successful first headlining show on the East Coast. Twice previously played the Prudential Center in the summer of 2017 at the KCON music festival.

"I was here for KCON two years ago and I'm so happy that we can do our own concert at the same place. This fills me with emotion because it means we've worked so hard," Chaeyoung said of Twice, who, with their latest EP, Fancy You, have cemented themselves as the best-selling Korean girl group of all time, having sold more than six million copies of their 16 international releases since their 2015 debut. 

According to Dahyun, Twice "will never forget the memories" of spending Sunday evening with their tri-state area Once. "This is our first time we are having our concert in Newark. Thank you for coming here for us cheerfully and giving us your energy," she said. "I'm so thrilled to meet my lovely Once. You made my day. Now I'm so happy. I think I'm a very happy person because I'm with you. Even though we are physically apart, I know we are close to each other in our hearts."

Although Twice hails from the other side of the world, Nayeon assured the audience that it wouldn't be the last time the Garden State sees them live: "After seeing everyone's eyes today, I know I have to come back and perform for you again. I'm so happy to be in Newark because of you. … Thank you for always being beside me and, lastly, thank you for letting me be on this stage. I promise I'll come back again."

The North American run of Twice's TWICELIGHTS world tour concludes on Tuesday night at Chicago's Wintrust Arena, before making its way to Malaysia on Aug. 17.

Setlist:

"Stuck in My Head"
"Cheer Up"
"Touchdown"
"BDZ"
"Yes or Yes"
"I Want You Back" (Jackson 5 cover)
"Dance the Night Away"
"After Moon"
"You in My Heart"
"Sunset"
"Heart Shaker"
"Strawberry"
"Woohoo"
"Dance for You" (Beyoncé cover — performed by Dahyun, Sana and Tzuyu)
"Goodbye" (Taemin cover — performed by Jihyo and Momo)
"Born This Way" (Lady Gaga cover — performed by Chaeyoung, Jeongyeon and Nayeon)
"Turn It Up" (Video interlude)
"Likey"
"What Is Love?"
"Like Ooh-Ahh"
"TT"
"Fancy"

Encore:

"Signal"
"Knock Knock"
"Stuck"