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TWICE on 'Fresh Approach' to Friendship and What Gives Them the 'Confidence to Go On' in New Album (Exclusive)

"I think it's between us and ONCE," Jihyo says of the love the nine members have with their fans, the ONCE

It’s often the longest friendships that we treasure most in our hearts. The “old friends” are the ones we not only invite to our weddings, but make our maids of honor. They’re the ones that shared our inside jokes, witnessed our lowest moments and loved us for who we were, even before we knew what that was like ourselves.

There’s perhaps no other group more exemplary of this special bond than TWICE. It’s been a long journey for the nine young women ever since they joined forces in 2015. From then on, the girls — Jihyo, 26, Nayeon, 28, Jeongyeon, 27, Momo, 27, Sana, 27, Mina, 26, Dahyun, 25, Chaeyoung, 24, and Tzuyu, 24 — have soared to heights they never could have imagined, like being the first K-pop act to ever be honored at the Billboard Women in Music Awards with the “Breakthrough Award.”

Now, with the release of their 13th mini-album, With YOU-th, the girls are ready to pay homage to the relationships they’ve built since their youth. It’s a love letter, written with nostalgia and hope for both each other and their fans, named the ONCE.

“This album is about our friendship and how ONCE has always been there to watch us grow as friends and as a group,” Jihyo summarizes.

<p>JYP Entertainment</p> TWICE

JYP Entertainment

TWICE

If the idea of friendship brings up feelings of warmth, then you’ll certainly have “The Feels” when the
“One Spark” singers appear on Zoom to chat with PEOPLE. While sitting in two rows dressed in warm, comfy sweatshirts, they rub the sleep out of their eyes after a long day.

There’s even an honorary tenth member of the group that makes an appearance: Momo’s white dog, who patiently sits in Jihyo’s lap and pants as the leader of the group strokes his fur.

Such a setup is nothing new for TWICE when looking back at their eight year journey. Unlike other friendships, which usually grow at a distance, the group has faced every new chapter of their lives together. Through the rip-roaring tidal waves of highs and lows, the girls have weathered every storm with grace. However, in the face of the scariest storms, it’s their togetherness that has not only allowed them to survive, but thrive.

Their pre-release single, “I Got You,” showcases exactly the kind of power their bond holds. As the nightmare fuel-inducing seastorm threatens to capsize their small sailboat, the girls inside are anything but shaken up. Whether they’re voyaging to find land or treasure is hard to tell — but amidst the warm, caramel-colored interior, everyone’s face is aglow with reassurance.

Such a storm is almost similar to the tumultuous twenties — the decade where every young person is striving to find out who they are amidst a series of obstacles and challenges. Growing into their late twenties under the spotlight can arguably be just as rocky, but the girls manage to find the bright side.

“I think the hard part about growing into our late twenties is that the more we mature and meet fans as TWICE, there are so many things that we’ve presented them,” Jihyo says. “The hard part is to come up with new and fresh things as artists.”

“The good thing is as the years go by, our teamwork becomes more solid and we get to know each other even better as the years go by,” she continues. “We have less conflicts and the relationship is way more smooth now.”

<p>JYP Entertainment</p> TWICE

JYP Entertainment

TWICE

And indeed, the waves become just as smooth when the skies clear to reveal a glittering azure sea. Rather than suffocate and drown under the torrential raindrops of doubt, a red ribbon of fate ties them together. The ribbon becomes all the more important when the “Fancy” singers ascend to greater heights, because it saves them from a potentially even greater fall. But rather than cower in fear, there’s a confident air about each of them. After all, they’ve passed the trust fall long ago.

The “Talk that Talk” performers are just as sure about their identity as a group over the years, and it is anything but sugar-coated.

“Our identity has always been that we show who we are to our fans without anything artificial, trying too hard to look better than who we are, and that honesty has been met so well by our fans,” Dahyun says.

Related: The Next Queens of K-Pop: TWICE Drops 'Addictive' English-Language Single 'The Feels'

“I know we tried a lot of new things, but I think our identity and our overall general concept stayed pretty consistent throughout the years,” Nayeon adds of their diverse discography. “I don’t think the fans felt like it was completely different, but rather, as a fresh approach to our consistent identity.”

<p>JYP Entertainment</p> TWICE

JYP Entertainment

TWICE

It quickly becomes apparent that the fans are completely inseparable from the members’ minds as they reflect on their career. In fact, when asked to give their take on “What is Love?” (the same name as their 2018 hit song), the girls don’t even hesitate to give an answer:

“ONCE,” Dahyun says immediately, which prompts bursts of smiles from the members around her.

“I think it’s between us and ONCE,” Jihyo also reiterates, having just passed on the pup to Nayeon’s lap.

Indeed, the fans have basically watched the girls grow up and blossom into who they are as performers on and off the stage. However, even though the “Alcohol-Free” singers are well beyond seasoned as global superstars, the nerves never do completely go away.

Related: TWICE Release Second English Single 'Moonlight Sunrise,' and It Has a Special Hidden Significance for Fans

“It still lingers when we perform, but during our concerts or whenever we do stage performances, it’s the fans that give us the certainty and the confidence to go on and perform for them,” Nayeon says of their pre-stage jitters.

What also doesn’t just linger, but only grows stronger, is a sense of nostalgia. It’s an incredibly potent feeling, and just one whiff of it can send anyone down a whirlpool of happy memories.

“We recently had our eighth anniversary fan meeting, and that’s when some of us, including myself-” Chaeyoung begins. “-Especially myself, cried the most recently. I tried to hide as much as possible, but one of the managers got everything on camera, so it’s out there.”

<p>JYP Entertainment</p> TWICE

JYP Entertainment

TWICE

For Tzuyu, nostalgic memories are also inextricably tied to the fans. 

“Sometimes they rent a whole coffee shop to celebrate our birthdays, and it’s like the coffee shop is covered with our photos and memorabilia,” she describes. “They do that kind of event for us and every time, I’m so touched to see that and I just feel so loved.”

Seeing younger groups emerging on the scenes has also transported them back in time to their early days. While TWICE remains a leader alongside groups like BTS and BLACKPINK from the “third generation” of K-pop, the genre has already moved well into its fourth, and soon-to-be “fifth generation.” It’s new girl group VCHA in particular that has struck the TWICE members after seeing them perform as the opener for their tour stops in Mexico and Brazil.

Related: New Global Group VCHA Debuts as the 'Girls of the Year' and Reveal 'How Far We've Come' (Exclusive)

“When I see younger groups emerging like this, I’m just really impressed at how good they are already,” Tzuyu says. “There are a lot of things that we learn from them as well, and it’s their passion that kind of brings us back to when we started. When I see their passion, I think of our days when we first began.”

But don’t let the hyper-fast landscape of K-pop fool you — the “I Can’t Stop Me” singers are still just as youthful in their humor as they are in appearance and age.

For instance, Nayeon loves to play a game of extremes, where members are forced to choose between two tough choices. Although simple, it can quickly become an addicting game played for hours at a time. Yet, the extremes are thrown out so fast on the spot that it can get tough to remember them. After a moment of thought, Nayeon tries to do just that:

“One question I remember asking was, ‘How long can you stay away from home?” She says.

“As long as you can get compensated for it afterwards,” she adds.

This might be a tough one, considering that most of the members love to stay home and decompress whenever they’re not working.

“I try to stay home as much as possible,” Momo emphasizes. “I don’t go out if I don’t have to — I just like to rest at home.”

Perhaps for Momo, it’s her two dogs — one named Boo, and the other named Dobby — that keep her content at home. When asked if the famous Harry Potter elf had an influence on her naming choices, she’s straightforward:

“No, it’s not,” she says with a laugh. “I didn't name him Dobby after Harry Potter, but there is a resemblance, which are the ears of my dog.” After that very concession, she raises her hands up by her ears to demonstrate.

At the end of the day, it’s not their cute appearance that makes up the best part of being a dog owner.

“[It’s the] therapeutic aspect,” she explains. “When I go home, my dog greets me and that is completely therapeutic and it really heals my soul.”

Related: ITZY Is 'Born to Be' Resilient on New Album: 'Think About How Strong You Are' (Exclusive)

Momo isn’t the only dog lover in the group. Jeongyeon also chimes in about her own two dogs, named Yuki and 땅콩 (pronounced ttang-kong), which means “Peanut” in English.

As for the cat lovers, don’t worry – plenty of the members’ relatives own cats of their own. Jeongyeon, Jihyo, Nayeon and Sana are all quick to chime in on how cat representation is well and alive amongst their family members.

However, it may be awhile before the members can spend all day with their furry companions. Right now, they’re currently in the midst of the second leg of their fifth world tour, “READY TO BE,” which will take them far across Asia, Europe, Oceania, South America and in the U.S. for a one-night-only encore performance.

Though the girls have much to look forward to on tour and for the rest of the new year, they’re all aligned on an overarching priority.

“I think the top priority is the health of all members, including myself, and having fun together,” Mina says. “Going forward, we want to show ourselves as we are, as we always did to ONCE.”

And after sailing forward in “I Got You,” the girls finally do indeed reach land in the end. But perhaps, they realize that the real treasure of their friendship was with them the entire time. That’s what makes the journey, and not the destination, the best part — and none of them would “have it any other way.”

“We’ll make it through / Just like we always do,” they sing.

With YOU-th is now available to stream.

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