There are expected feelings when attending a concert: excitement, energy, celebration. But as I walked into the Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles on May 15 holding my lightstick, I couldn’t help but feel nervous about seeing the K-pop girl group TWICE live for the first time. I walked towards the other concert-goers entering the venue but hung back, not wanting to merge into them. I feared being judged because of what I looked like, feeling like I didn’t quite belong there. Never mind that I had flown hundreds of miles from Dallas, enlisted friends’ help to purchase tickets across multiple devices, and had blasted the group’s songs on the drive over just to witness TWICE’s first stadium concert in the U.S. Of course, I was overjoyed to be there. But at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel like an outsider in a space that ultimately was representative of me.
I’m a full-on ONCE, the girl group’s fandom name. I listen to them daily, watch their content when it drops, and follow all sorts of stan accounts on TikTok. The first song that reeled me in was “Likey,” and my favorite song is “Feel Special.” To me, TWICE elicits the purest joy I’ve experienced from any artist in a long time. Their music feels like a fresh spring morning — unbelievably positive, full of energy, and, above all, captivatingly happy. When I watch their videos, I can see the members’ personalities, the hard work they put into everything they do, and the care they have for each other and their fans. They’re also beautiful, yes. But they’re so much more than their looks.
As a straight, 34-year-old Mexican man, I was taught men like certain things, “cosas de hombres,” growing up, which are the opposite of what women like. It’s a blue or pink world, and liking a girl group definitely didn’t feel like it was in the blue category. There was too much laughing; there was too much niceness; it was too pretty. Within a machista culture, it’s just not manly to take interest in a group of nine young women that dance and sing about wanting to know if love could really “be as sweet as candy.” It’s as if I can only watch them interact with each other if it’s exclusively for their objectification and not for the joy I feel from their music and personalities.
For a long time, whenever I’d listen to their music, and a work colleague would ask what I was listening to, I’d hide my phone and say I was listening to something else. I expected judgment because it’s fun, fluffy pop music. Almost every time I’ve told someone I’m a fan of TWICE, they look them up and will turn to me with a smirk and say, “Of course you like them,” implying that the only reason I could like a girl group is that I sexualize them. As outsiders, that could seem as the logical way to frame someone like me in the fandom. But they were actually projecting their objectification of the members onto me and seemingly assumed it’s the same case for me.
“Within a machista culture, it’s just not manly to take interest in a group of nine young women that dance and sing about wanting to know if love could really ‘be as sweet as candy.’”
Being a fan of TWICE has been a delight, but it’s also been a pain. It always comes with a disclaimer. If I were to say I’m a fan of Banda MS or Pusha T, which I am, no one would ask why. But that question has always come up with TWICE. It all boils down to “I’m not supposed to like that,” because it doesn’t align with good old machista views historically present in Latin American communities. I’m not supposed to enjoy watching YouTube videos of women playing board games or being silly. I’m supposed to strictly sexualize them. I’m not supposed to be into light, effervescent music. I’m supposed to be into angry or boastful or even sad drunk music. And yet, here I am. Machismo be damned. It’s nice to connect with music that makes you feel happy, and TWICE makes me the happiest.
As TWICE came on stage on that concert night, the crowd roared. I turned on my lightstick and was one dot in a sea of thousands who swung theirs back and forth to every song. I realized no one was looking at me funny; there was no judgment. I was actually surrounded by many other guys of different ethnicities and ages, as well as women. All this time, I was the only one excluding myself and still holding onto the idea that enjoying this to the degree and in the way that I do was inappropriate “para un hombre.” I was the one holding onto the idea that it’s weird that this is what makes me happy.
At that moment, I decided to fully let go of the internalized shame that being an openly TWICE fan uncovered in me. I smiled for almost three hours straight. I sang and moved (I wouldn’t call it dancing) to almost every song. And when the night ended with fireworks as “Dance The Night Away” played, I got teary-eyed. I was happy and uplifted, and if that’s not the purpose of art, what is? Is it less valuable just because young women make it and interpret it? K-pop has been tearing down language barriers in the music industry, and maybe it’s helping, at least me, do away with traditional toxic gender norms.
In finding TWICE, I found something that ultimately brings me joy. In a society that tells many of us to assimilate while growing up in cultures that perpetuate harmful norms, it’d be powerful to see other Latino men like me experience joy as an act of resistance, too. They just need to look past what’s expected of them and instead look for what they want and need. It’s safe to say that we could all use more happiness in our lives, and searching for it is worthwhile in all spaces, whether that’s in a music group, a new hobby, or the clothes you wear. What is life without innate joy? TWICE broke down a lot of what I thought was an acceptable source of happiness within me and has made my life much richer for it.