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Increasing English Lyrics – Is it Good for K-pop?

A foreword from Listen To The World

[Jakarta, LTTW] Music is as common as language, and even likely almost as old. Different and unique music derived from different culture exist on Earth; from the most “complex” ones to the least. From the Europe to the Andes, Japan to the Saharan Dessert in Africa, we can find both music and language that probably has been with us from ancient times to the present.

From the culture point of view, music was developed within the mechanism of humans’ development happened since the dawn of time, where language being as one of the determinant factors (along with technology, ideology, politics, economy, and nature) in shaping the identities of many musical structures around the world. In other words, our prehistoric ancestors had to create their own music based entirely on their surrounding context. This is what makes an African chant was far different from a Gregorian, as well as Indian singing compare to the Bulgarian.

For centuries, the development of music and language was running good, until eons later—in the times of globalization—when one language became a big fuzz for musicians and industrialists in some parts of the world. The use of one language, alas means English, as the official corporate and finance language around the globe, apparently brought a great impact within almost in every aspects of our daily lives; including music. The fact that in most ‘developing country’s’ music (and arts)—like the increasing use of English lyrics in the phenomenal K-Pop music—are being structured by other culture influence, certainly will makes us wonder, are we doing it for the artistic reason or just for the sake of ‘going global’? So do we really like K-pop because it’s different (uniquely Korean) or because it’s familiar?


Increasing English Lyrics – Is it Good for K-pop?

It’s often said music is universal. Regardless of any confusion, the popularity of inserting random English/Engrish titles and phrases into songs still stands in K-pop.  However, is injecting more English into songs part of longstanding pattern  or a sign of catering to a wider audience as part of K-Pop crossover strategy?

K-pop stars typically translate a song into English if they are trying to enter the Western music industry- Rain (‘Love Song’, ‘Rainism’, ‘Sad Tango’), Wonder Girls (‘Nobody,’ ‘Two Different Tears’, ‘Tell Me’, ‘So Hot’)  JYJ (English album ‘The Beginning’), BoA (self-titled English album), and debateably, 2NE1. There is the English Verison of ‘Can’t Nobody,’ but there is also a Japanese version. While they are publicly entering that market, there is no solid answer from YG Entertainment concerning the group “crossing over.”

However, currently 2NE1, linguistically, is doing something different from their contemporaries. The group’s latest song, ‘Ugly’ is currently only being promoted in Korea, yet the entire chorus of the song is in English.

I think I’m ugly
And nobody wants to love me
Just like her I wanna be pretty
I wanna be pretty
Don’t lie to my face tellin’
me I’m pretty

I think I’m ugly
And nobody wants to love me
Just like her I wanna be pretty
I wanna be pretty
Don’t lie to my face cuz I know
I’m ugly

With the exception of a couple of verses, the rest of the song is in Korean.  It is often not difficult to surmise the meaning of an untranslated Kpop song, however, as a foreign fan, the feeling of being able to sing confidently the entire chorus of a song is an unique emotional experience.

I can respect that as it is Korean music it would be logical to expect the native language to dominate the music industry. But, it also begs another perspective on the nature of translation: Chinese and Japanese fans often get songs converted into their languages which must make the music listening experience more enjoyable on some level. Thus, I can come to the conclusion that extensive English translation is extending the olive branch to English-speaking fans to round up their support. While ‘Ugly’ isn’t my favorite Kpop song I find myself singing it because – well, I can.

Do you like the use of an all-English chorus in ‘Ugly?’ Is it an artistic decision on YGE’s part or a bid for more Western fans? If utilized more, do you think this device will bring in more English fans, for 2ne1 or anyone else?

Author: Seoul Beats

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