English? I thought this was supposed to be KOREAN pop…
One of the most confusing aspects of Kpop to my friends that listen to other genres of music is the fact that I can sing along to many of the choruses in Kpop songs. I’ve listened to enough Korean to be able to get a feel for their syllables which really is weird for my friends, but they get really confused when THEY understand the choruses to the songs. Hence the subtitle to this blog post.
I always compare the relationship between Kpop and English to the relationship between American hip hop and Spanish. Since the market for rap in America is concentrated in urban areas, and because the Latino population is a decent sized chunk of major US cities, there’s a huge market for Spanish in hip hop songs. Likewise, English is often a secondary language in many nations in the world, meaning that even though English may not be spoken on the streets, it’s an effective language to learn if you want to communicate with many other nations. From a marketing stand point, the idea is that if a Korean song has several words in English, it hooks anyone who knows English into the song. That may be even more effective than hearing a whole song in English (Wow, fantastic baby?).
Culturally, English in Korea is viewed in a “hip” fashion. My Korean friend compares this to the American fad of getting tattoos or shirts with Chinese characters. Just like most people might know what the character means but not understand the character, Korean people might know what the English word means within the context of the Korean sentence but not understand the cultural implications or the usage of that particular word. This results in many songs with hit or miss English, what we call in America as Engrish. While English is viewed in Korea as hip, even if it is mispronounced, viewers who speak English find Engrish to be a spectacle and something that is to be laughed at. This is also hard when spreading the genre to people who don’t typically listen to foreign music as that becomes all they hear, while a typical Kpop listener views the Engrish as one aspect of a song. This reminds me of Yoseop Yang’s “Caffeine” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFIzLovJdiQ). It’s a beautiful song, with a great meaningful video, but the one Engrish lyric “Girl, you’re like a caffeine” is jarring and pulls you out of the song, which is unfortunate because it’s part of every chorus. The most unfortunate thing is that this mistake could have easily been finished by an English speaker, with the fix “Girl, you’re like a coffee” or “Girl, you’re like my caffeine”, both which convey the original meaning while still using articles correctly.
Speaking of coffee, beware of these phrases, which are “Engrish” but so widely use in Korea that they have been adopted by Korea and put into their language. They’re not technically incorrect when spoken since this is the correct way to use the word in the Korean language:
cuhpe – coffee
han deu pon- cell phone
bbaek – supporter, second, back up plan
skinship- excessive (for Korea) touching in a relationship, cuddly
hwiting – rooting for you
hoo ra ing pan – Frying pan
Ke to ra e – Gatorade
Sa e ta – Sprite (but pronounced like cider)
Tee Bee – Not tuberculosis. TV.
And pretty much every fruit.
Then there’s English that is just plain bad or mispronounced. Sometimes the English is said correctly, but drops an important word in a phrase, often an article or modifier, that makes the phrase incomprehensible. Other times the error is in the pronunciation, which makes sense considering the following sounds which are separate in English come out of one letter in Hangul:
ㅈ = J/unaccented CH
ㅂ= B/unaccented P
ㄱ= G/unaccented K
ㄷ= D/unaccented T
They also do not have a sound for v or f, which explains the Hw substitution in fighting (hwiting) above, although according to wikipedia’s list of obsolete hangul letters, a version of F had existed in the past. They also have an additional vowel, ㅡ which sounds similar to ew in English, except you close your jaw and smile with all your teeth showing when you say it. I like to think of something icky when I say it and the grimace makes the ewww come out properly as ㅡ in hangul.
Lastly, the English in the song could be perfect grammatically and pronounced correctly, but the meaning is mistranslated when they were converting from the Korean equivalent to English.
A video that shows off these Engrish phrases is BAP’s Hurricane:
In this video, they say “We hurricane” (the lyrics say We’re hurricane, but they lie) when what they probably meant was “We’re hurricanes” which is still confusing and much less catchy. The most obvious Engrish phrase is “The loof is on fire” which comes from the mispronunciation of r in roof. Then the last one is in the first verse, with “I wanna baby”. What they probably mean is that they want a girlfriend or someone they can call baby, but what they said is that they want to get something pregnant. Ok boys, calm down.
These Kpop videos are not the only ones with Engrish. What’s your favorite Engrish phrase? Make sure to link the video it comes from when you comment so I can laugh my butt off at the original or lament at how the Engrish ruined a perfectly good song.