F1RST, “Ma Ma My”. I feel the need to introduce lesser-known K-pop groups into my diet, so here’s one. “Ma Ma My” is not something you’re going to listen to past two months from now, but it will prevent you from changing the radio station whenever it comes on during those two months. I like that the guys sing and the girls rap, I like that the rhythms deliberately avoid the obvious patterns you think they’re going to follow, I like the beat, and I like that all parties involved (songwriters, management, and performers) acknowledge that the members of F1RST are better chanters than they are singers and make the most of it. Really, my only problem with this song is its release date: it should have come out in July or August, because it’s totally a summer song, the thing that keeps you from leaving while you’re waiting for the DJ to finally put on “Bubble Pop!”.
The singer ‘Baby Soul’ (19·Lee Soojung)’s first digital single ‘No Better Than Strangers’ got caught under KBS’ review.
KBS forbid Baby Soul’s single title track ‘No Better Than Strangers’ to broadcast because its lyrics included words that belittled men.
‘You can’t even do this you jerk, am I asking for something big? You can’t even do this you wicked man, you should at least pretend’ is the problematic part.
Her company Woollim entertainement declared “It’s only realistic lyrics relating the feelings of a woman resentful toward a man, we didn’t intend to belittle men at all” and “It’s confusing but we won’t be changing the lyrics”.
This immediately made me think of the reason I didn’t like the lyrics of “The Boys”. The message I get is that rather than “belittling” hypothetical men who hypothetically treat them badly, women need to devote all their energy to encouraging men to overcome the adversity of male privilege and achieve their dreams, because the boys can’t do it without them!
On another note, this ban, as with all female artist-directed bans, is making many people cry hypocrisy (the boys get away with murder!) (wait, no, they don’t), but I can’t think of that many examples to hold up. The only obvious male artist parallel I can think of to those lyrics is U-Kiss’s “Shut Up” (“oppa really hates you now, oppa hates bad girls”, which, ouch), and that one did indeed go unbanned, but I can’t really think of many others that insult a girl to the point that it could be called “belittling”. (And note that above, “jerk” seems to be an unclear translation; others say the word used is stronger, closer to “bastard”.) Then again, like most non-Korean-speaking K-pop fans, I don’t usually pay attention to the lyrics of songs I’m not obsessed with, and I couldn’t tell you what most songs are about. For all I know, the lyrical content of DBSK’s entire oeuvre could make Odd Future sound like Fred Penner and I wouldn’t be the wiser. There are some examples mentioned in other reblogs of this article, e.g. MBLAQ’s “Y”, so check those if you’re curious.
2PM, “I’m Your Man”. More J-pop! In the interest of making some kind of year-end roundup I’ve been going through things I missed (deliberately or otherwise) and oh man, 2PM’s Japanese singles are so good! I’ve mentioned "Take Off" before, but I think the whole breezy electronic J-pop thing works well for them, especially coming off of a string of dark rap-and-revenge Korean singles. They really do sound much better when they’re able to chill out. Their Japanese singles work with their abilities and play to their strengths. In both “Take Off” and "Ultra Lover", the song is able to disguise weak singing as tremors of emotion, and for all the songs sound similar, they do succeed in having two different moods.
And here, in “I’m Your Man”, they manage to convey passion and drama without sounding rigid and overwrought, as was the problem with similar-sounding Korean singles like "I’ll Be Back", where they all sounded on the verge of tears the entire song and not in a good way. Here, smart production regulates the drama, and the singing is smooth and controlled, not strained. (That might just be a happy accident of language - now that I think about it, they’ve always sounded like they’re singing really hard in their Korean singles, but perhaps in the Japanese ones they concentrate more on the sounds and less on screaming to the back of the theatre.) The Backstreet Boys frame helps, too, and mixing the rap in with the singing keeps it fresh.
The thing with “English-speaking privilege” (akin to white privilege, straight privilege, etc.) is that as English speakers, we expect the world to be suited towards our English-speaking needs, and we try to measure all usage of the English language by our own narrow standards. And why? Well, to us, we feel that English has been widely accepted as the “norm” – the supposed “standard” for modernization. As English speakers, we expect English to have one purpose and one purpose only: as a vessel for the coherent and syntactically-and-semantically correct communication of words, thoughts, and ideas. So when we see English used in an unfamiliar context, we treat it with the same regard as any other example of English we see in our everyday lives, instead of acknowledging the possibility that to others, the entire concept of the English language may hold a different meaning than that of our own.
Granted, that’s not entirely the same conversation - she’s talking about the use of English in Korean lyrics, while the writer of “Ruining Idol English” is talking about how fluent English speakers (native or otherwise) are reduced to being English-sound vending machines, thus supposedly chipping away at their language skills (though the article does briefly invoke lyrics like Rainbow’s “easy access line”, presumably to point out the low fluency standard for English in K-pop/the kinds of things these poor native speakers are forced to say).
It stinks because it takes the fact that language proficiency - or really, proficiency in anything - atrophies with disuse and makes it out to be controversial, problematic, and/or artificially imposed (“your company hacks away at your English”). It’s a fact, and it’s only a problem if you view English fluency as something precious and valuable that must never be corrupted by using Other languages, and I do mean to capitalize that. It has little to do with K-pop, other than the fact that idols are people who more or less need to speak in Korean in public all the time with fewer opportunities to speak non-Korean languages in public or in private.
And finally, it stinks because it says Jessica and Tiffany “sound like bimbos”. (How does a bimbo sound, pray tell?) The video the writer cites is not a real interview in which they have to give their opinions, but a promotion for a smartphone application. Despite the article’s title, here the writer is not concerned with their grammar or fluency, but with their “cotton candy for brains”. I think any vapidity in the video (which actually sounds like casual conversation to me, not exceedingly stupid) comes from a lack of improvisational skill, not intelligence.
To associate English proficiency (the article’s main topic) with intelligence is WAY ethnocentric, and anyway it’s a different, longer, and way more tired argument: Why do pop stars all sound like airheads?
and you’re going to have to repeat it so many times.
Last month I started learning Korean for real with Rosetta Stone, like I said I would. (Actually, I’ve progressed ahead of my brother, if just because he’s started university and has no time and I’ve finished and have lots.) Not sure if it’s improved my comprehension or my grammar skills at all - the only two sentences I can form without 5 minutes of preparation are “The man is drinking water” and “The egg is white”, and don’t ask me how to say “bicycle”. And no, I’ve never thought of “안녕하세요” as a question as the software insists it is (like 10 times a unit) because that’s not how the lady at the grocery store says it.
The one time recently that I have noticed my Korean comprehension improving was, strangely, at the end of Bruce McDonald’s Hard Core Logo 2. Without giving too much away, there’s someone speaking in Korean at the beginning and at the end. What he says at the end isn’t translated, but I understood him saying hello to his family (mother, father, older brother, older sister) and then saying “Lady Gaga 너무 예뻐”, “Lady Gaga is very pretty”. Okay, so any SHINee fan could have gotten that last one, but for a moment I felt both really awesome for immediately hearing and understanding what he said and really sad to realize the full extent to which K-pop has colonized my brain.
Big Bang, “Beautiful Hangover”. Ugh, they had so much potential in 2010, and then they had to go and make “Love Song” AND LOOK WHERE THAT’S GOTTEN THEM. Seriously though, right now this is my favourite song.