Syndrome (신드롬) by ChoColat (쇼콜라): Lyrics, Translation, and Explanation / Reading The Lolita Effect in Korea, Part 5

(Source)

Way back when the internet was just for emails, getting on a plane was pretty much the only way to immerse yourself in another country’s pop-culture. But there were instant insights to be gained if you did.

Take the first Korean music videos I saw. Certainly, they were confusing at first: the hairstyles and clothing were downright bizarre, and I couldn’t understand a word of the language. But seeing the same dance moves, facial expressions, and hand gestures on Korean singers as those back home? I suddenly gained a profound sense of how manufactured pop music was in both countries, which I’d never been able to get from my hapless media studies lecturer.

And that was in May 2000. Fast forward to 2011, and it’s great having 24/7 access to K-pop, wherever you are in the world. But what would it be like encountering the K-pop assembly-line for the first time today?

(Source, all Syndrome screenshots)

Enter Chocolat’s (쇼콜라) music video for Syndrome (신드롬), offering similar quick insights into Korean girl-groups specifically, in this case through seeing girls doing things you normally only see women do. In particular, cutesy aegyo is bad enough coming from a 21 year-old singer, but simply surreal when you see it done by a 14 year-old.

Yes, surreal, not merely awkward and inexperienced: essentially, you’re watching a child pretending to be an adult pretending to be a child.

Likewise, de rigueur sexy wistful stares at the viewer, hinting at hidden pain and heartbreak, while walking aimlessly in moodily-lit rooms? Receiving one from someone not yet old enough to date, only seems to highlight the pretentiousness of the device all the more. So much so, that I’m not sure I won’t be able to simply laugh at the next one I see now, unless it’s coming from a genuinely worldly-wise diva like, say, Uhm Jung-hwa (엄정화).

Oops: Juliane (줄리앤) above, is actually 18, albeit – if you’ll indulge someone twice her age – still far too young to pull the look off. But that’s not her fault, and I’m sure her and other members will improve with experience. Call it an occupational hazard of teenage groups: No More Perfume on You (향수뿌리지마) by Teen Top (틴탑), for instance, relies on a similar suspension of disbelief, as we’re supposed to pretend that all the boys are playas in a nightclub, despite none being old enough to even get in one:

Rather than dwelling on how teenage girls dancing in tight clothes made me think of teenage boys though, let’s wisely turn to the issue of Chocolat’s marketing instead. First, some quick context.

These days, with notorious levels of illegal downloading ensuring that girl-groups’ (and boy-bands’) management agencies overwhelmingly rely on endorsement deals rather than music sales for profit, then the most important thing is to get noticed. However, this is increasingly difficult, as 27 girl-groups have already debuted just this year.

One inevitable development then, is the increasing sexualization of K-pop, as I discuss in the Korea Herald here. Another, much more recent one, is explicitly using what’s known in advertising as a “unique selling point” (USP), such as the Swing Girls (스윙걸즈) highlighting the fact that all members have D-cup breasts, or the Piggy Dolls (피기돌스) that they are (or rather were) much heavier than most other female stars.

(Update – Megan at Seoulbeats explores this more in her post about the very similar – and increasingly tiresome – use of “concepts”)

As for Chocolat, their own USP is that 3 members are biracial, with Korean mothers and US Caucasian fathers. Not the first Korean group with biracial or foreign members by any means, but certainly the first to emphasize it so (although as an aside, it would be interesting to see how SM Entertainment handled the issue of Kim Isak’s {김이삭} mixed race back in 2002).

(Source)

Will this succeed? Angry K-pop Fan, ellieAisa (in the video below), Gord Sellar, and Ashley of Seoulbeats are pessimistic. In particular, let me quote Gord at some length:

Whereas the media hypersexualization of children is pretty much accepted — if not admitted — in Korean society, and the media hypersexualization of white women is all but de rigeur now, I think the idea that the media sexualization of biracially white/Korean children might not turn out to be as profitable an enterprise in Korea.

The band seems to be getting a pretty negative reception online, and it’s not hard to see why: the particular anxieties regarding race in Korea that the group’s promoters are trying to exploit — ambiguities of race, and the permissible exoticism of the non-Korean female — take on a life of their own when there is not a Korean male in the picture to “own” her (and, likewise, to “pwn” her).

Put that mixed race woman in a group of Korean women, without a man in the mix, and I think you might find what I’ve seen in reality: she gets ostracized, because she is the one who’s enviably different. And then, if you take a few of them and put them together, make them dominate a group, and let media out where they could remotely be understood (or misunderstood, or willfully misunderstood even) as looking down on Korean girls, and…

Well, I don’t know what will happen. But I expect a lot of negative press, a lot of anti-fans. Korean girls are not going to like this very much. What remains to be seen is whether the appeal to middle-aged men is going to be enough to outweigh that narrowing of audience.

(Update – Related, also see Hello Korea!’s discussion of SuperStarK’s judges recently hesitating to approve a Caucasian entrant, as they anticipated “that the Korean people would be reluctant to let him win over a Korean”)

With the benefit of an extra month’s hindsight though, I’m going to wager that they will actually become popular, for several reasons.

First, because they have not just one USP but two: their race and their youth. Two of the three biracial members, Tia (티아) and Melanie (멜라니), are only 14 (the other biracial member is 18 year-old Juliane, mentioned earlier). From the perspective of management agency Paramount Music, this makes great sense both in the long-term and the short term.

In the long-term, because the younger a girl-group member becomes popular, the greater the range of consumers she can appeal to: ergo, both teens and young children and the uncle/ajoshhi fans. And she will have a much longer shelf-life so to speak.

This is the heart of “The Lolita Effect”, and why performers – especially female performers – are becoming younger worldwide, not just in Korea.

In the short term, while Girl Story (걸스토리) and GP Basic (지피 베이직) have even younger members, both groups seem to have quickly dropped off the radar, leaving – correct me if I’m wrong – Chocolat with the youngest girls currently active in K-pop. This presents a great opportunity for Paramount Music to gain notoriety for them by pushing the Korean public’s toleration of the hypersexualization of Tia and Melanie to the limit.

(Source)

Call me projecting my own narratives onto K-pop, but, sure enough, Tia at least has already been in a romantic couple photoshoot with 27 year-old actor Ji Hyun-woo (지현우), even before Chocolat officially debuted. You could argue that that was simply one small part of their overall marketing strategy rather than presaging a focus on sexualization per se, but my money’s still on them following the footsteps of So-hee (안소희) of the Wondergirls (원더걸스); Sulli (최설리) of f(x) (에프엑스; see here also); HyunA (김현아) of 4Minute (포미닛); arguably Suzy (배수지) of Miss A (미쓰에이); just about all of Girls’ Generation; and so on. As like Gord Sellar has said elsewhere, it’s not sex itself that sells, but more sexuality and sexual relationships only just on the fringe of public acceptance:

…we westerners also have a lot of weirdness in our entertainment media floating around that grey area of the age of consent. We’re profoundly uncomfortable with — and at the same time fascinated by — the period where sexuality begins to form in the mind of people, and the moment at which that sexuality becomes permissible. Straight-laced objectionability is, in fact, the greatest determinant in whether you’ll see a sex scene between two characters in a film. This is why we so rarely see plain, slightly overweight forty-year-olds having marital sex in a film. Doubtless, there must be some plain-looking middle-aged married couples out there who have passionate, enviable sex lives, but you’ll never see that in more than a few films, because it’s the most permissible sex on the planet. It’s when sex becomes imaginably objectionable — transgressive — that it becomes worthy of depiction…

Second, USPs aside, another thing in Chocolat’s favor is how they’re already behaving like better established girl-groups, already dieting and claiming that they haven’t had any cosmetic surgery(!). But more seriously, it also didn’t take long for Tia at least to secure a cosmetics endorsement deal, according to Paramount Music precisely because of her exoticism (albeit hardly an objective source).

Next, you might reasonably expect me to also present the photoshoot with Ji Hyun-woo as an example of a Korean male “owning her”, but honestly I’m not sure what Gord is driving at there, and invite him to elaborate either in the comments or on his own blog. I will grant though, that while it’s difficult to generalize, I do get the impression that the more Caucasian women you see in Korean-produced ads, the more they’re depicted with a Korean romantic male interest, as is also the case for music videos (see two examples below). Not that there’s anything wrong with that of course (although it would be nice if the opposite were also true), and I’d be grateful if any readers could fill me in on how they fare in dramas and movies.

Also, it’s certainly true that, sometimes, Korean girl-groups’ music videos have a completely unnecessary, often distracting and confusing male presence. To my mind, the most notorious example would be Because of You (너 때문에) by After School (애프터스쿨; discussed here), which inexplicably features a male in it despite clearly being about a lesbian relationship between two of the members (although technically the lyrics leave the gender{s} open):

Finally, it’s only indirectly related, but it’s one of the first things I thought of when I read Gord’s take on Chocolat (so what the hell): while the “policing” of women in K-pop is constantly in flux, with many backward steps, generally I’d say its slowly but surely liberalizing over time. In particular, whereas S.E.S (에스이에스) was forced to make Caucasian rather than Korean men the target of their wrath for their music video for U back in 2002, lest Korean men be offended (see here and here), now Korean men are fair game, with Miss A’s music videos in particular coming to mind.

Moreover, the debut of a girl group focused on its biracial members provides a great opportunity to do away with convention.

It’s such a pity then, that the music video for Syndrome has such a cookie-cutter feel about it instead, although that is of course what you’d expect from something so representative of the genre. For an analysis, see Quynh’s breakdown of it at Seoulbeats, while I’ll finally – belatedly – provide a translation of the lyrics for the remainder of this post:

Oh yeah~

그 얼굴 닳아질라 널 자꾸 보게 돼 baby baby

너 귀가 따가울라 여기저기서 니 얘기뿐야

Woo~그 hair, fashion 모든 게 it style 닮고 싶은 hot style

Boo 떠오른 new icon uh huh

Oh yeah~

Your face is fading, but I want to see it often

Your ears are burning, everyone is talking about only you

Woo~ that hair, fashion everything it style, a hot style I want to resemble

Boo a rising icon uh huh

Mercifully after a such a long discussion, Syndrome is probably the shortest, most repetitive song I’ve ever translated. Unfortunately though, just like the music video lacks any story, so too do the lyrics too seem disjointed and thrown together, chosen more for their sound than their meaning. Add an excessive amount of English nonsense, even by K-pop standards, then I’m going to forgo discussing my translation on this occasion, although I’d be quite happy to in the comments if people have alternative translations and/or think I’ve made a mistake.

Next, there’s the chorus:

빠 빠 빠 빠 빠져 버린 걸 헤 헤 헤 헤 헤어날 수 없게

너땜에 앓고 있잖아 모두 다 la la la la like me

폐 폐 폐 폐 폐인이 된걸 너 너 너 너에게 중독돼

이순간 Shake me up Fill me up Heal me again

I’ve so fa- fa- fa- fa- fallen for you, I can’t escape

I’m suffering because of you, everything la la la la like me

You’ve cr- cr- cr- cr- crippled me, I’m addicted to you you you

This moment, shake me up, fill me up, heal me again

널 새겨 놓은 my eye eye eye eye 멋진 그 목소리 in my headset

어떡해 미쳤나봐 낮이나 밤이나 니 생각뿐야

Woo 그 ment, motion 모든 게 issue 폭풍눈물 tissue

Boo 빛나는 new idol uh huh

You’re engraved into my eye eye eye eye, your cool voice in my headset

What am I supposed to do, I only think about you every day and night

Woo, that ment, motion everything issue, storm tears tissue

Boo, shiny new idol, uh huh

빠빠빠빠빠져버린걸헤헤헤헤헤어날수없게

너땜에앓고있잖아모두다 la la la la like me

폐폐폐폐폐인이된걸너너너너에게중독돼

이순간 Shake me up Fill me up Heal me again

I’ve so fa- fa- fa- fa- fallen for you, I can’t escape

I’m suffering because of you, everything la la la la like me

You’ve cr- cr- cr- cr- crippled me, I’m addicted to you you you

This moment, shake me up, fill me up, heal me again

내가 어쩌다 이렇게 됐나 몰라 몰라 몰라 몰라

내겐너무먼별같은걸

내맘을알아줘 baby 맘을알아줘 baby You never break break my heart

날잊지말아줘 baby 잊지말아줘 baby la la la la like me

내맘을알아줘 baby 맘을알아줘 baby You never break break my heart

이순간 Shake me up Fill me up Heal me again

How did I become like this, I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know

To me, you’re like an unreachable star

Please know my heart baby, please know my heart baby, you never break break my heart

Please don’t forget me baby, please don’t forget me baby, la la la la like me

Please know my heart baby, please know my heart baby, you never break break my heart

This moment, shake me up, fill me up, heal me again

빠 빠 빠 빠 빠져 버린 걸 헤 헤 헤 헤 헤어날 수 없게

너땜에 앓고 있잖아 모두 다 la la la la like me

폐 폐 폐 폐 폐인이 된걸 너 너 너 너에게 중독돼

이순간 Shake me up Fill me up Heal me again

Never break break my hearta

I’ve so fa- fa- fa- fa- fallen for you, I can’t escape

I’m suffering because of you, everything la la la la like me

You’ve cr- cr- cr- cr- crippled me, I’m addicted to you you you

This moment, shake me up, fill me up, heal me again

Never break break my hearta

Make sure you see ellieAsia‘s short video (“Chocolat Scares Me”) for her rendition of the way Tia says that last line – it’s hilarious.

And on that note, apologies for the long delay with this post: blame an editing job at work that took much longer than expected, and then a cold from the lack of sleep. Also, no vote for next week’s song this time sorry, as One More Chance (나 좀 봐줘) by Dana & Sunday (다나&선데이), sub-unit of  The Grace (천상지희 더 그레이스), came a very very close second to Syndrome when votes closed on Friday at 5pm (or were supposed to close sorry – PollDaddy doesn’t seem to be working very well):

The “Reading the Lolita Effect in Korea” series:

18 thoughts on “Syndrome (신드롬) by ChoColat (쇼콜라): Lyrics, Translation, and Explanation / Reading The Lolita Effect in Korea, Part 5

  1. “But seeing the same dance moves, facial expressions, and hand gestures on Korean singers as those back home? I suddenly gained a profound sense of how manufactured pop music was in both countries, which I’d never been able to get from my hapless media studies lecturer.”

    Ah – but don’t you see the same “jazz musician” expressions and gestures with Korean jazz musicians, the same “twee indie rocker” expression on bands in clubs, the same “singer songwriter” stare?

    Slight correction: GP Basic are still going, and I think they’ve performed on music shows this month. One of the members also featured on the new single of new (young) guitar duo SpinEL – a variation on my own country’s former teen stars M2M – who were very popular in Asia indeed.

    • Thanks for the info about GP Basic. And I’ll certainly grant you that there are similar shared expressions and gestures etc. with musicians in other genres. My gut instinct is that it by virtue of sheer numbers fo songs and musicians etc., it would at least be more pronounced for pop-music, but i’ll admit that I’m not at all familiar with jazz and indie and so on, so don’t really have anything to compate against!

  2. …”in this case through seeing girls doing things you normally only see women do. In particular, cutesy aegyo is bad enough coming from a 21 year-old singer, but simply surreal when you see it done by a 14 year-old.”

    …reminds me, again, of the 1982 controversy surrounding Annabella Lwin of Bow-Wow-Wow posing nude (at age 14) for an album cover (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bow_Wow_Wow#Controversy) as well as my particular discomfort regarding a 14 year old signing “I Want Candy” to an arena audience.(http://www.stlyrics.com/lyrics/napoleondynamite/iwantcandy.htm)

  3. I’ll also point out that Korea is one of few markets with a positive development the past few years (http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5146/5677049790_9dd48f7e98_b.jpg), helped largely by steadily increasing digital sales (Korea is the only one in the top 20 with more digital than physical trade).

    It’s not true that the labels increasingly have to rely on things outside the music to make money, and thus hard to use as an argument for increased sexualisation. In reality it’s the opposite: things look brighter now than five years ago.

    “That, however, doesn’t seem to be a major problem considering that while UK revenue from record sales shrunk by more than 11% in 2010, Korean overall sales were up 11.7%. This is why, at a recent industry event in Abu Dhabi, UMG’s head of digital, Rob Wells, indicated that K-pop was high on the label’s list of priorities, and Monteiro says UMG is planning to double its investment in Korea.”

    Quote Universal Europe’s A&R: “I’ve never had a single release [in Korea] that has sold less than 400,000.” (Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/organgrinder/2011/apr/20/k-pop-south-korea-music-market)

    • Thanks for the information, which certainly bears consideration, but I’m going to have strongly disagree: those figures don’t take into account the absurdly low selling prices of legal digital music in Korea.

      Indeed, if I’ve interpreted the chart correctly, the total retail value of sales in Korea is almost half that of markets like Canada and Australia that (population wise) are over twice as small as the Korean one, or in other words Korean consumers per head are buying only a quarter of the digital downloads that Canadian and Australian ones are.

      Of course, if that total retail value includes CD sales also, then the above doesn’t apply. But still, 55% of music sales in Korea being digital doesn’t sound very profitable when we’re talking about $0.05 per song, and pales by comparison with 29% of songs in Canada being sold for $1 each on iTunes.

      In sum, I don’t give much credence to reports of stunning growth for digital sales in Korea without mention of the price issue, and that Guardian article you link to loses all credibility with it’s final paragraph about “Korea’s strict anti-piracy laws’, which anyone in Korea can tell you is complete BS.

      • I wrote a long reply to this then accidentally clicked ‘back’ on my browser and lost the reply.

        Point is, the chart’s numbers are in dollars, not sales – and they’re making more than yesteryear. So a potential increased sexualisation of artists doesn’t correlate with loss in profit selling music.

        Also Universal Europe is reasonably trustworthy here since they’re putting the money where their mouth is, sending songwriting teams (often from the UK, Sweden or Norway) formerly applied to the English-speaking market to Korea. The stupid low prices, mostly managed through subscription bulk deals on the Korean sites, is not a dissimilar strategy to the ones gaining traction worldwide as the industry tries to adapt to the digital reality. See Spotify with their 5$/10$ a month subscription fees giving you access to “all the music in the world”.

  4. > With the benefit of an extra month’s hindsight though, I’m going to wager that they will actually become popular, for several reasons.

    One of my hobbies is tracking predictions (mostly on http://predictionbook.com ); how would you judge ‘become popular’ in terms of objective metrics (you say sales don’t work because of illegal downloading – is there a comparable ‘sales chart’ for endorsements?) and how long would you expect it to take for them to become popular?

    • Hmmm…I’d have to think about that sorry. Off the top of my head, I don’t think that they’ll become as popular – whether that means endorsements, digital sales, or public awareness of them – as some of the big groups like SNSD and 2NE1, but I think they’ve got a good chance of being as well known and of having a few hits as, say, Jewelry.

    • Sales work well enough to gauge mainstream appeal. Not the measly physical album sales – they’re more a sign of who’s got the most rabidly loyal fan base (Super Junior isn’t actually that popular among the public), but digital sales, streaming, ringtone purchases, etc. This was difficult to track before, but after Gaon stepped in a year ago in an attempt to become ‘the Korean Billboard’, it’s been easier to get access to numbers. (For digital sales weekly, for physical sales twice a year. Additionally they put up a combined digital chart including the aforementioned digital services weekly. The physical chart is not worth all that anyway as it gets numbers from main distributors, not stores).

      Recently Billboard also made their own chart for Korea ttp://www.billboard.com/charts/k-pop-hot-100#/charts/k-pop-hot-100

  5. Totally facetious comment, but the cat, at least, was totally shocked and scandalized by the photo shoot. Check out that expression!

  6. I don’t know if this is the right place to request it, but would you be able to translate Brown Eyed Girls’ Sixth sense. Or at least check out their music video. I found the translations that people have done confusing and I think they require more explanation.

  7. i think some of the mvs that are circulating around kpops can be categorized into tropes and within these trops are certain traits that you can detect…. Like if you go by the aegyo concept, you have to do that finger thing around your face, the wink, the slightly childish voice, lots of pink… if you go by the fierce concept, you’ll probably see strong edges in the backdrop, military typed uniform paired with lots of intense scenes… if you go by the fetish concept, you will see fantasy themes, like those done by snsd so far…

    I hope I can elaborate more but I am under cognitive load atm…!

  8. However they handled it back then Isak doesn’t seem too happy still being signed with SM Ent today (she’s a radio dj and musical actress these days)

    realISAK Ida Simmons aka Isak
    SO! to end my tweet rant…I might have to go to MBC on my own….but how~hmmmmmmm~should we start a petition~?lol

    realISAK Ida Simmons aka Isak
    Looks like my life is going to be a living hell for quit sometime…UGH i HATE working for IDIOTS! and trust me there are tons around me..

    realISAK Ida Simmons aka Isak
    I have a ‘line’ of managers & apparently I have a new one thats an idiot I asked to set a meeting up with WGM and he’s fallen off the gride

  9. Pingback: Language Problems « The Lackey

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s