I Don’t Care by 2NE1 (투애니원): Lyrics, Translation, & Explanation

( Source )

Seems like everyone was really disappointed with Korean girl groups in 2010, and for good reason.

It’s kind of embarrassing then, that it was also the year that I first got into them. But still, I too was struck by how many of their members couldn’t even sing, and soon resolved to stick to the original tracks and official music videos rather than watch any live performances again.

It was with some trepidation then, that after I discovered I Don’t Care by 2NE1 (투애니원), I immediately thought to describe their voices as, well, simply beautiful, especially Park Sandara’s (박산다라). Fortunately however, they don’t seem too different on stage either, and I think I’d enjoy listening to them singing even without any accompanying music.

Here is the original music video that got me hooked:

A live performance for the sake of comparison:

Next, a video which already has English lyrics. Some are very strange and/or completely wrong though, but otherwise they’re mostly correct, and good for getting the gist:

Yeah, I don’t think a Playboy bunny costume is apt either, even for an anime version of – I think – Park Bom (박봄).

But next, a reggae mix that I hate myself, but you might like it, and I think it actually became more popular than the original in Korea:

Finally, a not bad dance remix, although I’m not really sure who the “Baek Kyoung” referred to is sorry:

Meanwhile, I’m just as surprised as you are to find myself describing the “bad girls” of K-pop as having beautiful voices. But now that I think about it, why can’t they go together?

If I did have to find a flaw with the song though, it would be that the lyrics are a little inconsistent with what stage of the relationship the couple is in exactly: as you’ll soon see, in one line the girlfriend can appear to have just split up with the boyfriend, then in the next they seem to be together but she’s thinking about it, and then in yet another they sound like they split up a long time ago!

It would be very very tempting just to have assumed that they’re in one of those stages and translated accordingly (like in the video with English lyrics above), but I don’t think the lyrics justify that, and so ended up stumbling along accordingly. But with just a bit more thought by the writers, all that unnecessary confusion could easily have been avoided.

Update – In hindsight, the final verse does indeed resolve their relationship: they’re together, but about to split up. But please forgive me though, for declining to rewrite all 2400 words of translations and explanations accordingly!^^

Hey playboy, it’s about time and your time’s up

I had to do this one for my girls you know

Sometimes you gotta act like you don’t care

That’s the only way you boys learn

Oh oh oh oh oh oh 2ne1 이야이야

Oh oh oh oh oh oh 2ne1 이야이야

니 옷깃에 묻은 립스틱들 나는 절대로 용서못해

매일 하루에 수십번 꺼져있는 핸드폰

변하지 않을것만 같아 oh oh

I absolutely can’t forgive your collar being stained with lipsticks

Every day your phone dies many times

I don’t think you’ll ever change oh oh

( Source )

Line 1 of the Korean is a pretty basic, literal translation, although personally I was pretty surprised to learn that “묻다” means “stain” as well as “dig”. I’m more familiar with”얼룩지다”, easier to remember because “zebra” is “어룩말”, or literally “stain horse”.

Line 2 was more difficult though. First, because “매일” means “every day”, but then “하루” means “a day,” or “one day”, so already there’s some either unnecessary and/or nonsensical repetition (not to be confused with that about the relationship though). Not being able to figure out what the combination meant, then I decided to plump for the former, although I was tempted to put “all day long” in there instead, or “하루정일”, as given the next part then that would make sense in English at least.

That next part was “수십번”, rather confusedly “several” and/or “many times” according to my dictionary, but clearly the latter is more appropriate in the context of the song. Then, “꺼져있다”  was a little confusing for a moment, as it has many meanings. And for a while, I thought that the 2 most suitable here – “fade/die out/extinguish” and “be turned off” give slightly different nuances to the song: does the boyfriend’s phone “keep on dying”, like the lyrics in one of the videos above gives, or is it turned off, presumably deliberately in order to avoid the girlfriend? But either way, note that it’s actually “꺼지다” + “있다”, meaning that the phone is left in the state of dying and/or being turned off for a long time…and I guess that the 2 meanings actually amount to pretty much the same thing in the end.

Finally, the “만” in line 3 doesn’t mean “only”, but is just used for emphasis, as we’ve seen in many previous song translations.


그저 친구라는 수많은 여자친구

날 똑같이 생각하지마 I won’t let it ride

이제 니 맘대로 해 난 미련은 버릴래

한땐 정말 사랑했는데 oh oh

All those girls you call just your friends

Don’t think of me as the same, I won’t let it ride

Now just do what you like, I want to be rid of my lingering affection for you

I really loved you once


Pretty easy, although my wife said that “그저” in line 1 meant “just”, which wasn’t one of the meanings in my dictionary, and that “한땐” in line 4 was “한때” + “는”, or “once”.

But as for the jump in the middle of the song, between sounding like they’re still together and she’s working at improving the relationship, to sounding like she, well, just doesn’t care, presumably them having split up? I’m just as stuck as you!

Update: In hindsight, it’s strange that she wants to be more than just one of his female friends? I thought that she already was, and the problem was that all of those female friends of his were actually women he’s cheated on her with?

( Source )

가끔씩 술에 취해 전활 걸어 지금은 새벽 다섯시 반

넌 또 다른 여자애 이름을 불러 no no

I don’t care 그만할래 니가 어디에서 뭘 하던

이제 정말 상관 안할게 비켜줄래

이제와 울고불고 매달리지마

Frequently when you’re drunk you call me at 5:30 in the morning

And again you call me by another woman’s name no no

I don’t care, I want to end this, Wherever you are, Whatever you do

Now I won’t have anything to do with it, Get out of my way

Don’t suddenly hold on to me and start weeping

( Source )

A long section, but pretty easy. Just a couple of points: first, don’t be confused by the “걸다” in “전활를 걸다” (shortened to “전활 걸어” here), as I often used to be; although by itself it does mean “hang”, “”전활를 걸다” does not mean “hang up the phone” but rather “to make a phone call”, the complete opposite.

Next, my wife says “이제와” is short for “이제와서”, which means “suddenly”. Frankly I don’t get that, so I’ll have to take her word for it, but if anybody else has an explanation then that would be appreciated!

Meanwhile, the next part is very easy, so I’ll skip an explanation:


Cause I don’t care e e e e e

I don’t care e e e e e

Cause I don’t care e e e e e

I don’t care e e e e e

Boy I don’t care

다른 여자들의 다리를 훔쳐보는

니가 너무너무 한심해

매일 빼놓는 커플링 나 몰래 한 소개팅

더 이상 못 참을 것 같아 oh oh

You steal a glance at other women’s legs

You’re so pitiful

Every day you take off your couple ring and secretly go on a blind date

I guess I can’t take it any more oh oh

( Source )

넌 절대 아니라는 수많은 나의 친구

난 너 땜에 친구들까지 다 잃었지만

차라리 홀가분해 너에게 난 과분해

내 사랑이라 믿었는데 oh oh

My many friends that said you weren’t right for me

I lost all of them because of you, but

That’s actually a relief

You don’t deserve me

I believed you were my true love oh oh

( Source )

And as if to make up for the easy part, that was quite difficult. True, the basic translations are easy enough, but an important part was unspoken, then yet again some sentences seem to contradict the others, then finally one way of saying something in English is said completely the opposite way in Korean!

Dealing with each in turn, line 1 is literally “you-absolutely-not-many-my friends”, but the “not” part is a relative clause incorporating the “many-my friends”. But what is the boyfriend “not”? Presumably, right for her, and presumably they said that to her too.

Next, I don’t how on Earth losing all her friends was “차라리 흘가분해”, literally “rather [a] relief” but that’s what it says: maybe because they weren’t really her friends or something.

Finally, just after that you have literally “you-to-me-unworthy”. Which sounds fine in English when put like that, but then the “me” is the subject here, as indicated by the addition of the “ㄴ”, short for “는”, and Korean is made much easier by thinking of “는” and “은” as meaning “as for” in English. So with those qualifications, now you have “you-to-as for me-unworthy”, which would be best re-ordered in English to “as for me-to-you-unworthy”. But rest assured, it is definitely still he that is unworthy of her in the Korean nonetheless…

There are only 2 new lines in the next section, and they’re pretty easy, so again I’ll skip an explanation. Yeah, I ‘m beginning to notice a pattern too:


오늘도 바쁘다고 말하는 너 혹시나 전화해봤지만

역시 뒤에선 여자 웃음소리가 들려 oh no

I don’t care 그만할래 니가 어디에서 뭘 하던

이제 정말 상관 안할게 비켜줄래

이제와 울고불고 매달리지마

Cause I don’t care e e e e e

I don’t care e e e e e

You said you were busy today too, but by chance I got a hold of you and

In the background I heard a woman’s laugh oh no

I don’t care, I want to end this, Wherever you are, Whatever you do

Now I won’t have anything to do with it, Get out of my way

Don’t suddenly hold on to me and start weeping

Cause I don’t care e e e e e

I don’t care e e e e e


난 너 땜에 울며 지새던 밤을 기억해 boy

더 후회할 걸 생각하면 맘이 시원해 boy

날 놓치긴 아깝고 갖기엔 시시하잖니

있을때 잘하지 너 왜 이제와 매달리니

I remember the night I cried until dawn because of you boy

I think I will regret it more if we stay together, now I feel relieved boy

When I’m gone I’m valuable, but when we were together I was nothing

You should have done better back then, why are you are hanging on to me now?


As per the pattern, you’d expect this verse to be difficult. And indeed, although line 1 was fine, frankly I can’t make head or tail of line 2 especially, and invite alternative translations.

Literally, it is “more-regret [will]-think [if]-my heart & mind-relief”. But regret what? Not splitting up? And if you think? Arrgh!

As you can see, I came up with something for line 2 that certainly sounds okay, but it’s largely guesswork really. Line 3 and 4 at least though, were simple enough, with my wife telling me that the “있을때 잘하지” in the latter (when you have [them], you have to do well) is often used to express regret about relationships.


속아준 거짓말만 해도 수백번

오늘 이후로 난 남자 울리는 bad girl

이젠 눈물 한방울 없이 널 비웃어

사랑이란 게임 속 loser

무릎꿇고 잘못을 뉘우쳐

아님 눈 앞에서 당장 꺼져

Now clap your hands to this

I also know about the hundreds of lies you’ve tricked me with

As of today, I’m a bad girl that makes men cry

Now, without so much as a tear I laugh at you

Love is a loser in this game

Get on your knees and repent

Or get out of my sight

( Source )

With great relief, the pattern was maintained with this last verse(!), and so it was quite easy, only the “속아준” in line 1 throwing me off a little. Normally, saying a verb + “주다” means to do the verb for the speaker, i.e. a request, but how do you  be tricked” for someone (note that “속다” means “be tricked”, wheres “속이다” means ” to trick”)? I gave up, but the native speaker in the other room told me that it basically means that, she, the singer, knows or knew she was being tricked.

I’ll take my wife’s word for it. Other pearls of wisdom from her include “오늘 이후로” in line 2 meaning “as of today”, and “잘못을 뉘우쳐” in line 5 as a whole meaning “repent”, my dictionary just giving the 2nd word.

And not before time, there’s just the chorus after that:

I don’t care 그만할래 니가 어디에서 뭘 하던

이제 정말 상관 안할게 비켜줄래

이제와 울고불고 매달리지마

you know I don`t care e e e e e

I don`t care e e e e e

you know I just don`t care e e e e e

I don`t care e e e e e

Boy I don`t care

And on that note, I hope you enjoyed it, and as always I’m open to and grateful for any help and suggestions for anything you think I made a mistake with, and/or – in this case – simply couldn’t understand.

Before I wrap this up though, one thing I was very surprised about in it was that no matter how bad her boyfriend has been, and no matter how much of a “bad girl” the singer supposedly is now, that she would still take him back if he did indeed repent. Granted, confession and expression of remorse carries considerably more weight in Korean (and Japanese) society than in Western ones. But still, perhaps 2ne1 is not quite as “bad” as I’ve been led to believe all these years then (or only is by restrictive Korean standards for female performers), and it’ll be very interesting to see just how provocative (or not) their lyrics in their other songs are now.

But first, I’ll be translating Like The First Time (처음처럼), by T-ara (티아라):


68 thoughts on “I Don’t Care by 2NE1 (투애니원): Lyrics, Translation, & Explanation

  1. Good stuff. 2010’s “Run Devil Run” by SNSD was almost a remake lyrics-wise, but surprisingly (for some) ended with a less open conclusion (that is, the guy was done for, no repenting would help):

    “Half of the world are men, it makes no difference if you’re gone.
    I’m going to wait by myself for a guy who will only look at me.”


  2. All my friends and students have always told me they find Sandara to be the weakest vocalist in the group, and say she’s only in it because she’s the pretty quirky one who serves as the face for the group on variety shows. Most of my female students hate Dara because they think she’s the least talented though the boys like her because she’s the prettiest. In their newer songs, Dara’s voice is the most heavily auto-tuned to sound robotic.


  3. There’s no doubt Sandara’s got the weakest vocals.. but she’s such a crazy character, who cares?

    As for 2NE1 really being ‘bad’, here’s CL literally beating a guy down on stage a few days ago. At 2:06


    1. Well I liked Sandara for her voice (sniff). I’ll bear her rep in mind for future songs though, when hopefully I’ll be less starstruck (must have listened to this song at least 50 times in the last 2 weeks).

      I’ll have to watch the video later sorry: I woke up on New Year’s to my computer blue-screening when I turned it on, and I had to write all of that last post in safe mode, which has no sound available. Hopefully a computer guy will be able to fix it on the on spot Monday, rather than me taking my notebook into a service center and not having access to it at all for a few days.

      On a side note, it’s amazing how much work you get done with something as simple as that stopping you from accessing things, although I like to think that my New Year’s resolutions had something to do with it too!


      1. Ah, well vocals aren’t all about belting out high notes. Some of my favorite recording vocalists have a pretty limited range.

        I gave up on resolutions this year.


  4. 더 후회할 걸 생각하면 맘이 시원해
    I’m certainly no expert on Korean, but this line strikes me more as of she feels relieved when she thinks of all the regrets she might make in the future (if she stayed with him).

    사랑이란 게임 속 loser
    This one seemed more like “You’re a loser in this game called love” (should be paraphrased more poetically, but you see what I mean :)

    I might be wrong, but I wanted to try to contribute since I think this translation projects are awesome – educational for language and insightful about culture and all the topics you usually write about.



    1. Thanks, and to Marlbouro below also, and agreed about the alternative translations. Especially about “You’re a loser in this game called love”, which was actually my first choice, but my wife vetoed it. And I think she’s right that that might not technically be the way it is in Korean, but of course it would be the most appropriate choice in English.


      1. I’m a native Korean speaker, and I can assure you that the translation choice you went for initially is the right one: “You’re a loser in this game called love.” I don’t know why your wife discarded it. “Love is a loser….” that seems so awkward in korean sense as well.


  5. Interestingly I only really like the reggae mix of I Don’t Care, I couldn’t get into the original version. Also I like CL’s voice and I don’t think 2NE1 are bad at all, it’s just the image YG is trying to sell.


    1. Nothing to do with the mix: I just don’t like reggae full stop unfortunately. And, falling in love with K-pop via DJ Ariea’s trance remixes and all, then I do tend to like my K-pop quite fast!


  6. I think «사랑이란 게임 속 loser» is more like «you’re a loser in the game called “love”» rather than «love is a loser in this game»…

    And thank you for the blog)


  7. Wow.

    I’ve been following your blog off and on for a couple of years now James and it’s really terrific. So why am I so shocked to see this much effort and energy going into the translation of “lyrics” from an utterly banal and vapid Korean girl group? Even more jaw-dropping are the commenters adding their own two cents as to their take on the nuances of meaning.

    Really, folks. This is a disposable, silly girl band. They’re just another in the string of corporate-created shlock being shoved down the throats of young Koreans (and others) who have never heard and orignal piece of music in their lives and simply know no better. For you guys to be dissecting their lyrical content seems a colossal waste of time. Surely your considerable talents could be better employed?

    Jesus Christ…


    1. Tharp,

      I’m sure you can accept that people have different music tastes, and that you can just skip these posts if you don’t like them so much. But, for better or for worse, manufactured girl bands are a core component of Korean popular culture, and the messages about sexuality and gender roles contained in their songs, music videos, and marketing and so on have genuine influence. One obvious starting point for understanding those is the lyrics of the songs, but not only are translations of them available online usually of very poor quality, which requires me to do them myself, but they’re usually vague, non-grammatical, and/or open to a great deal of interpretation…just like those in many English songs are. Hence the time and effort required in translating them then, and it hardly seems “jaw-dropping” that interested commenters might have different opinions on the translations and meaning.

      Granted, that doesn’t mean that some – hell, many – of the girl groups aren’t still “utterly banal and vapid”, but I think that that’s a huge generalization, and to be frank it doesn’t carry much weight coming from someone who clearly doesn’t have much inclination to ever do any more than just scratch the surface of the K-pop industry (prove me wrong), as evidenced by your querying of why I would bother to even look at the lyrics in the first place. You also have an extremely elitist and dismissive view of Korean youth (indeed, if you can forgive my geekishness, it instantly reminded me of the Frankfurt School), and I challenge your implicit assumption that manufactured groups are bad by definition, the Monkees for one proving otherwise.


    2. Just wanted to say that I found your remark “corporate-created shlock being shoved down the throats of young Koreans (and others)” to be offensive and inaccurate.

      While you can certainly dislike and disapprove of the music made by the Kpop industry, you do not have the right to disregard the young Koreans and other young people around the world as not having our own agency to choose what music we listen to. Perhaps our consumption baffles you and appears to you as “banal and vapid,” however that does not mean we are the hapless “victims” of the entertainment industry, forced into consuming something we do not wish to consume.

      Furthermore, just because it’s pop culture does not mean that its content cannot be or does not deserve to be analyzed critically and intellectually. After all, popular culture is a reflection of the masses, the culture, and the tradition (not limited to Korea itself, but incorporating the world).

      What does “Jesus Christ” have to do with this discussion? Or are you trying to invoke a personal religious belief to degrade the opinions and beliefs of other people?


  8. I agree that the reggae version is just a novelty, but it definitely didn’t do better than the original, which won #1s by the bucketload. The mini-album with the original was the 2nd best selling release of 2009.


  9. James,

    Fair enough. I was a bit of a cock. Sorry…

    Different strokes for different foks? Perhaps.

    But tell me for a second that any of this – K Pop – is artist generated. I think that we all know that this music (and dance moves and casting) was invented in board rooms; that it’s there is not one whiff of artist originality going on. These are pretty people doing the bidding of their corporate masters. Some of the music is catchy and the product often has its desired effect. But you can’t tell me for a second that it’s real, felt stuff, coming from an artist directly to the consumer. It’s absolute manufactured product, whipped up in board rooms. This is self-evident.

    What you do – as a Korean media/gender specialist is great – and yes, you can argue that this is just another step in your research. You’re a super smart cat and my respectg is real…

    But… call me an elitist all you want. The fact is that Korean music is corporate-created and lame as hell. There are hooks, but no ORIGINAL INSPIRATION. So, your studies aside, can you fault me for taking you to task for expending so much energy on what is really the Peninsula’s version of Debbie Gibson?

    Come on now. Let’s just tell the truth here…

    with respect,



    1. Just a couple of questions.
      What exactly is your definition of an artist?
      What do you define as original? I doubt there are any artists who are truly original…
      corporate masters…really?

      The music is catchy and has it’s desired effect? Then what’s wrong with it?

      Real, felt stuff coming from an artist directly to the consumer? I could argue that you need someone who can really feel ‘stuff’ more than an ‘artist’.

      Why is it self-evident?

      Fact is…that it’s lame as hell… really? Or is it just your perspective on matters?
      Original inspiration… what exactly is this? Maybe you can shed some light on the matter. Because if it’s sooo important I’m sure that it would be valuable for me to know what it is.

      I don’t understand your Debbie Gibson reference.

      THE truth. This just makes me want to unleash a whole lot of sarcasm…


    2. If one wanted to understand the pop culture influences on white American teen and preteen girls in the 80s, then Debbie Gibson would be a good start. People spend leisure time on activities that interest them. Personally, I regard electronic games as a collossal waste of time, but I wouldn’t take anyone other than a neglectful boyfriend to task for playing them.


    3. On a sidenote.
      I also enjoy the blog very much.

      And I think it’s the diversity of the blog that keeps me coming back.
      That and the fact that it’s regularly updated and well written.

      At the moment I feel a little bit slutty for saying it like this, but I think praise should be given where it’s deserved.

      I think if this blog didn’t have such a nice popular form it wouldn’t attract as many people as it’s attracting now.

      I like the fact that I can come here and be informed/entertained.
      Wow… a lot of I’s. It retains my attention because I’m not 100% sure what to expect.
      I know that it will be interesting and that the subject matter is diverse.. and focussed.
      And that every subject get’s a good amount of attention.

      Ah! Praise moment. I like the fact that information isn’t treated superficially. And that it’s still readable. I think it’s written in a popular form. Or whatever it’s called. Added to that I can actually read it without worrying about seeing grammatical errors, spelling mistakes etc. (I’m not so sure what the ‘etc’ is supposed to refer to, but I like how ‘etc’ ends sentences.

      For me the fact that the blog is a little bit of ‘everything’ is one of it’s main qualities.
      I like visiting museums, but I don’t like visiting it every day. I like reading books, but I don’t want to read similar books on a daily basis. I think these 2 examples can be extrapolated quite nicely so I’ll stop talking now.


    4. Elitist? No. Daft? Yes. If you think music is being made in board rooms you’re a good, old-fashioned ignoramous. If you willingly ignore facts to stick to a stance, that’s the tag you deserve. In addition to what all the others have pointed out, a lot of k-pop artists DO write their own material, and others write for those who don’t. There’s passion there, clearly. Do you also want me to point you to the creative individuals from various countries and collectives who contribute to the choreography? The styling? These are facts open to the public, but if you want to continue to believe in Santa Clause and a board room-mounted “create hit” button, please do.


  10. 미안해 – a couple of big grammatical errors… but my point remains.

    And yeah, I think that young Koreans simply don’t know any better, that they accept this terrible pop music as “great” only because they’ve been told they should and have never heard anyting else. Plato’s Cave and all that…


    1. And yet there are plenty of Americans who think Britney Spears and Ke$ha are great. Some people just like a catchy beat and a nice hook. Does that make them idiots? Hardly.


  11. I love 2NE1, but I don’t love the idea that my fondness for groups like 2NE1 supposedly reveals my horrifying ignorance on the subject of “real” music. Musical and personal tastes are subjective things. I once met a man that was absolutely appalled by the fact that I, a classically-trained opera singer with a Master of Music degree, could possibly get anything substantial out of international pop. However, that was and is the case. I have adored pop music for as long as I can remember and while I love singing Bellini composizioni di camera and Poulenc chanson, I also can go crazy listening to New Kids on the Block, *NSync, 2NE1, MBLAQ, Robyn and Crystal Kay. My being a trained musician does not prevent me from enjoying catchy melodies and infectious rhythms and my growing up surrounded by classical performers actually increases my appreciation for the skill required for artists to be able to dance and sing at the same time.

    Yes, most pop groups are manufactured and K-pop is by no means an exception. So what? Most of the acts from Motown’s heyday were manufactured, but that doesn’t lessen the quality of music that came from groups like the The Supremes, The Temptations and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. There is no shame in having deep respect for a well-polished act.

    Regarding analysis of a K-pop song’s lyrical content, many teachers of foreign languages use pop lyrics to explore the nuances of language, to examine the emotional contexts associated with particular words and expressions and to provide cultural reference points within phrases. That’s the beauty of pop music. It is popular music, liked by many and representative of the masses. Admittedly, there are many amazing indie and fusion artists making music in Korea nowadays and while it would be nice to to read translations of some of their lyrics, I realize that there are many more people familiar with Kpop artists. I believe that it is a great thing that we have the opportunity to study Korean by using songs that are familiar to many people interested in Korean pop culture.

    I apologize that my post is so long. I am very grateful for these Kpop translations and eagerly look forward to reading them each week. In classical singing, we are taught to give thought to the meaning of every single word in a piece, in order to give a very real and honest interpretation. I also like to apply this technique when I listen to music and your K-pop posts, James, have been very helpful.

    Oh, and if you really want to hear just how well those 2NE1 girls can carry a tune, then I recommend listening to “It Hurts”. With its old school R&B vibe and absence of auto-tune, that song gives you the purity of their singing and it’s pretty fantastic. Plus, the video is beautiful.



    1. Well, maybe I’m being a cock like whoever it was above, but having studied music at the post-secondary level, there was a stereotype among us composition majors about the vocal majors. (Especially those who liked to refer to themselves as “classically-trained,” a label usually reserved for use by those who had figured classical music study was more of a “stage” in their “development” into whatever the hell they fancied better. I studied a bunch of composed music for saxophone, but I wouldn’t call myself “classically trained” because the term implies so much that I don’t wish to imply about myself. Maybe also because I spend loads of time in the woodshed studying jazz theory and learning to run different kinds of changes.)

      Well, you can (I’m sure) fill in the rest… and yeah, the stereotypes about voice majors probably are unfair. I did know a few — a very few — voice majors who were actually really into anything other than the closed little oeuvre of works they needed to master in order to get clapped at and shine and be all *shiny*! There were some who were interested in a radically wide diversity of music, who were willing to sing experimental works, who were willing to study theory and history with a serious attitude and the understanding that mastery had to be multi-domensional. A few. Not many, but I knew some.

      But I will say that the majority of the musically-trained people I’ve known who actually made a regular habit of listening to anything interesting (ie, anything other than the same kind of shit they — and most of us — listened to in high school) at home were either theory-composition majors, or music history majors. Perhaps it’s unfair that I cannot imagine a single one of my composer or musicology friends from back in the day who would have failed to sneer at the mention of New Kids on the Block or Backstreet Boys.

      (Well, except one. I knew a comp major who had committed the Billboard charts for the last 50 years to memory, and recorded a pretty good heavy metal cover of a NKoTB song in his basement home studio; then again, it was a bit of a schtick, and he also dropped out of his composition program to tour with a country band, so he was always a wild card.)

      Meanwhile, quite startlingly, more than average numbers of doctors I’ve known, and creative writers, and artists, have tastes in music that range at least a little farther; sometimes only as far as Stereolab or Arab Strap (or Bill Laswell, to which I am now listening by the way), but sometimes all the way to Steve Reich, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Ornette Coleman or Cecil Taylor, and even more unusual (and intellectual) stuff — music designed for being listened to, rather than put on in the background while people do other stuff.

      I think that distinction, by the way, is important. I think Branford Marsalis put it as, “Music to dance to with your body” versus “music to dance to with your mind” — he wasn’t slamming the former, as much as saying one needs the latter as well.

      Which is to say, one can certainly get a kick out of garbage sometimes. Hell, I have nachos with cheese and japapenos and sour cream and salsa for dinner sometimes. But I can’t call it good food, or healthy, or nutritious. It’s junk. It is reprocessed garbage shaped to fill a hole in the consumer’s gut. Likewise, this music is junk reprocessed and shaped to fit a music-shaped space in the listener’s aural environment; the next silence-killer, with a shelf-life of a few months maximum, sung by people paid to look pretty (to call them artists is to lower the bar unforgivably, because art is a lot bloody harder to actually achieve than *that*). That’s what this music is, plain and simple, and the testament to that is its utter lack of staying power.

      People still listen to John Coltrane, and Sidney Bechet, and difficult as he is, Cecil Taylor at only 30 years’ remove has way more fans than the world’s hottest musical “pop stars” (equivalents thereof, anyway) of the 1890s; people spend years of their lives mastering the works of Bach and learning to sing Berio’s insanely hard pieces correctly; there are things about nonwestern musical traditions (such as various forms of microtonality and polyrhythm) which I suspect Western musicologists still don’t have a very good handle on, and probably won’t really understand for a long time.

      2NE1 will be all but forgotten in five or seven years, except on blogs where Western expats in Korea desconstruct song lyrics of whoever is famous then, and compare them to the song lyrics of bands from five years before. Maybe, just maybe, one of these girls will manage a spinoff career for a few more years, till she’s “over the hill” or some scandal ruins her as a star. And I can’t feel sorry for ’em: easy come, easy go. Art is, as I said, harder than that, even if the world does its best to help us forget that, to shove the petty grandiosity of calling kids artists because they jiggle their bodies and have their contributions to albums digitally “fixed” so they can lip synch while jiggling. Sorry, to anyone offended, but this definition of art is one made up by a bunch of capitalists who were hoping we wouldn’t notice… and, sadly, they were right: most of us didn’t. Most of us go about using that word, “artist” as if jiggle & lipsynch were a freaking vocation. It’s not: it’s a job. And therein lies the difference.

      Ah, yes, you may point out, I wrote, “… all but forgotten…” Well, I think Sonagi makes a good point that learning about the dynamics of girl groups and boy bands does suggest itself as a sort of key to the cipher that, for I suspect everyone (or almost everyone) reading this post, is the subjective experience of the Korean teen music consumer.

      That said, I think the specifics of lyrics are less useful than the generalizations one can finally draw; one doesn’t need to look at every Britney Spears song to trace the tension between two cultural types — virginal maiden, and sinful whore — that lent her career (such that it was) so much of its drive and energy, and her (manufactured) persona so much of its appeal with the global audience. In fact, I’d say performance, attire, and media appearances probably have a lot more to do with that than the trite content packaged into the songs.

      But let me ask a question to test this theory: is it your sincere belief, James, that this song couldn’t have been acquired and performed by some other girl group in Korea? Are there specific traits that make it impossible for anyone by 2NE1 to perform it? If so, that might be an avenue into discussing the codification of persona into lryrical content for girl group persona manufacture; if not, I suspect the close attention to lyrics, while maybe necessary for due diligence, might be a distraction.

      Personally, this song’s narrative doesn’t strike me as all that new or unique; indeed, it’s the age-old plea against the unfaithful, untrustworthy male. I could rather easily see it having been acquired and performed by one of the other girl groups like Girls’ Generation or Wonder Girls… or whoever else is out there that I’ve been studiously ignoring.

      The bigger question, then, is what the underlying narrative of this particular group is, that differentiates it from other girl groups; and what makes it akin to the others. Some studies cited in a book I read last year suggested humans actually desire both to fit in, but not to fit in quite too well. I’d say the same is probably true of performing groups within a particular genre. So, where are the lines of conformity and nonconformity?


      1. Wow…… now I’m not a music purist and I don’t know much about music at all for that matter.

        But I think that what MoJo said was nowhere near as rude as what you said.
        Just because you put the label ‘vocal major’ on it doesn’t mean it’s ok to unleash the prejudice… no matter how well founded you may think it is.

        I’m inclined to side with MoJo for staying civilized.


        1. Marvin,

          Not everyone knows that much about music. Very few have, throughout the history of any civilization, of course. The majority of people have listened to “folk music” (then called, not like today’s “folk”) and that’s fine; most “artists” made references to folk music, from Mozart breaking all the rules by using the clarinet, to jazz artists improvising on the chord changes of Broadway showtunes. And for what it’s worth, I played in a rock band my first five years in Korea, I have tons of “popular” music in my collection, and I’m sure not all of it meets the standards I like to imagine I have for my own taste.

          For what it’s worth, what I said about voice majors and the term “classically trained” wasn’t intended as a personal assault on MoJo; I was just bringing some context to the discussion, like the context of what it means to be “classically trained” and the context of what other musical specialists tend to think of voice majors. Yes, as I said, there are a few voice majors for whom music as an art form matters; but in my experience, liking to sing the “classical” stuff but almost never listening to it at home was not so unusual among performance majors in general, but especially common among voice majors. MoJo’s comments brought that to mind

          Going by what she says alone, she likes singing “classical” music but loves listening to international pop music. Don’t get me wrong, I also appreciate the skill required to dance and sing at the same time: anyone who has seen Angelique Kidjo do a show cannot leave without that impression. But then, compared to these girlies that James is discussing, Kidjo can actually sing and actually dance. She elevates that skill to an artform, and as someone who started singing-and-dacing as a child, and who had worked damned hard at it… and is still a huge name at age 50, which indicates something about her skill and power. (Do you think even one of these 2NE1 kids will have a career in music at age 50? I think the jiggling will be less saleable now, and it’s hard when that’s your primary talent.) Kidjo works in popular idioms, but she is, no question, an artist. The word artist is difficult to apply to some cheap, easy confection like this group James is discussing when you’ve seen Angelique Kidjo sing and dance, live, and you know for sure she ain’t lip synching either.

          The truth is, every album that goes through a studio has some “autotune” used on it. Every track does. That, or a trillion takes cut up and pasted. That’s just how it is. (And yeah, it’s true of the albums my own band put out, though most of the time the autotune was mediocre and the extra takes were rushed.)

          Regarding analysis of a K-pop song’s lyrical content, many teachers of foreign languages use pop lyrics to explore the nuances of language, to examine the emotional contexts associated with particular words and expressions and to provide cultural reference points within phrases.

          I’ll be honest: as a language teacher back when I taught elementary and low-intermediate classes — and we’re talking about 8 years ago –, I used American pop songs for one reason alone: my students begged me for it. It’s a fairly unhelpful approach to actual language learning, in the classroom, but students love it because they get to sit silently, listening to foreign pop songs they’ve heard a million times before, and learning idioms that they still won’t quite understand but can seed incoherently into conversations.

          That’s not 100% true; in advanced classes like the ones I’ve taught over the last five years, popular music can be useful. We were able to analyze Bob Marley’s songs for a better understanding of the Biblicality of rastafari belief as a form of Biblically-justified black power; we looked at a Belle & Sebastian song (“I Fought in a War”) for a better sense of how ancient “warrior codes” and World War I were incompatible; we listened to some blackface performances to see how institutionalized racism functioned in Hollywood back in the bad old days. So, obviously, I’m not going to say popular music cannot be used in serious teaching and study. But that’s now why teachers end up playing Britney Spears songs in class, while handing out lyrics sheets with blanks seeded through them. The truth is, students like it, ask for it, whine when they don’t get it. And most language teachers in Korea are hakwon teachers, who aren’t trained to teach language and end up needing to keep students happy, since language acquisition is less of a priority than continued enrollment. (The more pop song days, the better, as it wastes a half-hour of classtime and thus extends the amount of classtime needed to learn whatever students believe they need to learn.)

          “Admittedly, there are many amazing indie and fusion artists making music in Korea nowadays and while it would be nice to to read translations of some of their lyrics, I realize that there are many more people familiar with Kpop artists.”

          The fact is, there aren’t that many indie musicians doing interesting things. One reason is that Korea lacks a performance scene except in, er, a couple of neighborhoods in the whole country. There are some, and for example I’m a huge fan of the Hwang Shin Hae Band. But even his lyrics strike me as, well… nonsensical, a kind of mockery of the lyrics of other Korean songs… they’re songs about how nice a breakfast mom makes, or “Weeble-wobble, you’re my best friend!” or, “I’m a lazyass, I lie on the floor all day long,” or “Let’s eat Jjambbong [soup]!” It’s his approach to the music itself that’s more interesting and creative (and downright brilliant).

          I started a thought, in my previous comment, with “perhaps it’s unfair” but I didn’t rebut my own perhaps, so here it is:

          Perhaps it’s unfair that I cannot imagine a single one of my composer or musicology friends from back in the day who would have failed to sneer at the mention of New Kids on the Block or Backstreet Boys…

          … but then again, perhaps it reveals something that difficult, interesting, complex music is, for them, something that deserves to not only be performed, but to be listened to, engaged with on a deep level, and understood.

          If you think this is elitism, I don’t care — it’s difficult to care about the opinion of someone who admits right off the bat to not knowing much about the subject of the discussion (Marvin, I mean). When I was 12, I knew not much too, and thus believed that rock music was difficult and brilliant. I went to my new saxophone teacher at age 14 and told him I wanted to play rock. He grinned (or maybe he even sneered), told me he would teach me jazz, and if I could play jazz, rock would be easy. And what do you know… he was absolutely right, something I figured out for myself only a few months later once I’d immersed myself in Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and Cannonball Adderly, and gotten used to hearing sounds likw nothing I’d ever heard before in my whole life.

          Eventually, I discovered that most saxophone players in rock bands are actually jazz musicians. There’s more money in simpler forms, like blues or rock, and they may enjoy jamming in these styles sometimes, but they keep coming back to jazz in the end, nonetheless. Eventually, playing in a rock band, I discovered why: if you have the chops for jazz, then rock is not really all that challenging, and feels a bit… cheap.

          Besides, Marvin, who said this was an argument with “sides”? Side with who you want: I’m just pointing out my observations and thoughts, from the point of view of another, ahem, so-called “classically trained” musician…


          1. I understood your position. I was just remarking on the way it was communicated.

            Also I didn’t give my opinion on the subject, but still I think that’s hardly a reason not consider my opinion…

            And when I say I don’t know much I mean I don’t know more than you and I don’t know more than many other people. That doesn’t mean that I don’t take music seriously or don’t listen to many different things. Maybe I know more than you knew at 14. I don’t know. All I know is that I don’t consider myself an expert. I love Vltava by Dvorak and it moves me in ways that other music doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean that I listened to everything by him or every other ‘romantic’ composer.

            And even though I’m not trained in music. Doesn’t mean that it’s the only relevant side of an argument when you’re talking about culture. And also music might sometimes be art, but that doesn’t mean that art is only related to music.
            And I think I can safely say that I know more about the fine arts than you do.
            Might be possible to consider someone’s opinions even though he admits to a certain lack of knowledge in specific areas.

            This was of course a response to the sentence: “— it’s difficult to care about the opinion of someone who admits right off the bat to not knowing much about the subject of the discussion (Marvin, I mean)”

            My opinion on the way you speak becomes irrelevant because I don’t know a lot about music….isn’t that weird?

            I regretted the last sentence during the pressing of ‘post comment’. Sorry about that one.

            But then again… isn’t it naive to say that there are no sides to this argument? Obviously you don’t post a lengthy reply defending your position if there are no positions/sides to be taken.

            I know this discussion is over, but I felt the need to defend myself after the post you wrote.


          2. Marvin,

            I understood your position. I was just remarking on the way it was communicated.

            I see.

            And when I say I don’t know much I mean I don’t know more than you and I don’t know more than many other people. That doesn’t mean that I don’t take music seriously or don’t listen to many different things. Maybe I know more than you knew at 14. I don’t know. All I know is that I don’t consider myself an expert. I love Vltava by Dvorak and it moves me in ways that other music doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean that I listened to everything by him or every other ‘romantic’ composer.

            Nobody has listened to everything by every romantic composer, at least not with the kind of attention I’m talking about. Not today, anyway. It’s like with books: I am decades behind in the field, and must pick and choose what I read. I am probably less well-read than many of my writer friends.

            And even though I’m not trained in music. Doesn’t mean that it’s the only relevant side of an argument when you’re talking about culture. And also music might sometimes be art, but that doesn’t mean that art is only related to music.
            And I think I can safely say that I know more about the fine arts than you do.
            Might be possible to consider someone’s opinions even though he admits to a certain lack of knowledge in specific areas.

            Congratulations to you for knowing more about “the fine arts” than I do, though… “the fine arts” tends to include music and literature, my specialities. I think you mean visual arts? In which case, yeah, lots of people know more than me. I probably know more about a bunch of things than you do, and vice versa. I don’t see how that’s relevant except in relation to your ego, which is wounded because… well, see below.

            This was of course a response to the sentence: “— it’s difficult to care about the opinion of someone who admits right off the bat to not knowing much about the subject of the discussion (Marvin, I mean)”

            My opinion on the way you speak becomes irrelevant because I don’t know a lot about music….isn’t that weird?

            I regretted the last sentence during the pressing of ‘post comment’. Sorry about that one.

            But then again… isn’t it naive to say that there are no sides to this argument? Obviously you don’t post a lengthy reply defending your position if there are no positions/sides to be taken.

            Don’t bother regretting it. Look, here’s a schtick a guy I know uses when he teaches beginner philosophy at the unviversity level:

            “How many of you feel you are entitled to an opinion on any topic in the world?”

            A bunch of students put up their hand.

            “Even on topics you know nothing about?”

            One or two hands go down.


            “What?” says a student. “I have a right to free speech!”

            “Sure,” my acquaintance says. “You have the right to say any uninformed, irrelevant silliness you want. That doesn’t make it an opinion. I know… out there in the world, you’re taught that everyone has the right to an opinion. But in here, we’re intellectuals, and among us, you only have a right to an opinion once you’ve worked for it, studied, taught yourself about the subject, worked through your own blind alleys at least enough to present a supportable argument. In the intellectual world, you have to earn the right to an opinion.”

            Quite frankly, if you started spouting your opinion about the likelihood (or unlikelihood) of life existing around other stars out there in the universe, or why gravity ended up the way it did in our universe, or which type of materials and blueprints ought to be used in constructing bridges, nobody would any any obligation to listen to your “opinions.”

            They wouldn’t even be obligated to nod politely and smile and say, “How nice for you. However, we feel that bronze is probably an extremely bad choice because, pretty and shiny and neat as it might be, it’s not going to hold up. We know this because of things we learned in freshman engineering courses.” They would laugh at you for having the temerity to presume you could formulate an opinion without having studied at all.

            (I am assuming you’re not an engineer; if you are, then we could shift to an example involving your suggesting which growth medium to use in a lab for culturing some rare form of mold spore to a bunch of biomedical researchers.)

            Of course, art seems different in many ways. It is a human commonwealth, in that it is exists universally and can be enjoyed (to some degree) without training or study. It is something that, when most masterfully designed, touches on both individual experience and human universals where they intersect; it is the birthright and joy of humanity, and brings color to a world that has, historically, been extremely difficult and painful to inhabit (and now, is extremely difficult and grey to inhabit).

            But this does not preclude expertise. You may like that piece by Dvorak, but that does not mean that expertise in music is impossible. Quite the contrary, and in a consumerist society, as in an aristocratic one, it means that many, many people will feel themselves to be experts who are not, and many people will feel somewhat insecure about their opinions because of how they develop them.

            Which is to say: musical taste, I’m afraid, seems often to develop as does religious beliefs, primarily taking root as a result of youthful exposure. A lot of people never really move too far beyond the kind of music (or even, specifically, the music) they listened to as young people. Perhaps you, Marvin, have more diverse tastes, but a vast number of people do not. A vast number of people actually cannot conceive of what “diverse” means in a musical context; they say, “I listen to everything!” and mean a very narrow range of very similar types of formulaic North American popular music genres. “I listen to everything!” very rarely means, “I enjoy the Balinese kecak,” or “I am a fan of the santur, when played well as by Ulhas Bapat.” They almost never say, “I think Verklarte Nacht is a thing of beauty” or “I am enamored of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex” or even, “Yeah, I am very interested in Eric Dolpy.” What they mean is that they can listen to both country and pop songs, and maybe Bon Jovi, without bitching that the music is “weird” or “strange.” That’s like saying, “I eat anything” because you can eat pork, chicken, and beef, but won’t go near fish or shrimp — let alone octopus, or pheasant, or any of a million other things. But these people so often seem to feel as if their limited knowledge and limited experience don’t preclude them having an opinion that should matter to anyone else.

            I’m also not saying I’m the biggest expert here, or in the world, or that you all should submit to my superior judgment. Which is interesting, and is a phenomenon we see outside of music too. I’ve known scientists who would get snubbed for explaining how this or that was scientifically impossible (think perpetual motion machine or cold fusion) as being “opinionated” or “arrogant.” What that really suggests is a kind of emotional reaction based on a feeling of insecurity.

            I’m not claiming my expertise endows me with all the answers. I’m just demonstrating that there are good, strong reasons for why I hold the opinions I do, like any expert. You’ll just have to forgive me for taking music seriously enough to study it, and talk about it as if it deserved serious discussion — that is, by supporting my position with explanation and argumentation.

            I know this discussion is over, but I felt the need to defend myself after the post you wrote.

            I regret tripping your insecurities. I do think it’s interesting that you felt them tripped upon, though. See above.

            And yes, I’m feeling this discussion is done now too.


          3. Hello again,

            Thank you for the reply and taking the time to explain your position.

            When I wrote Fine Arts I indeed meant the Visual Arts. But then again I don’t consider Music and Literature as Fine Arts, but Arts.

            My ego was hurt. Perhaps yes.
            Because you appropriated my identity for something I didn’t consent to.
            As I’ve already told you that the line “‘Marvin I mean’. when I was 12 I didn’t know a lot about music, but when I was 14 etc.”(argumentum ad hominem) was the one I focussed on. I didn’t write the post from a feeling of insecurity, but I can’t deny that you might have felt amused by my attempts to validate myself.

            Then again maybe that’s because you start by invalidating me by reading between the lines and extrapolating things that might not be true.
            To undo this invalidation I would have to state some facts about myself to make sure that you understood that you’re thoughts about me are incorrect, no?

            Couldn’t you have made your point without becoming personal?

            I don’t know. It just feels like you:
            a) know a lot
            b) know how to defend what you think on the subject
            c) aren’t a bag of hot air

            And this is not just about me here. But you post things with a certain dramatic flair which is nice for writing, however it might not be appropriate for teaching people things.

            Because basically we’re all here to learn, right? I’m glad you wrote what you wrote, because otherwise I wouldn’t have been introduced to what seem to be great musicians that I hadn’t heard of before I read your posts.

            My personal feelings are that that is more than enough to defend something.
            Yet you seem to have a habit of becoming personal in discussions. Which might distract people from the truthfulness of what you have to say.

            Which is then regretful, because of the earlier mentioned reasons.

            Now you can argue that those people can just do whatever they want etc. But if you can inform a couple of people about something you truly love. Isn’t that worth it?

            I also believe that a serious discussion of anything has a certain etiquette.


          4. Marvin,

            Apologies, I’ve been busy.

            When I wrote Fine Arts I indeed meant the Visual Arts. But then again I don’t consider Music and Literature as Fine Arts, but Arts.

            Um… well, you should know that usage is archaic and far from standard today. Normally, “fine arts” means anything with an aesthetic, rather than a “practical” purpose.

            My ego was hurt. Perhaps yes.
            Because you appropriated my identity for something I didn’t consent to.

            I’m afraid you volunteered to be part of the discussion; normally, this constitutes consent for responding to your words, or using your argument as an example of a common type, or whatever. I come on strong, yes, especially when it comes to music, but it’s not like I violated you, man.

            In other words, you’re the one who said he didn’t know much. I just nodded and agreed, and said this is why it’s hard to take your “opinion” seriously.

            And this is not just about me here. But you post things with a certain dramatic flair which is nice for writing, however it might not be appropriate for teaching people things.

            Well, but I am writing. I am not teaching. Teaching is my day job. Teaching involves a contract between student and instructor. I’m not teaching, though I’m fine with you learning if you like and feel you can from this discussion. I am engaged in a discussion. Thus I’ve no obligation to talk to you as a teacher might. I do have an obligation to be civil if you are, and you have been. I don’t think I’ve been as incivil or personal as you seem to think, though. I just extrapolated from your comments, and you corrected me where wrong. I’m sorry for misconstruing what you said, but I don’t feel like I’ve engaged in ad hominem all that much, especially not with you… I’d understand if MoJo had felt that,, mind you.


      2. Just a question: Who has the right to define what “art” is and subsequently enforce that definition upon everyone else?

        Prejudice does not equal power or authority.


        1. If we take that route, of course, snuff films could be defined as art. Crapping into a cardboard box and mailing it to a random address could be called art.

          Who has the right to define what art is? Artists, that’s who. People who struggle to produce quality work. And you know what, though they don’t tend to form much of a consensus on what is good art, they do tend to have a fairly good idea of which sorts of work take serious struggle, and which sorts of work are commecialized, flash-in-the-pan, miminal-creativity, disposable trash.

          You’re just miffed because you feel I insulted some so-called “art” that you like, and it’s your right to be miffed and throw a hissyfit. However, you’re not entitled to expect I’ll take your little attempt at “rebuttal” seriously.

          Knowing what the hell you’re talking about isn’t prejudice. And I never made any pretense to power or authority, by the way. I was, as I said earlier, offering observations. It’s not my problem if you feel threatened by my “observations.” Perhaps you simply noticed that I happen to have a pretty solid grounding in the subject.

          You can have a solid grounding too. If you’d like a serious discussion of how and why we can define art in different ways, go do your damned homework. Go and read about, say, modern theories of art and aesthetical philosophy; start with, say like those of Dewey and Collingwood. Spend ten or twelve years listening to every kind of music you can find, studying music theory, counterpoint, composition, history. Perform with a few dozen ensembles, lead a bunch of them, and play several instruments along with singing in a few choruses. Make lifetime’s study of music happen in a decade of your life, and then come back and tell me your opinion is the same.

          Go on, do it. If you aren’t interested in even doing a bloody fraction of that, then don’t expect me to take your little rejoinder seriously. I don’t have the right to impose my definition of “art” on everyone, but I do have the right to argue that calling jiggling teenagers “artists” is ridiculous. If you disagree, don’t label me a music Nazi: rebut my argument. Explain how “I Don’t Care” by 2NE1 is part of that amazing, elevated portion of the endeavour of great civilizations, characterized by collossal creativity of a Herculaean stature, heightened sensory experience shaped by long-trained and skilled artists, and ultimately a confrontation with the metaphysical questions and dilemmas that characterize human existence — all traits that, as far as I understand it, belong to what sensible people everyone regard as “art.”

          I’m waiting, myweithisway.


          1. Ooops, a few typos in the last paragraph. What can I say, I’m still food-poisoned. Please take this paragraph in its stead:

            If you disagree, don’t label me a music Nazi: rebut my argument. Explain how “I Don’t Care” by 2NE1 is part of that amazing, elevated portion of the endeavour of great civilizations, characterized by colossal creativity of a Herculaean stature, heightened sensory experience shaped by long-trained and skilled artists, and ultimately a confrontation with the metaphysical questions and dilemmas that characterize human existence — all traits that, as far as I understand it, belong to what sensible people everywhere regard as “art.”


          2. http://www2.hawaii.edu/~lady/ramblings/pop.html

            I think this person makes an interesting case for pop music.
            As such the question should not be 2NE1 is part of, but pop music is part of elevated blablabla.

            And then you can consider the role of 2NE1 in pop music.

            As such I think yes. Pop music does play a role in what you have defined as “art”. Then again I don’t think you’ve defined “art” that well in the above statement.

            Can’t pop music be considered one of the 20th century’s greatest innovations?

            I’m sorry but I have to leave for school now. A student’s life is a tough one.


          3. I’m afraid I was not impressed by Lee Lady’s “argument” (if it may be called that).

            The devil is in the details, and you summarized her argument well in “pop music is part of elevated blablabla.” The devil is in the bla bla bla, or else he isn’t.

            I apologize for not defining art to your satisfaction. Would you like to summarize several thousands of years of constructed understandings of art from a myraid of cultures and contexts for us, in 1000 words or less? I mean, while you’re critiquing my own definition of art, above.

            “Can’t pop music be considered one of the 20th century’s greatest innovations?

            I’m sure it is. I’m sure some people consider Reaganomics one of the 20th century’s greatest innovations, too. Or Reality TV.

            Personally, I’m concerned with the question of whether it ought to be, and no, I don’t think it ought to be, for all the reasons I’ve laid out above. Then again, you should know I have pretty radical and unusual views about music when I say that Mozart & co. led Western music down a wrong turn.


      3. Thanks, as always, for all the thoughtful comments Gord, although it does make it difficult to know where and how to reply. But either way, apologies for the delay: you especially will be amused to hear that I had to get Windows reinstalled yesterday, and not of my own accord!

        In response to this particular comment though, probably some clarifications are best. First, while I certainly do like this song, and probably have also said somewhere that it’s “good”, I’ve never meant that latter in the sense that it even begins to compare to the classics; is particularly original; is “art”; and/or probably couldn’t be done equally well by many other girl groups (but by no means all: I wasn’t kidding about the voices).

        However, those are by no means the only criteria by which people can and should judge songs, and indeed – although this sounds prosaic, even embarrassing to put this down in print – I personally use songs like this one primarily as a catalyst for arousing passion, for fantasies about living in Korea, the fact that it is 2011, and so on; others, especially teen consumers, might use them as an indirect but powerful, proactive form of identity formation (as I’ll elaborate on in a separate post later this month). Moreover, given how big a part attire, performance, and media appearances play in both, and how this ties in to how heavily and uniquely Korean management companies rely on the latter two (and commercial endorsements) for profits, then I’d argue that if “is it art” or not-style discussions are really bringing the wrong analytical tools to bear on the subject. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not uninteresting, but it does seem misguided for anyone to argue that songs like these are creative, original, pieces of art that will be listening to decades from now…when only the most naïve of commentators would fail to see that they’re intended to be anything but.

        Not that I think that some things K-pop has to offer are entirely without their good points of course: it takes far more than simply attractive women in tight-fitting clothing in futuristic sets (or whatever) to even get me to watch a music video again, let alone listen to just the MP3, and indeed DJ Areia’s dance and trance remixes of K-pop especially often improve them to such an extent that I can guarantee that I at least will be listening to them 10, even 20 years from now (and many of those I would consider art, although some have been terrible!), much like I’m still listening to very similar trance classics from the late-1990s now.

        Lest I’ve wandered too far from my point though, it is simply this: as far as music goes, then no, I don’t think this particular song is all that great. But I and many others are too busy enjoying it for different reasons to care.

        Not that I think you’d necessarily disagree to and/or weren’t aware of any of the above though, and…hmmm, rereading the first half of your comment again, then I may have ended up just repeating you sorry. But given the ways in which I enjoy K-pop personally as explained, then I would definitely have to disagree about whether it is “music to dance to with your mind” or not!

        Next, more practical matters: no, I won’t be looking at all songs by each group studied; yes, they’re only one thing about each group to be examined; and yes, to a certain extent they’re “due diligence.” But a “distraction”? Hell no, for three main reasons.

        First, because just today for instance one song got banned from TV just for – wait for it – using mere slang (not swear) words, and you have discussed yourself another case in May 2009 which an English line in one was misinterpreted and consequently that song also banned, so what precisely is being said really does matter.

        But second, and in particular, while a great deal of intelligent and useful commentary definitely can and has been written in English about Korean music, not least by yourself, I’d wager that most is by people with limited or no Korean language ability. No problem, many might say, as there are plenty of subtitles embedded into Youtube songs, translations on blogs, articles on the songs and groups by bilingual speakers in newspapers and magazines etc. etc. But then I don’t need to tell you that the latter often have an agenda (indeed, that’s what got this whole series started in the first place: see here for more {scroll down to just before the picture of Girl’s Generation about 4/5s in}), and even just the experience of the limited number of translations that I have done myself have demonstrated to me that the vast majority of those available online have many mistakes. Which is not to say that mine are perfect either of course, but – crucially – other online sources both lack an explanation of the methodology behind them, and /or don’t really seem to have anyone questioning, discussing, and/or correcting them. And when, again from experience, I’ve started translated songs and (mostly) news articles thinking from a first quick reading and what I already know about the background that it said one thing, finding that indeed it did say what I thought while doing it, only then to discover much later that the inclusion of literally just one word means the whole thing actually says the exact opposite, then in a way it’s simply bizarre that more sources don’t make the translation process more transparent, and, however convenient, even stranger still that we take the accuracy of their translations for granted.

        Having accused Tharp of the same earlier, then I don’t mean to sound elitist myself with that last, but hell: more people need to have the epiphany about over-relying on English-language sources to understand Korea that I had. Which brings me to my third and final point.

        Although I can’t say much about what we’re doing exactly at this stage sorry, as Stephen and I have only just started working on our book chapter, in a nutshell we’re looking at the narratives of male-female interaction presented in girl-group’s music videos, lyrics, and marketing, arguing that they seem to all fall into 3 certain types. Granted, in that case of course the lyrics are necessary for me to look at then, but given everything I’ve said about the gatekeepers of English access to material on K-pop above then now I think it’s a basic requirement for any serious examination of K-pop. Forgive me if I’m offending any other K-pop commentators by saying that, but then it’s just as much an admonishment and resolution to myself as anyone else!

        And on that note, apologies in advance if I’ve repeated any material you’ve covered in later comments. And seriously, that took me several hours…how do you write as much as you do???^^


        1. James,

          Yeah, sometimes I comment bazooka style. Sorry. It’s my nature… and I write that many comments in part because I’m on holiday, and was spending today recuperating from food poisoning I got on New Year’s Day.

          I also wrote the last 3000+ words of a story I’ve been trying to finish for a couple of days while I was at it. Some writers are good at volume. I’m told it’s a blessing. I dunno.

          Anyway, to your points:

          – Ha, Windows. Yeah, dude. You need to switch to something less bug prone. Mac or Linux, with Windows XP running in an emulator. It’s not like you’re gaming, so who’s it going to hurt? You could even take a disk image of the perfectly-set-up system, given how all your bookmarking is on Delicious now, and then just reload the fresh .img when you want/need to do so. This is what I’m planning on doing, as soon as I have a little time free to do the big fat reinstall.

          – I getcha on the functional analysis of media objects and cultural manufacture. I remember a professor railing against the idea that some sociobiologists had presented that maybe certain musical structures or patterns (such as octave-based, modal structures) are things we’re hardwired to like. He was clearly in the wrong, as I (a woodwind player) recognized immediately: music is clearly biological, and informed by patterns like physical cycles such as breathing (where did you think musical phrasing came from) and rhythm (heartbeats, rhythms in language). Music is, in some ways, a hard-core reexternalization and abstraction of biological experience. (I’ve even read arguments, can’t remember by whom, that argued the harmonic structure of Western music emulated the experience of orgasm: tension building up until it cannot be contained, followed by harmonious release. Not sure how much I buy it’s purely sexual, mind you: we experience this with all kinds of bodily functions, including scatological ones, but also probably, historically, hunger, and anger, and others.) All of that said, a sociobiological examination of the underpinning structures of “pop music” as a relatively easily exportable model for music commercialization would be fascinating. There’s tons of narrative in there, about gender roles and sexual fantasy; about hierarchy and power; about the codification of language; about global US-centric self-refashioning (some might call internalized colonization; I’ll split the difference and call it culture-jettisoning, as long as we can agree “culture” is a value-neutral and not always/necessarily “good” or deserving protection by those trapped within its codes). I’d love to read it. No time to write it, though. (Not for now anyway.)

          It’s funny: I think part of the pop music experience is that we seem to believe we’ll be listening to the stuff 10 or 20 years later. Well, I’ll confess: I was a huge fan of Guns’n’Roses as a teenager. I was crazy about bands like that. I listen to them… exactly never. My musical background may be unusual in that I was prompted to musical neophilia (liking and seeking out very new, alienating things) and it may be I was seeking out the same cognitive estrangement that Darko Suvin has argued is at the heart of the experience of science fiction (another dovetailing between SF and jazz). But I think you’re right to criticize my point. I don’t doubt that some people who are “fans” of 2NE1 will still put the tracks on in five years, just as there is still a devoted fan following to New Kids on the Block. (I was shocked when MoJo mentioned that band at all, since it’s been so damned long since they were vaporized by the forces of commercial musical marketing. Or were they?) Marketing categories are what they are, and “oldies” can be resold to aging ex-fans in some new form. (That’s changing, though, at the same time that musical form and style seem to be locking into much slower development and change, into more recycle-heavy approaches.)

          But 2NE1 will not be attracting people who weren’t listening to them when they were big. Bach’s easy, but the staying power of music is its ability to pick up fans five, ten, twenty, fifty, or a hundred years after the stuff was big. There are a constant (if small) stream of people who hear songs by Bernart da Ventadorn, like “Can vei la lauzeta mover”, and are blown away. If you look at the lyrics, they’re quite comparable to the 2NE1, though the genders are switched: it’s a man who sang in a court, and who loved a “Lady” (ie. someone in a high position) and got rejected by her. But the metaphors are gorgeous — he speaks of a swallow in flight, possibly mating, and about the sorrow he experiences finding himself incapable of the joy of a little bird in delighted flight; he rants that women are not to be trusted (as every man has done when his heart was broken) and finally vows (falsely, to be sure) to consign himself to a monastery to live out his remaining days far from women, and die in peace. But the melody — gorgeous, and utterly brilliantly designed (as the text) to ensure a degree of stability when being transmitted orally. Because, did I fail to mention this? He never wrote it down, composing it completely orally, and yet it survives, all the way from the late 1100s to today. My mother even claims she learned a few troubadour songs, in altered from, as a child in Quebec. Listening to that voice sing of a universal pain, across quite close to a millennium, moves me every time. And moves a lot of people.

          I’m just saying, basically nothing of the vocal music I’ve heard in Korea aside from a few pansori have anything on that. I am partial to 수궁가, though when I think of the 춘향가 it brings to mind the question — perhaps beyond the scope of your chapter with Epstein, but relevant — as to whether these gender role narratives have any continuity with or reaction to older ones in other musical forms? It may seem an idle question, but I mention Ventadorn for a reason: the troubadours, among whom he was counted, pretty much formulated the idea of “romantic love” as we Westerners understand it, as is becoming the norm in most of the world, and resulted in the eventual revolution of sexuality, marriage customs, and I’d argue indeed by extension they facilitated the very shift in gender roles experienced by the Western-European/New World societies and so on that is now transforming Korea today.

          – Music to dance to with your mind means music where the, er, music itself does more than just support and facilitate the belting out of hip-sounding lyrics. It’s a blurry line, but compare “You Sexy Thing” by Hot Chocolate to, say, “Strange Fruit” as sung by Billie Holiday, especially later in her career. Or, hell, indeed, to go for a “popular music” example, it’s what differentiates Bob Dylan from Oasis. When you listen to Bob Dylan, you’re oftentimes interfacing with a huge portion of the mongrel, brutal history of American culture, the function of music among both the black and the white newcomers to the new world, and older traditions that ; link back to Africa and Europe, as well as trailing down the Mississippi and up into New York in its minstrel show heyday. When you listen to Oasis, you’re interfacing with fandom of the Beatles. I say this without much interest in Dylan, I might add.

          But more genrally, when I say “to dance with your mind” I mean music where the form and content are complex enough to require some serious discipline and work in order to enjoy. I’ll confess, this doesn’t always apply to what’s lumped into “classical” music, either. I think (and though it’s a radical thought, I’m not the only one to believe it) that European “art” music made a horrid wrong turn around the time of the first Viennese School. Mozart took us away from the rigid, beautiful, mathematical structures of so many of his predecessors, and it took till tonality broke for us to escape the trap and get interested in structure and color and sound again, and stop smearing so much damned foundation and eyeshadow onto our music to prettify it.

          But for his audience, Mozart was also quite challenging and radical, I’m told. My point was, “music to dance to with your mind” means something that requires intellectual concentration, and demands to be listened to. Whereas “music to dance to with your body” means stuff that you can listen to, or dance to, or use as filler for silence in the background when doing other things. Indeed, one test I have for “music to dance to with your mind” is that when you put it on in the background, alone, it becomes markedly difficult to concentrate on intellectual tasks because you’re distracted by abstract structures or features of the music.

          That said, this is also subjective. I think people who are trained to listen to music analytically will tend to get more out of “music to dance to with your mind” in some ways. And they are also somewhat likelier to tire of the other sort of music, with its highly repetitive structures and relative lack of nuance and subtlety, more quickly than those whose musical training is more rudimentary or nonexistent.

          (Sort of like how I, personally, get relatively significantly less out of a walk through an art museum than someone who knows art, and bore more quickly too.)

          I’ll grant that for people who are listening to songs in another language, “dance to with your mind” might seem to come into play more. But were this song in English, I think you’d agree that it’s solidly in the latter category — something designed not to require (or, indeed, to reward) careful, close listening.

          As for your three points:

          1. Well, in fact, the banning of the song is, for me, more indicative of problems with government control and public panic about the moral education of children… by a society woefully undecided about who ought to be doing that. The pop song narrative dovetails with the computer game-/internet-addiction narrative, the structure of schooling, and even the establishment of language study. (What I’ve seen of the results of decision-makers in official English education suggests the misinterpretation of English in a legal setting is not unique to censorship. And hell, censorship seems a more pressing issue to me, but hey, whatever.)

          I’m saying mainly this is revealing in terms of government ineptitude meeting a desire for strict cultural control. Which by the way is another interesting question: are the people manufacturing all this skirting a boundary, or is it just government paranoia?

          2/3 (they seem like the same point to me): Yeah, this is one reason I am trying not to write much about Korean popular culture. It’s not only (though it is partly) that I’ve lost a degree of interest. (After traveling to Indonesia, and seeing how much more vibrant the arts culture is in a totally chaotic, insane mess of a city like Jakarta, solidly located in the developing world, than in Seoul; and then seeing it in Japan, in Australia, and all over, I find myself tired of having to search out (and fight for access to) interesting things, and eager to be somewhere where they’re a part of life for more people.)

          But the other reason is that I’m not learning the language anymore, not sure how long I’ll be here (ahem, tenure track review underway, he says with one eyebrow raised), and I was tired of having to ask native speakers what this or that meant. I agree that it’s people who can engage with source texts who should be engaging in the commentary, now. I think you’re right. I just find myself dubious about how far one needs to dig into this material before one hits the point of diminishing returns.

          Out of curiosity — and for all I know the answer is yes — but will you be looking at fansites online? I’m especially curious about the rise of yaoi-narrative as a form of fandom and would love to know more about how this was imported into Korean teen girl fan culture. (All I know is it seems to have been more underground and grassroots and DIY than how it got popular in North America… but even that is just a vague impression.)


          1. Just some simple questions.
            I’m interested in this development of the concept of the romantic by troubadours.
            Before you mentioned this I’ve only encountered it as the modern concept of the romantic being a direct result of the romantic era in a counter-enlightenment way.

            I would like to read some books on the matter. Could you give me a good starting point?

            I would like to read more about it.

            And when you talk about Dancing to Music with the Mind etc. it reminds me of Nietzsch e’s The Birth of Tragedy.


          2. Marvin,

            You’re a student, right? I’m pretty sure your university will offer a course on Medieval literature. That’s a good place to learn about the spread of the idea of romantic love (ie. emotional love, separate from official marriage vows). As for the invention of love, you could start with Wikipedia article on Courtly Love, where a ton of biblliographic sources are given. The Georges Duby is a good starting point, I guess, and you can branch out from there into whatever area you like. It’s French, but you can learn the same concepts by studying Chaucer for example, or other English medieval literature. (Courtly love was all over by the 1200s and 1300s.) I recommend Mary Frances Wack on the idea of love-sickness, and while it doesn’t go deep into the love-aspect, my favorite book on troubadours and their work is available online for free here.


          3. Also … on the Linux issue.

            You can download an .img from Ubuntu and just run it from the disk as a trial.

            Then if you like it you can install it and you can choose to create a dual-boot system.
            Al though this is a little bit annoying. I had some issues with it in the beginning.
            *don’t remember what exactly*

            And I must say… Linux is amazing! I installed it this summer and I don’t regret it.
            Unfortunately I can’t switch over to Linux completely because there are some issues with certain companies not producing things for this system. Aka Adobe.

            But even a dual-boot is brilliant. And if you can back-up everything as mentioned by Gord and then install Ubuntu on a large partition this could be magical.

            If you do decide to install Ubuntu let me know and I’ll send you some relevant links for making it a nice experience. ^____^


          4. Marvin is right, you can test run the OS from a live CD. I’m thinking instead of dual boot (my current setup) I will likely just run Windows as a virtual machine, though. The only thing it won’t do is connect to my iPhone, but I have a separate little PC I can use (with Windows installed) for that.

            Dual boot works fine too, and you might fine it less hassle. Though the one thing is, if you have virus problems, you can make an image of your HD when it’s perfectly set up, and then just reinstall the image. That might be the way to go, James…


      4. The extreme commercialization of Korean music is something I fear will never go away. It’s very difficult for talented musicians to get their name out there without working through the system. It’s some the worst qualities of the American Pop Music Industry and the Japanese Idol scene neatly wrapped into one creativity destroying package. It’s a music industry that is becoming less and less about actual music.

        Here is a very telling quote:

        “However, Mark Russell, a Korean pop culture expert, recently commented on his blog, the problem is actually not rooted in the management companies, but rather in the Korean music system itself. Having to train, house, and feed future stars whose success will ultimately have to recoup not only the investment in them, but the company’s investment in other trainees who have yet to make it or who simply fell through the cracks…the economic constraints of such a system are considerable, to say the least. Imagine, then, the costs that go into sustaining the thirteen members of Super Junior or the nine young ladies who make up Girls’ Generation.

        More revealing was when Russell told me that, “[In] the late 90s, Koreans spent, depending on the exchange rate, somewhere in the neighborhood of four to five hundred million dollars a year on CDs and tapes. Last year, they spent 60 million. We’re talking about an 80% decline.” The steep fall in music sales could explain why over the years, K-pop stars have moved from being only singers to multitasking entertainers – unless you were writing your own music (and many idol stars do not), there just wasn’t that much money to be found in music anymore. Revenue would have to be generated through concerts, commercial shoots, and public television appearances. Meanwhile, selling talent overseas was no longer just a ploy by the bigger management companies to increase profits, but a financial necessity as the Korean music market continued to shrink.

        There are big risks at stake for those investing in idol groups. These risks did not go unnoticed by Isak who understood her previous lack of freedom, stating that, ‘[We] are products. I know it sounds very bad, but we are products, and that’s why our companies…sometimes treat us like products.'”


        South Korea is a top 15 world economy yet the physical and even the electronic sales of singles and albums are extremely low. Relatively poorer countries in Eastern Europe have substantially more music consumption. Selling 100K units is a big deal in South Korea and its sales certification standards are very low. You’d imagine a country that treats music as a core component of their cultural wave would buy their music. It isn’t surprising that a key motivation for the Hallyu Wave is to enter different markets, such as Japan, that actually buy the damn product. So what happened to a market that was supposed to rival Japan or the United Kingdom in the future?

        Well, the internet boom happened. We always talk about the wonderful internet infrastructure in South Korea. We don’t talk about the dark side of it. It’s incredibly easy for Koreans to illegally download movies. I believe James touched upon how movies are released early in South Korea to prevent piracy. This seems a problem exclusive to South Korea and its internet infrastructure. Japan is similar to South Korea in culture and internet connections speed. Yet, piracy is no where near as big of a problem as it is in South Korea. There is a very strong music industry in Japan that allows many independent singers and bands to exist and work outside the commercial/idol system. I’ve talked to netizens on Korean torrent forums on why the pirate. It’s the typical justification that digital media should be free for consumption since it’s nothing but bytes and bits that can be downloaded in minutes. I’ve also been told that Koreans deserve since they were victims world wars and proxy wars. I’m not sure how the difficulties many Koreans underwent during WWII and the Korean War allow their grandchildren to download music and movies for free. Or why that condones illegally downloading Korean-made music and movies.

        Nonetheless, this is a very poor situation for encouraging new, innovative talent. Young, independent singers are the primary targets of piracy since their target audience is young, tech-savvy, and likely to pirate their songs. There isn’t enough money to go around the Korean music industry to support bands working outside the system on a consistent basis. They need to work through Korean Record companies to get their name out.

        Now, these Korean Music companies are in a bit of a bind. They have huge fixed costs and none of the consumption a Japanese Record company can enjoy. The answer is to find new avenues of money, such as ad tie-ins, variety show appearances, and magazine appearances. Preference is given to a “well-rounded” person who can do many different activities. You’ll often see the accusation thrown around that so-and-so member is a terrible singer and was just hired for his/her looks. If you seen some the idol groups live, then you’ll notice many of them aren’t as good as the music videos make them out to be. Understandable for a live if they didn’t make so many mistakes, have their voices crack, and can’t hit notes (it’s covered up in TV show performances they’re usually allowed three or so do-overs unless its a major, concert type performance). If you go down a couple blocks from whatever venue you saw to an amateur show on the street, you’ll see some incredible singing and Korean Bokko dancing. For free.

        Now, this isn’t to say the idol industry is made up of a bunch of talentless losers. Some of them are quite talented are better off in another country’s music industry. The problem is that their schedule is filled with commercial activities, such as variety show appearances and filming for advertisements. Practice time and even sleep is sacrificed. DSP media actually came out and said they suspended vocal lessons for Kara to concentrate on promotional activities. A better, more precise performance isn’t guaranteed to make more money but a deal with Domino’s Pizza is guaranteed to make money. If you watch early videos of SNSD in 2007, you’ll notice that they had laser-precise choreography since they didn’t have all these gravy advertisement contracts and could practice all day.

        This isn’t inherently bad. It’s quite impressive how a bunch of Korean businessmen salvaged an industry that was losing money. It’s the transformation of music into almost an assortment of physical goods that can’t be pirated. It is what it is and it’s a music industry that makes money by becoming less and less about the music. There-in lies the tragedy.


        1. Well, you certainly have most of the picture, but you’re missing another couple of points:

          One is that arts and culture have been deprioritized in Korean society. I can’t tell you the number of students I’ve had who confessed a sorrow at having to give up music lessons in high school to do the bloody Uni entrance exams. Sure, most of them would not have become professionals, but many would have grown up to be adults who appreciated music and gave it a place in their lives. When a kid says, “I want to be a musician” the questions that come up tend to be, “How much money will you make?” and “Don’t you think working for the government is more stable” and not, “Would you like to take lessons?” or “What kind of music would you like to play?”

          (Indeed, I was looking at a textbook under revision and ran across a chapter where a preteen boy told his mother he specifically wanted to be a concert pianist. His mother told him, “You’re not that good at music,” and “Don’t you think being a businessman is a better may to make a lot of money?” It was supposed to be an American mom, and I pointed out that American mothers might feel some concern about the kid’s future, they might not rush to crush his every dream at the tender age of twelve, having already heard his plans to be a superhero, cowboy, and fireman over the preceding years. I said this seemed, in a North American context anyway, like a depressing exchange between a controlling and nasty mother and her poor son, and suggested maybe a supportive an encouraging mom might be a nicer thing to present.

          (I’m not saying every Korean mom is unsupportive like this–hell, the story of Kim Sun Wook is a great counterexample, rare though it seems–but the number of stories I’ve heard about kids and their artistic dreams being chucked out the window of the Hyundai at age twelve suggests there’s a reason those textbook authors felt comfortable presenting mom’s discouragement and controlling, as well as avaricious, career suggestion as normative.)

          It’s just familial, though: the arts were controlled during the colonial era, and deprioritized during the dictatorships, and though they started to recover in the 1990s, since 1997 they’ve been limping from all accounts I’ve seen. Also, Koreans are at that stage in cultural modernity where they’re mostly not very aggressively or desperately seeking alternative modes of identity construction and self-presentation or, as some people are putting it in North American academia, alternate modes of conscious “self-fashioning.” Music, through a bunch of specific historical factors, became a major component of self-fashioning in North American society after the 1950s or so (and prior to that, only for a minority of people). Korean society seems to be in that same sort of situation — where what kind of music one prefers doesn’t necessarily have much to do with, or shape, or get chosen to fashion, one’s identity. The punk rocker, the metalhead, the jazz geek, and the hiphop chick familiar to westerners are kind of alien here. There’s much less synergy between musical tastes, fashion, and persona than back home out on the street (unlike in the media, where it’s fairly consistent).

          The other thing is ethics. I won’t get into a long-winded discussion, but I know lots of North Americans who, once they started making money, started feeling obligated to spend at least some of it on the music they were listening to. They exulted in the age of Napster and even bittorrent, but at some point, they stopped and said, “I need to start supporting the musicians I like.” Granted, the Koreans I know personally are much younger than most of the Westerners I know, but they tend not to spend money on music. The kids in college now, when I ask them when was the last time they paid money for music, mostly laugh at the question. But the thing I want to say is that ethical consideration is tied up in valuing something. The vast majority of those same undergrads would never steal a book from my office; it’s not a question of ethics, so much as the intersection of ethical consideration of something, and value. Most of my undergrad students, when I ask, confess to never having seen one live musical performance in their lives.

          (Yeah, seriously.)

          The willingness I’ve seen of people–Korean and non-Korean alike–to spend money on music, and support the musicians they like, tends to increase exponentially with the degree to which they appreciate music andf the arts in general. That said, even Westerners I know who only buy music for background silence-filler tend to be willing to buy it online in MP3 format, or even sometimes in CD format. The reason I’d say most Koreans aren’t willing to pay for music, though, is less about ethics and more about the low position of importance arts of any kind has been afforded in contemporary Korean society.

          (A great example was a black tie event my girlfriend was working as a translator at. The first half, there was European classical music playing, and wine and cheese, for international guests and so on; then, they cranked up the Wonder Girls for the second half, when the string quartet had finished performing. Not gayageum, not some Korean jazz ensemble, not Korean classical music; they blasted “Tell Me.” The tuxedoed ajeoshis nearby started saying things like, “Ah, I wish we had soju and samgyeopsal here instead of damned wine and cheese.” She described her feelings to me as “embarrassed to be Korean,” that evening; of course, she was just back from Jakarta, where, whatever the place’s (many) other problems the bizarre, huge shopping malls have live jazz and classical music performances weekly, and art shows by local painters, and… well, where arts are seen as worthy and important by the people, if not the government.)


  12. It makes sense that this post, translating a K-pop song by 2NE1, led to a debate over the relevancy of such postings. Unfortunately, I have this feeling that I should have put more thought into my decision to change from being a loyal lurker into a commentator. It’s just that I never really felt comfortable over dismissing anyone’s contribution to this diverse musical landscape, no matter how insignificant, as “garbage”. A person can enjoy 2NE1 one moment, Fela Kuti the next, feel in the mood for a little Astor Piazzolla later, get “Dirrty” with Christina Aguilera and then top the night off with either Django Reinhardt or Lata Mangeshkar. If you include a recommendation, from one’s jazz trumpet and fuegelhorn playing dad, to first give Dizzy Gillespie’s “Manteca” a thorough listen, then you basically have another evening with MoJo. I get my jollies off of listening to “music to dance to with your body” and “music to dance to with your mind” equally, so it doesn’t matter to me if someone else prefers one over the other. I’m not into judging people negatively over their musical preferences and that was the point I wanted to make.

    I learned a lot from reading the comments that followed and am actually questioning my way of explaining what I do. I describe myself as a “classically-trained singer” because as a performer, I’m pretty limited to art songs, oratorio and opera. In fact, I’m pretty inexperienced at singing music that cannot be found outside of the NAXOS catalogue. However, I always liked how as a listener, I don’t have the same limitations. I don’t just sing art songs and the like; I listen to them and I listen to heaps of other things as well. Opening my ears to music is the thing I like to do more than anything else. It’s love.

    I realize that there was no attack on me personally and that this is simply a debate on music aesthetics. However, I was a bit surprised to learn that other musicians had such low opinions of singers. We all know that most vocal performers aren’t as sound in theory and counterpoint as their composing counterparts, but I always felt that there was some mutual respect. I admit that I will never be able to write a fantastic or hell, even decent, composition, but I’ve dedicated twenty years of my life studying this craft, in order to give justice to any vocal piece given to me. In fact, he highlights of my student days were when composers asked me to sing pieces they wrote with my voice in mind. I felt so honored that I could be the first person to perform works that others created and no matter how experimental and challenging the piece. I did everything in my power to make sure that I lived up to their expectations. Since I also had to study music history, ethnomusicology, theory, historically-informed performance practice, counterpoint, piano, flute, and conducting, along with my voice, acting and diction classes, I’m loathe to think that those past composition majors would give their work to someone that lacked any musicianship. Um… I apologize for going a little personal there, but I admit to being a bit stung by a couple comments in particular. There’s a stereotype that singers can be a bit overly sensitive and I apologize for living up to it.


    1. MoJo,

      Ah, Diz’s Manteca… especially the version with his big band, on Live At Newport. (I think that’s what the album is called.) I surely agree, which is why I confessed to eating nachoes for dinner sometimes. I will confess to listening to Webern less in recent years, and Coltrane more, but also having a soft spot for Japanese “shibuya-kei” and some indie rock — not just Yo La Tengo but also, for example, an old group called Hum. Hell, I even get a kick out of the Shuffle Demons, though I think that’s just my youthful fondness that never died out, plus their sense of humor.

      I certainly don’t feel comfortable partitioning all music into “art” vs. “junk” — I mean, where could we place the cornemuse or the random bagpiper, or the rough and bewildering religious dance/music performance of some isolated villages somewhere in the bush in one of several continents? That said, I think there is music that is clearly junk, and music that is clearly art, and a whole bunch of stuff I’m not willing to hold forth on. And 2NE1 is one of those I am willing to hold forth on.

      I’m glad I got you thinking about the term, “classically-trained” because from what I’ve seen, the usage almost always indicates having left “classical” behind. It’s always irked me. It’s like how an actor who trained as a Shakespearean performer is somehow, you know, classier than he otherwise might be. Keanu Reeves may have done Shakespeare, but it doesn’t make The Matrix a smarter movie than it is.

      Frankly, I can understand why most vocalists aren’t as solid in theory, counterpoint, and that sort of thing. The theory/comp majors I knew never held that against them, so much as the fact they never seemed to think it mattered all that much. Then again, it’s not like we were at Julliard. I imagine once one gets to grad school, a lot of the I’m So Shiny vocal majors get weeded out, but you could tell me better. I’m a saxophonist, and this probably affects my position somewhat too… sax players — especially jazz saxophonists I’ve known — are aggressively hierarchical about musicality, even when they don’t like to admit it, and singers, well… they’re often easy to drop to the bottom of the hierarchy. But it’s unfair to tar the whole lot of you with the same brush, and I know singing well is hard, not only from the voice study I took in undergrad, but also my time singing backup in a rock band, and tenor in Renaissance choir. Singing well is bloody hard.

      I can say this: if voice majors were writing work for you, they most certainly did not think you were lacking in musicianship. I only twice asked someone I felt was lacking in musicianship to perform in a piece, and it was because I had no other options. For the people I wrote music for, I always admired their skill and style prior to writing for them.

      More responses below.


  13. Okay one more thing and I hope I’m not being obnoxious. I promise to return to lurking status after this comment, but I do not teach English in a Korean hakwon. Heck, I do not teach English in Korea. However, I can testify that analyzing lyrics totally helped me as a foreign language student. From speaking with a few other language learners, I found that I’m not alone on that point. Of course, one’s own experience is not the same as academic study and perhaps I should have hesitated before using my personal testimony as fact in my previous comment. In my defense, I was aware at the time of my posting, that others far more learned on the subject have written studies, dissertations and articles all in favor of this particular methodology. Now that my interest is stoked, I have quite a few texts to read. I’m starting with Bartles’ Music in the Language Classroom and even though I’m a former voice major who finds learning anything outside of my own singer’s bubble tiring, I will try working my way down to reading Daniele Schoen’s “Songs as an Aid for Language Acquisition”.

    Okay, that’s it for me. It’s all unicorns and puppies over here and I look forward to more insightful and interesting posts and comments. Oh and Gordsellar, much respect, and if I ever get the chance to come to Korea, I would love to work with you. My rock voice sucks, but I’m trying to get out of my “classical” bubble by exploring more jazz. Oh and no worries, I’m actually quite good!


    1. MoJo

      Aaaaaaaaaaargh! I wrote a long response to this, and it’s lost, lost, lost. Not your fault.

      Trying again.

      You’re not being obnoxious in my book. This is a discussion, and some discussions involve disagreement, strongly backed-up. I’m glad you understand that, and I am enjoying our exchange.

      As for language study and the place of songs in it. Well, look, it really depends on what someone is working on in terms of language acquisition. For example, songs are great for working on pronunciation. If someone wants to get clearer pronunciation, then studying a bunch of songs can help.

      But a lot of Korean language students are not at that point. A lot of them have an okay vocabulary, have some rules of grammar somewhere in the backs of their heads, they have watched every episode of Friends and want to talk like Chandler or Rachel, but they are barely able to string more than a few sentences together.

      As you know from your own experience of language study, this is a painful, not-fun, sometimes depressing state even when you have a great teacher; but if you’ve got the motivation to really learn the language, you can barrel through it into a higher level when it gets more fun, more interesting, and of course more difficult. The higher your level, the more useful a purpose the diversions serve. (And thus I wouldn’t criticize James specifically for using song lyrics as a diversion/study-aid. He’s still learning a little Korean while working on this, whether it’s necessarily all that useful.)

      That said, most Korean students who are studying English are motivated extrinsically, not intrinsically: they feel they have to learn English for a whole host of reasons specific to Korean society: the job market, the educational pressures, workplace pressures once they have a job, and so on. The vast majority of language learners in Korea are motivated by external, social forces, and not a deep-seated desire to learn English. This makes English study much harder… and also makes the demand on English teachers to provide “fun” diversions much greater. Thus we find teachers working through Britney Spears songs with their classes, and thus we find students saying, in utterly context-inappropriate setting, things like “What chup, dood! I am very like sunny today. How ’bout choo sunsengnim?” As I recall it, low-level students who actually don’t want to learn had a love affair with idioms that was unsurpassable.

      It is utterly unsurprising that there is academic work in the field of TEFL regarding how studying pop songs would help, of course, and I’m not totally against it, I should clarify. Songs can be like micro-encapsulators of memes in a culture, and understanding memes can be helpful to understanding the language too. I know some people who are multilingual who say, like you, that songs helped and inspired them to learn a lot. I’m just skeptical about their use in Korean classrooms.

      One of the reasons I am dubious about TEFL theory in general is that, especially in the Korean situation, it appears to have failed to internalize any of the things that other forms of pedagogy have uncovered. Hell, even the insights from a book as popular/mainstream as The Inner Game of Music — like how actual performance is experientially different from pretending to perform; how students must be taught how to acknowledge and manage their own performance anxiety; how self-expression and creativity belong somewhere in practice and performance and should not be excluded — have failed to permeated TEFL theory and practice. Rather, TEFL teachers are experimenting with buffering students from their anxieties, devising better and better ways for them to pretend to have English conversations, and trying to find more and more “objective” ways of evaluating their self-expression (ie. finding ways of devaluing applied linguistic creativity and self-expression with the linguistic resources available in one’s personal arsenal). It’s telling how many of the people generating TEFL theory are linguists, and how few of them have any chops in either applied language teaching practice, or general pedagogical background.

      Worse, the best way I can express TEFL practice, as it is carried out in Korea today, is to ask you to imagine a well-soundproofed, enormous room full of pianos from which all the strings have been dampened or, in many cases, removed altogether, so that nobody else can hear the strings unless they stop playing and listen closely. Students “practice” duets on these pianos, and wait dutifully for the teacher to stop by and give feedback… because, indeed, their ears have been stuffed with cotton as a part of the learning process. Many of them have forgotten what pianos are for, or what they are supposed to sound like, because they all are simply focused on that day when they sit down to an electric piano and play a few chords and phrases on demand, and get evaluated on the basis of it according to standardized piano performance evaluation algorithms.

      Faced with that, it’s obvious what is missing… unless you make your living destringing pianos, dampening hammers, packaging ear cotton, “improving” the evaluation algorithms, or going about the room giving “feedback.” What you have, indeed, is a nested set of simulacra, and what TEFL theory tends to revolve around from the reading I’ve done is how the simulacrum can be improved, since, after all, the whole discipline is predicated on the idea that immersing semi-unwilling people in nested linguistic, social, cultural, and motivational simulacra is a viable way of having adults learn a foreign language. I’d have to say it isn’t, which is why I don’t work with low-level students in general. (It’s far too heartbreaking, among other things.)

      I hope it’s clearer why I said what I said about using songs in the classroom. They have their place, just as classrooms have their place; I’m dubious either have much place in most TEFL classrooms in Korea, though.

      By the way, I don’t play much anymore, and don’t compose much anymore. I walked away from the rock band to focus on my writing, which ended up being a great decision as my work has been very well received. (Writing, you can publish abroad; with music, you tend to be stuck with local audiences and appreciation of music in Korea is, well… it compared poorly to most other societies I’ve visited.) However, you might enjoy one of the stories I’ve published which involves jazz music, entertainment tours on spaceships, Jupiter’s moons, the purpose of art, and, well giant frog-like aliens landing in the 1940s.

      Respect back at you, and while I wouldn’t be able to play with you, if you come to Korea (or if we end up in the same place, in any case) I’d be glad to have a beer with you and talk more about music.


      1. Ooops, lost of of the best bits of that metaphor in the retype. The students were pressing the piano keys through pillows, or sometimes using fireplace pokers. Damn. Ah well.


    1. Sorry for the late reply.

      It was actually my wife who told me it meant “suddenly”, so I asked her again, and she replied “Oh for God’s sake, it means the same dam thing…just FUCK OFF I’M BUSY!”. I begged to differ however, as “suddenly” is an adverb and “now” is not (although in hindsight, my dictionary says they both are???), and threatened to tickle her until she helped. So she thought about it for a bit, and admitted that literally it does mean “now” but practically-speaking it equally often means “suddenly” and/or “all of a sudden”, and especially so in the context of the song.


  14. 2NE1 are such ballsy, liberated role models! I mean, they are contractually not allowed to enter into romantic/sexual relationships… but look at their outfits! So feisty!


  15. Wow! I am an infrequent visitor to your blog. I have always impressed with the level of your intellectual interest in different aspects of korean culture. I started reading the comments on your 2ne1 article because I was curious about what interested you enough to translate the lyrics. I didn’t expect an onslaught of analysis from all the commentators that followed.

    Congratulations on stirring up the intellectual-minded. As for the accuracy of your translation, I would say you are about 95% accurate. The rest is hard for even koreans to explain the nuances of the words. 이제와서 is a good example. It generally means “and/so now” as in different from before.

    Keep up the good work! I’m assuming your wife is a korean who is bilingual. You may have already experienced that koreans are an affectionate bunch as a whole, but they are almost “robotically” distant when they’re mind is busy. I think that’s why there are such wide ranging experiences from foreigner who visit korea.


    1. Thanks for your comment, and yes, I too was quite surprised with the analysis that followed.

      My wife is indeed bilingual, but I haven’t really found Koreans to be “robotically distant” when their mind is busy sorry, and that’s the first I’ve heard of it!


  16. well, i also liked dara’s voice…although some people think she has the weakest vocals well i have a diff. opinion..
    for me, the other 3 members sometimes sound alike and dara has this distinct voice…again its not because her voice is weak…the other 3 can be nasal u know..also…dara brings out the freshness, not necessarily because of her face but of that unique tone…
    anyway, their voices have different area in a song so comparison is not always applicable.


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