Public Lecture: “Girls’ Generation? Gender, (Dis)Empowerment and K-pop,” Royal Asiatic Society, Tuesday 25th October, 7:30pm


See here for the details. Alas, it’s not being given by me, but by Dr. Stephen Epstein, my far more capable and entertaining co-author (of this book chapter of the same name).

Unfortunately, work commitments mean I’ll be unable to attend personally. But if you’re in Seoul and free on Tuesday night yourself, then make sure you do!

Update: See here for a follow-up post at Gusts of Popular Feeling.

Korean Sociological Image #64: Hourglass-shaped Drink Bottles


For readers’ sakes, wisely I’ve tended to avoid discussing my tastes in women’s body types on this blog. And don’t worry: I’m not going to start now.

But probably I’m deluding myself in thinking that they’re not already obvious from the images I use. Also, surely my occasional posts about hourglass figures are a dead giveaway. After all, why else would I argue that they’re universally-attractive, if not to feel smug about my own preferences?

Seriously though, while I do think there is solid evidence for that universal attraction, I’m always open to debating it, and would be the first to admit that such evidence is often misrepresented in the media. In turn, when it lacks any caveats and qualifications, at the very least it doesn’t challenge the public’s preexisting beliefs about body types. Say, those held by people in the fashion and clothing industries particularly, whose usual fashion advice for women with different body types is:

…”almost always aimed at getting women’s bodies, whatever shape they might be, to conform with the [ideal (skinny) hourglass figure]. The advice video below, sent in by Tara C. and aimed at women with “pear-shaped” bodies, does exactly this:

See Sociological Images for excerpts and commentary. And indeed, one additional way in which women are subtly(?) reminded that the hourglass figure is an ideal to be conformed to, is by altering the shape of the bottles of drinks aimed at them:


You’d think I would have noticed years ago, but then I’m afraid I don’t buy them. As for not noticing it in their advertisements however, I confess that possibly I was simply too fixated on the accompanying models’ navels to ever pay attention.

Apologies if that makes me sound crass. But unlike with Shin-se kyung (신세경) above, for some reason it genuinely took the less exposed example of f(x)’s Victoria (빅토리아) below for me to see the hourglass packaging for the first time:

(Sources: left, right)

Yet once I did, then suddenly I realized that you saw it on a lot of drinks aimed at women, whether explicitly “diet” ones or otherwise. In addition to the “G2” and the grape juice for instance, to the right of Victoria there’s the “Black Bean Thera Tea” endorsed by Lee Hyori (이효리) in the opening image (discussed in detail here). Then below those: “Matcho”,  “I’m Bori”, and finally “Today’s Tea”, discussed way back in Korean Sociological Image #2.


And I could certainly go on. But on the other hand, I don’t want to exaggerate the extent of the trend either.

For starters, by no means are all or even most drinks aimed at women hourglass-shaped, and indeed in this image of the drinks section of what looks like a small supermarket, actually only those aimed at children have anything that even remotely resembles an hourglass shape. Also, there is possibly just as strong or even stronger a trend to make women’s drink bottles skinny rather than any specific shape, as explained here. Finally, making bottles more masculine-shaped may make them quite impractical to hold,* whereas hourglass shapes lend themselves to it.

Given the context of how deeply gendered drink marketing is though, then I’m not entirely convinced that practical considerations provide sufficient explanation for the gender imbalance in those drinks that do have “body shaped” bottles. It seems entirely possible, for instance, to add the contours of a six-pack to drink bottles aimed at men. Yet even in the unlikely event that readers have actually come across that(?), or something like it, it would still be the exception that proves the rule.

But whatever the reasons, and whether it’s a skinny or hourglass bottle (or, indeed, a skinny hourglass bottle!), it’s definitely yet another way in which advertisers try to subtly influence our body type ideals.

Something to bear in mind next time you find yourself in the drinks section!

*It’s only tangentially related, but you may find it interesting. Back when I was doing freshman calculus (yes, I was an astronomy major before I switched to East Asian Studies), once we looked at the the problem of what shape of Coke can would use the least amount of aluminum for the greatest volume of Coke contained, which – if I remember correctly – turned out to be a can the same diameter as its height. As the lecturer explained though, cans the shape of toilet rolls don’t exactly look cool, let alone fit in the hand well!

Update: Gotta love this alternative design by Chinese designer Le Jin!


(For more posts in the Korean Sociological Images series, see here)

Ministry of Health and Welfare: “Unwed Mothers are Ignorant Whores”


What? It said that? In 2011??

No, hopefully not so recently, especially with the increasing criminalization of abortion since last year. But as you’ll soon see, the Ministry of Health and Welfare (보건복지부) certainly did once define unwed mothers as such, and I’d wager within at least the last decade.

It was just in 2008, for instance, that singer Ivy (아이비) was vilified in the media for the heinous crime of having sex with her boyfriend, so by those standards the Ministry’s comments were not particularly outlandish. And while Ivy did eventually rehabilitate her reputation, unfortunately Korean society is still far from accepting women being so sexually “open and impulsive”, let alone so blatantly so as to have a child out of wedlock.

Whatever the date though, when even the organization charged with helping unwed mothers once stigmatized them, then you can imagine how badly they fare in society today.

Despite that, abortion opponents seem to have quite a sanguine image of what it’s like to raise a child as a single mother. Which is what prompted this anonymous Korean woman, who kindly recently wrote on TGN about how and why she got an abortion, to post a link to this imomNews article outlining how the reality is anything but. With thanks to Marilyn for translating it, here it is in full:

(Update – To my shock and disappointment, the Ministry’s appalling definition was actually on its website until as recently as May 2010)

‘동성애자’ 다음으로 차별 받는 집단 ‘미혼모 / Unwed Mothers Most Discriminated Group after Homosexuals

인식 개선 선행…정부지원 확대 /[With] improvement in perception as precedent. . . expansion of government aid

Image Caption: 최근 정치권을 중심으로 ‘미혼모’ 지원방안이 활발히 이루어지고 있다. 지난 3일 서울 여의도 국회에서는 ‘미혼모 지원정책 개선방안’ 포럼이 개최됐다 /Currently, political methods for supporting unwed mothers are actively becoming reality.  On Aug. 3, at the National Assembly in Yeouido, Seoul, an “Unwed Mothers Support Measures Improvement” forum was held.

‘학력이 대체로 낮고, 불안정한 직업에 종사한다. 자취나 하숙을 하고, 성에 대한 가치관이 개방적이고 충동적이다. 사회경제적 상태가 낮고 부모와 떨어져 사는 사람’이라고 과거 보건복지부가 운영하는 웹사이트 건강길라잡이는 미혼모에 대한 정의를 이렇게 내렸다.

“Usually low levels of education, with an unstable job. Lives by herself or in a boarding house, has open and impulsive sexual values.  A person whose socioeconomic situation is low, and who lives apart from her parents,” is how a website health guide operated by the past Ministry of Health and Welfare defined unwed mothers.

이처럼 사회의 부정적인 시선 탓에 미혼모에 대한 관심과 지원은 일부 사회복지시설을 제외하곤 전무후무한 것이 사실이었다.

Because of society’s negative views like these, it was true that, as for interest in and support for unwed mothers, a few social welfare facilities were the first and seemed like they would be the last.

특히, 1990년대 이후 정부와 시민단체 등의 노력으로 조손가정, 다문화 가정, 한부모 가정 등은 상당부분 인식개선이 이루어 졌으나 미혼모 가족만은 사회의 편견 속에 여전히 ‘눈총’의 대상이 되고 있다.

In particular, through the efforts of the government and civic organizations since the 1990s, perception of grandparent-grandchild families, multicultural families, and single-parent families has improved; among society’s prejudices, only unwed-mother families continue to be the target of stares.

때문에 형편이 좋지 않아 자립이 힘든 미혼모들은 자연히 입양을 생각하거나 권유받게 되고, 우리사회도 ‘낳아 기르는 쪽’ 보다는 입양을 암묵적으로 유도했다.

(I Came From Busan, 2009. Source)

Because of that, unwed mothers, whose circumstances are not good and so have difficulty supporting themselves, think of adoption of their own accord or are induced to adopt, and our society also implicitly supports the “have and raise side” less than it does adoption.

사정이 이렇다 보니 지난해 우리나라의 해외입양아는 미혼모의 자녀가 90%를 차지한 것으로 나타났다. 그러나 최근 이들에 대한 지원방안이 정치권과 시민단체, 기업 등을 중심으로 활발하게 논의되면서 미혼모 가족에 대한 관심이 일고 있다.

Because of this situation, last year it emerged that 90% of internationally adopted children from our country were the children of unwed mothers.  However, as ways to support them are currently being actively discussed in political circles, civic organizations, and businesses, interest in unwed-mother families is rising.

Image Caption: 던킨도너츠는 미혼모 정소향(21세) 씨를 정규사원으로 채용하면서 미혼모 채용에 적극 나서기로 했다 /By hiring unwed mother Jeong So-Hyang (21) as a permanent employee, Dunkin Donuts is actively taking a stand for the hiring of unwed mothers.

미혼모 인식 개선이 우선 / Improvement of perception of unwed mothers the priority

미혼모에게 가장 필요한 부분은 부정적인 사회의 시선이 관심과 보호의 시선으로 바뀌어야 하는 것이라고 전문가들은 지적했다.

Experts indicate that the most important thing unwed mothers must do is change negative societal views into feelings of interest and protection.

실제 지난 2009년 한국미혼모지원네트워크와 한국여성정책연구원이 실시한 ‘미혼모ㆍ부에 대한 한국인의 태도와 인식’ 설문조사에 따르면 미혼모는 동성애자 다음으로 가장 많은 차별을 경험한 집단으로 조사됐다.

In fact, according to the survey “Koreans’ attitudes toward and perception of unwed mothers and fathers,” carried out in 2009 by the Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network and the Korean Women’s Development Institute, unwed mothers were found to be the group that experienced the most prejudice, after homosexuals.

또한 설문에 참가한 2,000명 중 60% 이상이 미혼모에 대해 ‘판단력과 책임감이 부족한 사람’이라고 답변했다.

Also, of the 2,000 people who participated in the survey, over 60% answered that unwed mothers “are people who lack judgment and a sense of responsibility.”

김혜영 한국여성정책연구원 연구위원은 “미혼모의 경우 일종의 일탈자로 낙인 받고 있다”며 “미혼 부모에 대한 과감한 지원정책이 필요하다”고 지적했다.

(Sources: left, top-right, bottom-right)

Kim Hye-young, a senior researcher at the Korean Women’s Development Institute, said, “An unwed mother is branded as a kind of deviant.  We need bold support policies for unwed parents.”

이영호 서울시 한부모가족지원센터장도 “우리사회는 다양한 가족이 있고 모든 가족은 행복할 권리가 있다”면서 “그러나 우리 사회에서 미혼모가 아기를 키우면서 자랑스럽게 또는 당당하게 양육의 경험을 공유하고 그 안에서 성장할 수 있을까란 의문이 들때가 많다”고 아쉬움을 드러냈다.

Lee Young-ho, head of the Seoul City Single Parent Family Support Center, also showed frustration:  “There are diverse families in our society, and all families have a right to be happy.  However, there are many times when I question whether unwed mothers, while raising their children, can proudly or confidently share their child-rearing experiences and develop in that [kind of environment], in our society.”

이에 최근 여성단체와 미혼모 보호 시설은 미혼모 인신 개선 사업을 적 극 펼치고 있다.

Accordingly, women’s organizations and unwed-mother shelters are currently actively engaging in a project to improve the perception of unwed mothers.

지난달 28일 서울시한부모가족지원센터와 20여 곳의 미혼모관련 단체들은 ‘미혼모지원단체협의체’를 발족하고 미혼모 인식 개선을 위한 다양한 논의를 시작했다.

On July 28, the Seoul City Single Parent Family Support Center and about twenty organizations for unwed mothers started the ‘Unwed Mother Support Organization Council” and began a variety of discussions designed to improve the perception of unwed mothers.

그 첫 번째 사업으로 사람들에게 부정적 이미지가 강했던 ‘미혼모’를 공모를 통해 ‘두리모’로 대체하기로 했다. 두리모란 ‘둥근’이라는 뜻과 둘이라는 숫자를 의미하는 방언 ‘둘레’가 조합된 것이다.

For their first project, they agreed through a public contest to replace “unwed mother”, which had a strong negative image, with “doo-ree mother.” “Doo-ree mother” combines the meaning “round” [doong-geun] with the regional dialect word dool-leh, which means “two people.”


정치권ㆍ기업, 미혼모 자립위해 노력 / Efforts by political groups, business for unwed mothers’ independence [ability to support themselves]

정치권에선 ‘미혼모 자립’을 위해 관련법을 정비하고, 토론회를 통해 다양한 의견을 청취하고 있다. 기업들도 미혼모를 우선 채용하는 등 이들의 자립을 위해 힘을 쏟고 있다.

Political groups are modifying laws in order for ‘independence for unwed mothers,’ and through panels, they are listening to diverse opinions.  Through actions like prioritizing hiring unwed mothers, businesses are also devoting themselves to the cause of their independence.

특히 민주당 최영희 의원(국회 여성가족위원회)은 미혼모에 대한 지원을 확대하는 내용을 담은 ‘입양촉진 및 절차에 관한 특례법 전부개정안’ 등 관련법을 최근 국회에 제출하는 등 법 만들기에 앞장서고 있다.

Democratic Party Assemblywoman Choi Young-hee (National Assembly Gender Equality and Family Committee), in particular, is leading the way in making laws, some of which are currently submitted to the National Assembly, like “Overall Revision Bill for the Special Act Relating to Promotion and Procedure of Adoption,” the contents of which expand support for unwed mothers.

또한 지난 3일에는 한국미혼모가족협회·한국여성정책연구원와 공동주최로 ‘미혼모 지원정책 개선방안’ 포럼을 개최했다.


Also, on June 3, the Korean Unwed Mother Families Association and the Korean Womens Development Institute co-hosted the “Unwed Mothers Support-Policy Improvement Measures” forum.

이날 최 의원은 “해외입양의 90%가 미혼모의  자녀라는 점은 우리 사회의 아픈 현실을 반영하는 것”이라며 “직접 양육하기를 원하는 미혼모가 늘어나고 있는 만큼 양육비 지원을 현실화 하고 지역사회에서 안정적인 생활을 할 수 있도록 정부의 적극적인 지원이 시급하다”고 지적했다.

On that day, Assemblywoman Choi said, “That 90% of international adoption is the children of unwed mothers reflects our society’s painful reality.  As the number of unwed mothers who want to raise their children themselves rises, the government’s active support is urgently needed to actualize aid for child-raising expenses for a stable life in a community.”

한편 이날 포럼에서 김혜영 한국여성정책연구원 박사는 ‘양육미혼모의 자립기반실태와 지원방안’에 대한 연구결과를 발표했다.

Also at this forum, Dr. Kim Hye-young, researcher at the Korean Women’s Development Institute, revealed the results of a study on the “Current State of Groundwork for Independence of and Ways to Support Unwed Mothers Raising Children.”

김 연구원은 “60%가 넘는 미혼모가 양육비와 교육비의 문제로 어려움을 겪고 있고, 80%이상은 월세와 같은 불안정적인 주거생활을 하는 것으로 나타났다”면서 “안정적인 자립기반 구축을 위해 미혼모 가족에 대한 조기 개입의 필요성과 함께 지원의 폭을 보다 확대할 필요가 있다”고 주장했다.

Dr. Kim said, “It showed that over 60% of unwed mothers are struggling because of the costs of child-rearing and education, and more than 80% live in unstable housing situations like [those requiring] monthly rent. In order to build stable foundations for independence, early intervention for unwed-mother families, together with an expansion of the range of support, is necessary.” (Source, right)

또 목경화 한국미혼모가족협회 대표도 “우리나라의 미혼모정책은 시설에만 초점이 맞춰져 있어 시설에서 벗어나 자립을 하려는 미혼모들은 빈곤 상황을 쉽게 개선하지 못하는 실정이다”고 지적했다.

Furthermore, Mok Gyeong-hwa, a representative from the Korean Unwed Mothers and Families Association, pointed out, “Policies regarding unwed mothers in our country only focus on facilities, so unwed mothers who want to break free from facilities and live independently can’t easily improve their state of poverty.”

최 의원은 이날 논의된 내용을 바탕으로 ‘한부모가족지원법 개정안’과 ‘국민기초생활보장법 개정안’을 제출할 예정이다.

Assemblywoman Choi will present the “Single-Parent Family Support Law Amendment” and “National Basic Living Security Law Amendment” based on the discussions of that day.

기업들도 미혼모 자립을 위해 적극적으로 나서고 있다. 던킨도너츠와 배스킨라빈스를 운영하는 비알코리아는 미혼모 시설인 사회복지법인 동방사회복지회와 함께 미혼모 고용지원 협약을 체결하고, 던킨도너츠 매장에서 파트타임으로 근무하던 미혼모 정소향(21세) 씨를 정식 사원을 채용했다

Businesses are also actively taking a stand for the independence of unwed mothers.  BR Korea, which operates Dunkin Donuts and Baskin Robbins, together with the  Eastern Social Welfare Society, a welfare corporation that is an unwed mother [support] facility, signed the Unwed Mothers Employment Support Agreement and recruited unwed mother Jeong So-hyang (21), who had been a part-time employee at a Dunkin Donuts shop,  as a permanent employee.

June 16, 2011.

Reporter: Cheon Won-gi (천원기,

Korean Gender Reader

(Sources: left, right)

1) Oh! Boy (오! 보이) Audition Reality Show Premieres

Does anybody else have misgivings about such a show being explicitly aimed at teens? And that its first two episodes featured high school students? After all, despite the feminine name, the “Lolita Effect” can certainly apply to boys too.  Recall my summary of it from last December:

[The Lolita Effect] is the natural consequence of various industries’ (fashion, cosmetics, cosmetic surgery, diet-related, food, and so on) need to build, expand, and maintain markets for their products, which obviously they would do best by – with their symbiotic relationship with the media through advertising – creating the impression that one’s appearance and/or ability to perform for the male gaze is the most important criteria that one should be judged on. And the younger that girls learn that lesson and consume their products, the better.

Just replace “male gaze” with, say, “opposite sex’s gaze”, then I think Oh! Boy serves as a great example of “the younger that boys learn that lesson”.

2) Sexism in the Korean Literary Establishment?

Granted, it was published back in 1996, and Korean Modern Literature in Translation’s charge comes with many qualifications. But still: it’s just remarkable that less than 1 in 1o of the writers in Who’s Who in Korean Literature were women.

3) Pognae Baby Carriers Rock!

As Geek in Heels explains:

Baby carriers are big in Asia. This is especially the case in urban areas where there is limited space and the majority of the population choose to take public transportation rather than drive.

And where there is demand, there is supply. A great variety of quality supply, I might add.

The Pognae is one such baby carrier. Made in, and popularized in Korea, the Pognae is currently one of the most popular soft structured baby carriers in Asia and Europe.

Read the rest there. If pognae are not to your liking though, then consider modernized Korean podaegi (포대기) instead, discussed in the second half of this post.

(Source: unknown)

4) On Being a Dating Blogger

Dating in Korea ponders her third year of blogging.

Semi-related, see here and here for two Korea Herald articles on what single Korean men and women want from dating these days.

5) Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Becoming a Stewardess in Korea

It’s easy to criticize an industry that – in Korea at least – so needlessly stresses age and appearance, and to consider the young women that aspire to it as hopelessly vain and naive. However, despite these stereotypes, not only do the limited options available to Korean women (see #6 below) arguably make stewardessing a rational, adventurous, and even quite rebellious career choice, but Korean airlines even require university degrees from applicants too (and some cabin crew actually have Ph.Ds!).

See the Korea Herald here for more information. Guaranteed, you’ll be much more sympathetic to Korean stewardesses (and hopefuls) after reading it!

6) Should Korean Firms Have Quotas for Women?

Full disclosure: I’ve been a firm advocate of these ever since I wrote an undergraduate essay on the subject back in *cough* 1996. But still, I do think Shin Dong-youb, management professor at Yonsei School of Business, makes a good case for them here. Certainly his opponent Kim Joon-gi, a professor at Yonsei Law School, lacks all credibility when he fails to mention how alleged gains in female employment through  “informal government prodding” of companies, for instance, would prevent the same government encouraging the mass-firing of women again when it felt it was expedient, like it did in 1997 and 2008.

Having said that, one point Shin makes is that women are necessary to bring “feminine values”, such as “openness, diversity, sensitivity, emotional intelligence, nurturing, cooperation, horizontal community spirit, and innovation advantage” to the creative 21st Century economy. Not only do I find that notion repetitive and tiresome, but I’d question whether those are particularly “feminine” values at all, and would argue that the gender stereotypes they are based on not just flawed but actually positively unhelpful in getting women into the workplace. In particular, however modern-sounding, his argument sounds suspiciously like the logic that was used to justify giving women the vote in New Zealand in 1893(!), which, while successful (and the first in the world at that), was actually very much a backward step for New Zealand women, ossifying the Feminist movement there for at least the next 4 decades.


7) “The more feminine you look, the more children you want. Wait, what?”

Not strictly about Korea sorry, but long-term readers will recognize the above image from my post “Sex and the Red-Blooded Woman“, about how the redder a women’s cheeks, the sexier. Which is still quite a valid conclusion from the study discussed there, but for this post at I09 though, instead the image was used to illustrate a:

study published in the latest issue of Hormones and Behavior, [that] concluded that women’s facial features and estrogen levels correlate with their self-reported desire to have children — where higher estradiol concentrations and more “feminine” facial features both correspond with higher maternal tendencies (i.e. wanting more kids, sooner).

As Io9 correctly points out however:

Of course, the findings of the paper are what they are: correlations. Correlation, as most of us know, does not imply causation. That said, correlative results do have a nasty habit of turning into soundbites…”The more feminine you look, the more children you want,” for example.

In the interest of cutting these types of soundbites off at the pass, Scientific American bloggers Scicurious and Kate Clancy have taken the liberty of engaging in a little pre-emptive debunkery.

Read that thoroughly deserved debunking there!

8) The Constitutional Court Rules on the Vandom Case

Which if you’ve never heard of before, was Andrea Vandom’s petition to find mandatory in-country HIV tests for non-Korean non-citizens on E-2 visas unconstitutional. For more background, see the list of articles mentioned at the start of Matt’s usual thoroughly-researched post at Gusts of Popular Feeling.

Unfortunately, the petition was ultimately rejected.  But, as Matt explains, some positive things did still emerge from the ruling.

9) Illict Sex in North Korea

As explained at Clever Turtles, there are a few things that should be kept in mind whenever reading stories “from” North Korea:

Pretty much all news comes through a few anti-North Korean activists who cultivate communication channels with dissidents inside North Korea and refugees who have recently run the border. Several of them have religious motivations and ties with the South Korean evangelical community, who remain the most actively interested audience for news from North Korea. This is transparently obvious in this article.

That said, it is an interesting window into the daily lives of the people of North Korea, and a reminder that they are no more or less than human.

For more commentary, and the article itself (“about how North Korea is becoming a pit of sexual decadence), see here.

10) Sex-trafficking Awareness Ads a Little too Graphic

Again not technically Korean sorry, but from Singapore, and definitely NSFW if viewed at full size. But in light of the fact that 1 in 4 sex-trafficking victims in the US are Korean (see #3 here), and this recent horrific Australian case involving Koreans, then certainly such shocking ads couldn’t do any harm to the anti-trafficking cause here:


See CopyRanter for more details.


One More Chance (나 좀 봐줘) by The Grace – Dana and Sunday (천상지희 – 다나 & 선데이): Lyrics, Translation, and Explanation

(Source, all screenshots)

아, 짱나! Why’d you always choose songs with such bloody strange lyrics?!!

While I’m very grateful to my long-suffering wife for her help, somebody had to redeem this song’s reputation among English speakers. For it definitely deserves praise for its empowering lyrics, especially when people may be put off from hearing the song at all through reviews like this, this, and this that don’t even consider them. Or translations like these that don’t give enough thought to resolving their ambiguity.

Yet who can blame those writers? With an official title of One More Chance (나 좀 봐줘), and lyrics that sometimes mention a guy, then it’s only natural to assume it’s basically about one more chance with that guy. In which case, SM Entertainment has done Dana & Sunday (다나 & 선데) a great disservice, for that English title doesn’t just dilute the song’s message, but positively subverts it.

If I’m going to argue that other people allowed their preconceptions to color their judgement of a song though, then first let me disclose my own, which I gained through readers’ emails like this one:

There seems to be 2 camps about the lyrics: It’s either stupid or the lyrics are quite ingenious. Is this a girl-anthem lite or is it a true empowerment song?

What I can only pick out is: “Amazon” “Adam & Eve” “Soju” “Bridget Jones” From the translations I have already read, there seems to be more metaphors than the usual k-pop songs.

And then from Jessica in the comments section to a post on underlying messages in girl-group songs:

…SM Ent just brought back one of their older K-pop groups, originally a 4 piece harmony group called The Grace as a duo.

I’m showing you this because the lyrics were written by SM Ent’s inhouse songwriter, Kenzie. Unlike her lyrics for Oh!’, though, the lyrics in this song seem pretty different and a bit strange compared to your average K-Pop single. I think they would be pretty interesting to dissect because at the moment I kind of feel like it could be a female-empowerment song, but the lyrics just don’t make any sense to me, even when translated! (Could be a bad translation? I don’t know..)

Then from Gomushin Girl’s reply:

It’s not perfect in the translation department (“give me one more chance, my strength’s coming out” is pretty loosely translated, ha!), but the lyrics are pretty explicitly meant to be empowering. They complain about the emphasis on being pretty and acting feminine. I thought the bit about how she didn’t like to drink soju because it made her face look big (for those of you not in Korea, having a “small face” is a mark of beauty) and she’d prefer the (ungentrified, rural, masculine) unfiltered rice wine – which comes in a bigger cup. The lyrics also reject certain standards of masculine beauty, saying that they’re fine with guys with big heads (in this case, it’s NOT figurative and saying he’s full of himself but literally that his head is big and therefore unattractive) – albeit partially because it makes her look smaller by comparison! So yeah, it’s pretty straight up critique of Korea’s beauty culture and cult of femininity.

That said, what’s really problematic for me is that the video images don’t do anything to reinforce the girl power message. I mean, it’s a pretty lame video – there’s absolutely nothing to it beyond having them dressed up and dancing – but it also plays right into the mainstream image of women in Kpop. You could put in totally different lyrics about how they’re waiting for their 오빠 to come and rescue them and it’d work fine.

And finally from Jessica’s response:

Indeed! It’s a shame. These are probably the only lyrics I’ve seen from a girl group outside of 2NE1 and (perhaps) 4Minute that are empowering, it’s just a shame that the music video is so conflicting. I think they should’ve atleast dressed them differently. I feel that this song would’ve been betetr suited to labelmate, f(x). I’d hardly say that the group is empowering, but you have unconventional (well, by typical Korean standards, I guess) beauties like Amber that could atleast give the lyrics *some* sort of meaning.

I’m more interested in the songwriters views over Dana and Sunday’s, though, who I’m guessing had no input with regards to the lyrics in this song. I have to wonder what Kenzie’s views really are; it seems she’s trying to raise the issues women have to deal with in Korean society, and yet she seems to have no problem writing songs such as Oh! for SNSD. If only I could have a discussion with this woman. haha

I’d still say it’s a step forward though, and it feels less like a contrived marketing ploy to me than say BoA’s ‘Girls On Top’, and I do commend Kenzie for not going down the typical lyrical route as seen in most ‘female empowerment’ pop songs and making some sort of statement, even if the words are lost on the poor video.

Only after reading those, I confess, did I really investigate who Dana and Sunday were (those three reviews above remain excellent introductions to them btw, and of course there’s also their Wikipedia page), and then get stuck into the video:

And in the interests of full disclosure, One More Chance happened to be the first song I’ve ever translated that I needed my wife’s ID to get the lyrics from Naver for, as it turned out that it had been banned for public broadcast for the heinous crime of mentioning alcohol, which you can read more about here or here (and more about increasing opposition to such inane censorship here, here, or here). Not that I seriously think that that biased me of course, although I did realize later that the song would make little sense without the alcohol in it.

But at the very least, I was clearly expecting a message of female empowerment in the lyrics, and – surprise, surprise – got one. Albeit only after giving up on it in frustration late last night, then realizing in the light of day that that narrative was the only way to resolve its many ambiguities. Was I just projecting though, reaching for a solution? Please judge for yourselves if the following explanations objectively justify that conclusion then, and why I ultimately think the song should actually be called Hear Me instead!

Update With my eternal gratitude, reader Seamus Walsh has spent a great deal of time in the comments analyzing the lyrics himself, including noting many minor and some major mistakes with my translation. Starting here, please make sure to read those also!

아담의 갈비뼈를 뺐다고? 진짜 빼야 될 사람 난데

내 허리 통뼈 이대론 안 돼 웃지 마라 진짜 진지하다고

소주는 싫어 잔이 작아 얼굴 더 커 보이잖아

막걸리 가자 잔도 크고 양도 많아 내 스타일이야

오늘 끝까지 한번 달린다 Let’s Go

It’s said Adam’s rib was pulled out? Really, I’m the person who needs things taken out.

I can’t endure my big-boned waist as it is. Don’t laugh, I said I’m serious.

I hate soju, its little shot glass makes my face look bigger

Let’s go drink makkoli, its glass is big and holds a lot, that’s my style

Tonight, let’s run until the end, Let’s go

In line 2, “뼈” by itself means “bone”, and “통” means…well, it has 8 entries in my dictionary. But “통뼈” together is a euphemism meaning “big-boned” (e.g. “난 통뼈야!).

In line 4, I think there’s an unspoken “in order to drink”  between “makkoli” and “let’s go” (e.g. “막걸리 먹으로  가자”), but my wife says that adding saying “[a drink]” with just “가자” is also common slang for emphasizing how much you really want to have that particular drink (not that our explanations are mutually exclusive of course).

Finally, in line 5 I think “tonight” makes much more sense than “오늘/today” for most non-alcoholics.

Next, there’s the (sort-of) chorus:

아마조네스 시대엔 내가 왕인데

남자가 언제부터 우릴 먹여 살렸니?

나! 나 좀! 놔줘! 먹여 살렸니

나! 나 좀! 놔줘! 먹여 살렸니

지금이 최고로 마른 건데 살쪘대

오늘만 마셔 낼부터 다이어트 쭉쭉 간다

나! 나 좀! 봐줘! 아 쭉쭉 간다

나! 나 좀! 봐줘! 아 기운 없어

In the Age of the Amazons, I am the queen

From when have men supported us?

Me! Please me! Let me go! When have men supported us…

Me! Please me! Let me go! When have men supported us…

I’m the thinnest right now, but people say I’ve become fat

I’ll only drink today, from tomorrow I’ll diet properly

Me! Please me! Pay attention to me! Ah…I’ll do it properly

Me! Please me! Pay attention to me! Ah…I have no energy

The first two lines are simple enough here, but the third and fourth are very vague and frustrating. Partially, that’s because I didn’t know “놓다” could mean “release” (I usually use it as “put”), but after that who or what are the “먹여 사렸니” referring to exactly? Other translators think the whole line means “Let me go, I can feed myself”, which is certainly logical, but then there’s not only no indication of the object and subject like I said, but the verb is in the past tense too. So, my wife thinks they’re actually just repeating line 2 really, but which is too long itself to repeat all of it.

In line 6, “쭉” will always be difficult to forget for me personally because the term “쭉쭉빵빵” was the precursor to “S-line”, although here it means  “utterly/completely/entirely” rather than “a straight line [tall]”. Meanwhile, the “간다” means it’s something that’s going to happen in the future, as explained in depth in my discussion of T-Ara’s Like the First Time.

Finally, in lines 7 and 8, again other translators give – all together – “나 좀 봐줘” as “give me one more chance”, and sure enough, that’s the English name of the song too (although I don’t know who came up with that). But I’m going to have to dissent, as not only is “chance” not mentioned whatsoever (although I acknowledge there’s a [slim] possibility that it’s unspoken) but a verb plus ‘줘” means “please [do the verb] for me”, and so in this case “봐줘”  would be “please look at me”, or indeed “please pay attention to me”. And this is corroborated by in the video when Dana says it again at 2:10 (see below), as she both looks at the viewer the entire time and is stared at intensely by Sunday, albeit only partially because Sunday does exactly the same when she says “Let me go” too, as in the fourth picture up.

However, if there was a (conjugated) verb before the “봐줘”, like, say, “해봐줘”, then that would be quite different, as the “봐” stops being “see” but becomes part of the  form “[verb] + [try to do the verb]” (e.g. “해봐” means “try to do it”). But as you can see, there’s nothing.

Whether it’s “give me one more chance” or “pay attention to me” though, saying “Ah [as in “sigh”]…I have no strength” straight afterwards is still a bit of a contradiction.

(Author’s screencapture)

브리짓존스는 짝을 만났지

내가 걔보다 뭐가 못해?

선배들 얘기, 솔직히 반대

‘눈을 낮춰야 남자가 보여?’ 흥!

좋은 녀석이 있어 머리가 좀 사실 많이 크지

그 옆에 서면 내 얼굴 진짜 작아 보이더라구

그것 땜에 만난다는 건 아냐, 진짜

아담이 이브, 만난 정돈 아니고

죽도록 걔한테 목매는 나도 아닌데

나! 나 좀! 봐줘! 자꾸 생각나

나! 나 좀! 봐줘! 자꾸 생각나

Bridget Jones met her other half, right?

What can’t I do compared to her?

My seniors’ stories, honestly I disagree

Do I have to lower my standards to meet men? Hmmpth!

I have a boyfriend, actually his head is quite big

People say that next to him my face looks small

That’s not the real reason I met him

We not close like Adam and Eve were

I’m never going to be so in love with a guy

Me! Please me! Pay attention to me! This consumes me

Me! Please me! Pay attention to me! This consumes me

Easy enough to translate, but frustratingly vague towards the end. First, the “걔” in line 2 means “그” or “that”, in this case Bridget Jones, mentioned in line 1. Then in line 6, “더라구” is slang for “더라도”, which I scanned an explanation of (from p. 150 of 100 Korean Grammar Patterns/한국어 문형 표현 100) for you below (basically, it’s used for emphasis when you’ve telling someone about something you’ve directly experienced, but the listener hasn’t).

In lines 10 and 11 though, we’ve already established that the first part means “pay attention to me”, but the while the “자꾸 생각나” easily translates to (literally) “frequently think” or “unceasingly think”, what is the singer thinking about exactly? Late last night, my wife and I thought it was about the guy mentioned earlier, but (again) that’s a contradiction. If the next verse was about a guy though, as it certainly appears at first glance, then it could retroactively be about him though, but…well, we’ll get to that.

For now then, if we just take for the sake of argument that it isn’t about a guy, then it must be about the issue of people saying she just chose to date him because he made her face look smaller, or the wider issue of paying attention to her, letting her do her own thing. In which case, as that is the main theme of the song, then I think my own rendition of it as “this consumes me” is quite eloquent(!), even if I do only say so myself.

Of course, the lyricist may be just have been having an off-day too…

Show me! Show me! 어쩜 좋니

토크는 안 끝나고 우린 더욱 아쉽고

이 밤을 불태워버릴 우리만의 100분 토론

나! 나 좀! 놔줘! Yo! 100분 토론

나! 나 좀! 놔줘! 100분 토론

난 먹고 자고 울고 웃고 사랑하고

다 저울질하고 때로는 미워하고

오 매일 매일 난 큰 꿈을 꾸고 있는데

이 놈의 통 큰 갈비뼈를 빼서라도 날아갈 거라고!

Show me, show me, how

We got more to say, it’s sad that we have to stop

Our 100 minutes of talking will burn this night

Me! Please me! Let me go! Yo! 100 minutes of talking

Me! Please me! Let me go! 100 minutes of talking

I want to eat, sleep, cry, laugh, and love

I hate having to weigh everything up

Oh! Every day I dream a big dream

Even if I have to take out this big rib of mine, I will fly!

Ironically for all the time spent on the translations of previous verses, I didn’t really see have any problems of note in translating that. And by coincidence, it’s here that the fundamental message of the song becomes clear too.

Just a few lines ago, the singer was talking about her (literally) big-headed boyfriend, so it’s only natural to assume that she is still talking about him in this verse. But just think back to the situation: she opened the song talking to her (probably female) friend, she suggested that they go get a drink together…and until there’s anything to suggest otherwise, then she’s still talking to that friend here. So no, she isn’t sad about having limited time to talk to her boyfriend, and she certainly doesn’t want “one more chance” to be with him.

Indeed, only when you remove that assumed longing for a guy from the song, does it finally begin to make some sort of sense.

Unfortunately, the last verse below has (to my mind) a throwaway line about love which potentially confuses it, but again only if you have the preconceived notion that the song is about love between a man and a woman. Love her friend listening to her though, platonically or otherwise, and there’s nothing to be confused about.

아마조네스 시대엔 내가 왕인데

남자가 언제부터 우릴 먹여 살렸니?

나! 나 좀! 놔줘! 먹여 살렸니

나! 나 좀! 놔줘! 먹여 살렸니

아담이 이브, 만난 정돈 아니고

죽도록 걔한테 목매는 나도 아닌데

왜 자꾸 자꾸 네가 생각나니 이상해

들어봐 온 가슴이 그렇게 말해 이게 사랑이래 I got you baby

나! 나 좀! 봐줘! 자, 기운 내서

나! 나 좀! 봐줘! 가는 거야

나! 나 좀! 봐줘! 자, 기운 내서

나! 나 좀! 봐줘! 자, 가는 거야

In the Age of the Amazons, I am the queen

From when have men supported us?

Me! Please me! Let me go! When have men supported us…

Me! Please me! Let me go! When have men supported us…

We’re not close like Adam and Eve were

I’m never going to be so in love with a guy

Why am I so consumed like this? It’s strange

Try listening to me, my whole heart is saying this is love, I got you baby

Me! Please me! Pay attention to me! Cheer up!

Me! Please me! Pay attention to me! I’m going to go

Me! Please me! Pay attention to me! Cheer up!

Me! Please me! Pay attention to me! I’m going to go

And on that note, “Pay attention to me!” doesn’t roll of the tongue very easily, so I hereby retroactively change all instances of that to “Hear me!” instead, and submit that as a new song title!

What do you think? Am I simply projecting my own narrative onto the song, or am I onto something? As always, I defer to readers’ greater knowledge of the group and/or Korean abilities. Perhaps especially the latter in this case, as my epiphany about how much the song has been misinterpreted is so dependent on my alternate translation of just a few lines. On the other hand, from what I’ve read they’ve been known for grrrl-power from the outset, so surely the burden of proof is more on those who claim that this is such an uncharacteristic romantic love-song?

Update – Again, and especially if you’ve read this far, please make sure to read Seamus’s comments also!

(For more Korean song translations, please see here)


Who Made the 2011 Chinese Film Festival Poster?


Actually, the brief 2011 Chinese Film Festival itself finished nearly two weeks ago sorry. But I’m much more concerned with the poster, one of the best I’ve ever seen.

I’d really like to know who designed it, but unfortunately all I can make of that name in the bottom-right corner is “환영” – not the last syllable, and searches of my various guesses have come to naught, Indeed, it actually might not be a name at all, as “환영” by itself means both “illusion” and “welcome”.

Can anybody can make out the full name, and/or clarify? Any help would be much appreciated!^^

Update – With thanks to Paul Carver for passing the links on, the illustrator’s name is 윤환영 (I guess the last syllable was actually a sort of symbol or signature?), and an interview of him and more of his works can be seen here and here respectively.