Pray (기도) by Sunny Hill (써니힐): Lyrics, Translation, and Explanation


…Sunny Hill have shaken things up in K-Pop by releasing unconventional music – at least as far as Korean pop is concerned – and they’ve garnered a new following by doing so. Sunny Hill is a talented group and they’re in the hands of creative people who understand the purpose of a concept, in that a concept not only melds visuals with music, but is designed to evoke a powerful response from their audience (Allkpop, September 2011).

Hey, I do like what I’ve heard of Sunny Hill (써니힐) so far, but still: nothing about their music really strikes me as really different. Rather, to me they stand out for their collaboration in in Mamma Mia (맘마미아) by Narsha (나르샤), the first(?) and only(?) Korean music video to feature a Korean woman kissing a Caucasian man, and then for their rare critique of the Korean rat race in The Grasshopper Song (베짱이 찬가). And I’d love to hear of any more such “socially-conscious K-pop” by them.

Pray (기도) though, doesn’t really qualify. But it is one of the darkest music videos I’ve ever seen (for which it was banned on MBC and KBS), and can be very moving. As the reader who asked me to translate it admitted:

Seriously. . . I was crying within the first 15 seconds.  I was a WRECK by the end.  My roommate came in and asked ‘Who died?’  Me? ‘The *hiccup* man in the *hiccup* videooooooo!’  The main character is the type that truly tugs at my heart strings.  Of course, Joseph Merrick comes to mind, but the character has such an. . .how do I put it…almost unspoiled nature.  Innocent in the most pure sense of the work – like the innocence of a child (that’s getting much harder to find today).  What I truly loved, though, is that it fit with the tone of the song but wasn’t melodramatic.  Dramatic, yes, but not melodramatic.

See here for an excellent discussion of all the symbolism in it. Meanwhile, the “mutant” is played by veteran movie actor Lee Jae-yong, and fans have noticed that only three of the five members of the group actually sing, although all of them are featured in the music video:

Save me from broken time

라라라 라라라 라라라 라라라

그 어떤 누군가가 기도하라 꿈꿔라

이뤄진다 했던가 어떤 모든 것들도

다 내게 말해 넌 나를 보고 말해 이젠 제발 멈추라고

한숨은 잔혹하게 거칠게만 들리네

허나 들리지 않아 어떤 구원의 소리

난 기도하네 또 나는 소리치네 누가 나를 꺼내주길

Did someone say your dreams would be achieved if you prayed?

Tell me everything

Now you look at me and tell me to stop

A sigh sounds so cold-hearted and coarse

But I can’t hear the sound of a rescue

I pray, I scream out, I hope someone will help me break out

The chorus is next:

Stand by me and necessary

점점 깊어만가 너를 앓을수록

라라라 라라라 라라라 라라라

Cry for me and I’m sorry

점점 패여만가 너를 잃을수록

제발 다시 안아달라고

멈춰 있던 나를 깨워줘 멈춰 있던 시간 돌려놔

어제처럼 그렇게 나에게만 웃어 보여줘

감춰 있던 슬픔 조여와 감춰 있던 아픔 올라와

헤어지잔 그 말은 아니 아니 아니 아니야

Stand by me, and necessary (pronounced “nesary”)

The more I long for you, the deeper I get

La la la, la la la, la la la, la la la

Cry for me, and I’m sorry

The more I lose you the more empty I am

Please, I beg you, hold me again

Please wake me from my paralysis, please give me back my frozen time

You showed me your laugh like that yesterday

Hidden sorrow is strangling me, hidden pain is rising

“Let’s break up” – those words, no no no

그 어떤 누군가가 사는 게 다 그렇다

무뎌진다 했던가 어떤 모든 것들도

다 내게 말해 넌 나를 보고 말해 제발 정신 차려 좀 달라고

눈물은 빗물 되어 내 몸을 다 적시고

온몸이 얼어붙어 땅에 늘어뜨리고

몸서리치네 또 나는 울부짖네

따라라라 라라라라

Did someone say that life is like that, that you just get used to it?

Tell me everything

You look at me and tell me to hang in there

My tears become like rainwater, I get drenched

I lie down, my whole body frozen to the ground

Dah la la la, la la la la

The chorus is repeated, then finally:

간절히 난 기도하네 listen to the song

대답은 또 나를 울리네

날아가는 나를 잡아줘 날아가는 우릴 돌려놔

떠다니며 잡히지 않아 너를 붙잡지 못해

하루만 더 살아보려고 깨물었던 나의 입술을

사라져가 이제는 아니 아니 아니 아니야.

Save me from broken time

라라라 라라라 라라라 라라라

I sincerely pray, listen to the song

And the answer makes me cry again

Grab me from flying away, turn back our fleeting relationship

It flouts around but cannot be grasped, I cannot grasp you

Just to live one more day, I bite down on my lips

But now it’s vanishing, and it’s not not not not there

Save me from broken time

La la la, la la la, la la la, la la la la


A confession: just before I started translating the final verse, I stumbled across this translation on Youtube (embedding on blogs isn’t allowed sorry), and, finding nothing wrong with it, decided to use it for the final verse here too. Also, I have to admit that the whole translation is much more elegant than mine, so I strongly encourage readers to check it out, especially if you want to read the lyrics as you watch.

But there are some differences though, so I’d be happy to elaborate on those, and/or any other parts of the translation if Korean learners are interested. Alternatively, by all means please correct me if you think I’ve made a mistake!^^

Korean Gender Reader


If you’ll please indulge an old Korean Studies geek for a moment, Girlfriday’s review of Dancing Queen (댄싱퀸) at Dramabeans this week instantly reminded me of The Adventures of Mrs. Park (박봉곤 가출사건), from way back in 1996. After all, both are about wives who blatantly defy their husbands to follow their dreams of becoming singers, both are comedies, and – I’ll take a wild guess about Dancing Queen – both wives are ultimately successful.

One likely difference though, is that Mrs. Park runs away from her husband. And in fact, The Adventures of Mrs. Park was the first Korean movie to ever show a wife getting away with such insubordination.

That may sound difficult to believe today, but director Kim Tae-kyun (김태균) would later confess to Cine 21 magazine that he was extremely concerned at how audiences might react to such “an unexpected ending”. As even comedies back then would invariably close with continued happy marriages, while more realistic movies would show a miserable and destitute wife returning home with her tail between her legs.

In contrast, I doubt director Lee Seok-hoon (이석훈) has any such qualms in 2012. And it’s always quite sobering, realizing how much Korea has changed in the time I’ve been here.

So, while I doubt I’ll ever make the effort to track down and watch The Adventures of Miss Park for myself (all of the above is based on this book chapter), I will watch Dancing Queen. For not only is Hwang Jung-min (황정민) my favorite actor ever (see here for my review of A Good Lawyer’s Wife {바람난 가족; 2003}, the first movie I saw him in), but I’ve always had a soft spot for Uhm Jung-hwa (엄정화) too, as she was very much the queen of K-pop when I came to Korea back in 2000. Here’s my favorite song of hers from back then (just give me the word, and I’ll translate it in a flash!^^):

And after all that reminiscing(!), finally here are this week’s links, in no particular order:

What K-pop can teach us about the ROK military (Seoulbeats)

Foreigners organize flash mob against prostitution (The Marmot’s Hole)

‘Dream High 2′ cast express the need for laws protecting minors in the industry (Allkpop)

Sexual harassment widespread in workplaces (Hankyoreh)

Did the Piggy Dolls ruin their credibility? (Mixtapes and Liner Notes)

Essential information for understanding divorce in Japan: there is no such thing as joint custody of children (Economist)

How Korean fashion is seen from an international perspective; opposed to how Koreans think it’s seen (Noona Blog: Seoul)

K-pop’s first lesbian love story? (Seoulbeats)

Congratulations on the Dragon baby! (On Becoming a Good Korean {Feminist} Wife)

290,000won bags for elementary kids – competition at the extreme? (Hangukdrama and Korean; also see my post on how pink and princessey the schoolbag ads for girls are, but sporty and full of space-shuttles and racing-cars for boys)

[Debate] Leave ancestral rites where they belong- in the past (Hankyoreh)

[Debate] Cultural rites provide key to understanding ourselves (Hankyoreh)

• “Holiday stress for an average married Korean woman is as bad as the pain of losing a close friend” (Arirang)

Statistics on social trends in Korea – a great resource (Korean Journal of Sociology; scroll down to the “research guide”s)

Roundtable: our friend, MOGEF (Seoulbeats)

Harsher punishment urged for pedophiles (Korea Times)

Monfemme: gender, feminist, and medical anthropology in the steppes and deserts of Mongolia (Blog recommendation)

Quick Hit: T-Ara’s Stereotyping of Native-Americans in YaYaYa


Shocked and confused by the video for YaYaYa (야야야)? If so, I give a very quick introduction to K-pop and media representations of other races in Korea over at Sociological Images, to help readers unfamiliar with either place it in some context.

If you’re one of those, I hope it does, and I especially recommend one of the links I give in the post – Who is Korean? Migration, Immigration, and the Challenge of Multiculturalism in Homogeneous Societies, by Timothy Lim – for anyone further interested in race-relations in Korea.

Meanwhile, I was tempted to translate the lyrics too, but they’re too inane already adequately covered at Allkpop. Instead, this Friday I’ll be covering Pray (기도) by Sunny Hill (써니힐) .

Until then, Happy Chinese New Year’s everybody!

Ali Meets Father of 8 year-old Rape Victim “Na-young”

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes. Source: maniadb

If you’ve never heard of Ali, Na-young (a pseudonym), or their connection, please see Seoulbeats for some background. Assuming that you have, I’d like to add just two things in this introduction to today’s translation.

First, that back in December 2008, the combination of the particularly horrific nature of the crime, and the light sentencing of the rapist, simply incensed the Korean public. So perhaps one can understand the severity of netizens’ reactions to Ali using Na-young’s name in a song title.

Next, that that public outrage in 2008 ultimately led to many changes to the Korean pop-culture industries, which we’re still seeing the effects of today. For, triggered by Na-young’s case, public anger about sex crimes against minors came to a head by the following summer, leading to increased scrutiny and concern about those working in the music industry especially.

Combine that with the sex-crime revelations that followed suicide of actress Jang Ja-yeon, and we came to have the widespread restrictions on and/or censorship of song subjects, lyrics, clothing, dance moves, and so on that we see today (albeit not just on minors). Working around those—or deliberately breaking them to create publicity—has now become an integral part of the production of K-pop.

(Translation begins)

Source: 우리다시여기에

[오늘의 세상] 아픔을 사랑으로 감싸다나영이 아버지, 알리 만나 주며 위로 / Enveloping pain with love . . . Na-young’s father meets Ali, gives flowers and consolation

Chosun, December 19, 2011,  by 정지섭/Jeong Ji-seob

아버지와 같이 온 나영이, 부끄럼 많아 차에서 기다려 / Na-young, who came with her father, was too shy and waited in the car

나영이 아버지:”그런 고통 있는 줄 몰랐네요 많이 힘들었죠… 울지마요, 네티즌들 진정했으면 좋겠다” / Na-young’s father: “We didn’t know you had that kind of pain.  It was very hard, wasn’t it.  Don’t cry, I hope the netizens calm down.”

편지 5장에 마음 담은 알리 “나영이에 용기주려 했는데 미리 말씀 못드려 죄송해요… 언니가 정말 미안해” 눈물 / Ali’s heartfelt 5-page letter: “I intended to give Na-young courage, and I am apologize for not informing you in advance. I am really sorry,” tears

“제가 작사·작곡자인데 미리 말씀드리지 않은 것 죄송합니다. 힘든 일 겪어도 언니처럼 이겨낼 수 있다고 용기를 주고 싶었어요.” (가수 알리)

“I am the lyricist and composer, and I am sorry for not informing you in advance.  I wanted to give you courage by saying that though you went through a difficulty, you can overcome it like I did.” (Singer Ali)

“앞으로 할 일이 많은 아가씨가 이렇게 힘 빼서 되겠어요? 울지 마요.” (나영이 아버지)

“Is it okay for a young woman who has so much ahead of her to lose strength like this?  Don’t cry.” (Na-young’s father)

17 일 오후 서울 강남의 한 연예기획사 사무실. 자신의 또는 가족의 ‘성폭행 피해’라는, 어쩌면 인생의 가장 무겁고 감추고 싶은 짐을 진 두 사람이 마주 앉았다. 한쪽은 검은 정장을 입은 여가수 알리(27). 다른 한쪽은 2008년 벌어진 조두순 성폭행 사건의 피해 어린이 나영이(가명)의 아버지.

The afternoon of December 17th in the office of a Gangnam entertainment management agency. Two people, who personally or whose family bear the burden of the damage of sexual assault, maybe the heaviest and the one they would most wish to conceal of their lives, sat opposite each other. On one side, the singer Ali (27), wearing a black suit.  On the other side, the father of Na-young (false name), the child victim in the 2008 Cho Doo-soon sexual assault case (illustrator, right: 이철원/Lee Cheol-won).

모든 일은 14일 알리가 조두순 사건을 다룬 자작곡 ‘나영이’를 새 앨범에 담아 발표하면서 비롯됐다. 일부 네티즌은 ‘청춘을 버린 채 몸 팔아 영 팔아…’ 등의 가사를 문제 삼으며 알리를 무차별 공격했고, 알리는 그날 밤 나영이에 대한 사과문을 낸 뒤 앨범을 전량 수거·폐기했다.

The whole matter began on the 14th with the release of Ali’s new album, which includes a song she wrote, called “Na-young-ee,” about the Cho Doo-soon incident.  Some netizens questioned the use of lyrics like, “You threw away your youth, selling your body, selling your soul,” and attacked Ali indiscriminately; that night, after releasing an apology for “Na-young-ee,” Ali collected and discarded all copies of the album.

그래도 일부 네티즌의 악플이 멈추질 않자 알리는 16일 아버지와 함께 기자회견을 열어”3년 전 나도 성폭행을 당했다”고 고백하며 거듭 용서를 구했다. 알리 측은 14일 문제가 발생하자마자 나영이 가족에게 “찾아가 사죄하고 싶다”는 뜻을 전했고, 안산에 사는 나영이 아버지가 알리 측의 기자회견을 본 뒤 “내가 나영이와 함께 찾아가겠다”고 해 만남이 성사됐다.

However, some netizens’ negative comments didn’t stop, so Ali held a press conference on the 16th with her father and confessed, “3 years ago, I was also sexually assaulted,” and asked once more for forgiveness.  On the 14th, as soon as the problem appeared, Ali conveyed her wish to “go and apologize” to Na-young’s family, and Na-young’s father, after watching Ali’s press conference, said, “I’ll go with Na-young to visit her,” and the meeting was arranged (caption, left: 알리가 17일 나영이 아버지를 통해 나영이에게 준 사죄의 편지 / The apology letter Ali gave to Na-young through her father on the 17th).

이날 나영이 아버지는 알리가 눈물을 흘리며 사죄하자 갖고 온 백합과 안개꽃 다발을 내려놓고 거듭 알리를 달랬다. “나도 어제 기자회견한 내용을 들었어요. 그렇게 큰 고통이 있는 줄 몰랐네요. 얼마나 힘들고 어려웠을지 충분히 짐작돼요. 사전에 우리에게 알리지도 않고 노래를 만들었단 얘길 듣곤 화가 나 음반 판매 금지 가처분까지 생각했는데 노래를 폐기하겠다고 해서 마음이 좀 누그러졌어요. 그런데 그런 사정(성폭행)까지 있었다니, 내가 다독여줘야겠다는 생각이 들었죠.”

On this day, Ali apologized with tears streaming, and Na-young’s father put down the bouquet of lilies and baby’s breath he had brought and comforted her repeatedly.  “I heard what you said at the press conference.  I didn’t know that you had such great pain.  I can guess how difficult and hard that must have been.  When we heard that you’d made the song without letting us know beforehand, we were angry and even thought of an injunction banning sales of the album, but you said you would discard the song so our feelings softened.  But you had that kind of situation (sexual assault), so I felt I should console you.”

나영이 아버지가 “참 많이 힘들었죠?” 하자 알리가 울먹이며 입을 열었다. “(나영이와) 같은 해에 저도 당했어요. 그래서 (나영이) 기사가 나오면 스크랩해서 주변 사람들에게 보여주고 (나영이 돕기 모금 기관에) 익명의 기부도 했어요. 남의 일이 아닌 것 같아 더 적극적으로 돕고 싶었지만 그러면 주변에서 ‘혹시 너 뭐 있니’ 할 것 같아서 공개적으로는 못 했죠.”

When Na-young’s father said, “It was very hard, wasn’t it?” Ali was on the verge of tears as she spoke.  “I was assaulted in the same year (as Na-young).  So when the articles (about Na-young) came out, I saved them and showed them to the people around me, and donated anonymously (to the fund-raising organization for helping Na-young).  It didn’t feel like someone else’s problem, so I wanted to help more actively, but it seemed like if I did that, the people around me might ask, ‘Did something happen to you?’ so I couldn’t do it openly.”

나영이 아버지는 알리에게 “힘들겠지만 위축되지 말고 당당하게 정면 돌파해라. 그게 이기는 길”이라고 했다. “우리 사회 풍토가 슬프지만 ‘목소리 안 내는 사람이 바보’라고들 생각하잖아요. (성폭행 피해자들이) 자기 목소리를 당당하게 낼 수 있는 기회가 만들어져야 해요.” 그는 “이번 (나영이 노래) 일 때문에 네티즌이 많이 화가 난 것 같은데, 오해도 많이 풀린 만큼 진정됐으면 좋겠다”고 했다.

Na-young’s father said to Ali, “It must be hard, but instead of cowering, face things confidently head-on. That’s the way to win.  Our social climate is sorrowful, but as people say, ‘The person who doesn’t speak out is a fool.’  Opportunities need to be created for (victims of sexual assault) to speak out confidently.”  He continued, “Because of this matter (the song “Na-young-ee”), netizens seem to have gotten very angry, and I hope this misunderstanding gets cleared up so they will calm down.” (caption, right: 가수 알리가 (본명 조용진) 16일 오후 서울 종로구 홍지동 상명아트센터 콘서트홀에서 열린 알리의 정규 1집에 수록된 ‘나영이’곡 논란과 관련한 공식 기자회견장에서 2008년 성폭행당한 사실을 밝히며 눈물을 흘리고 있다 / Singer Ali {real name Jo Yong-jin}, at an official press conference at the Sangmyeong Art Center in Hongji-dong, Gongro-gu, Seoul, regarding controversy caused by her song, 나영이, in her 1st regular album, crying while announcing that she was raped herself in 2008)

나영이 아버지가 1시간여 동안 얘기를 나눈 뒤 “바쁜 사람 시간 잡아먹으면 안 된다”며 일어나자 알리는 다이어리와 연필, 꽃 장식이 달린 머리띠가 든 종이 가방을 전달했다.

After talking for an hour, Na-young’s father said, “I shouldn’t take up a busy person’s time,” and stood up.  Ali gave him a paper bag containing a diary, pencil, and flower-decorated headband.

알리는 나영이에게 사죄와 격려의 메시지를 보내는 내용의 다섯 장의 편지도 초록 봉투에 담아 함께 전달했다. “내가 부족해 너에게 상처를 또 주게 돼 정말 미안해. (중략) 만약 괜찮다면 너의 얘기도 들려줘. 친구가 되었으면 좋겠어.”

Ali also gave Na-young a five-page message of apology and encouragement, contained in a green envelope.  “I’m very sorry that my mistake caused you to be hurt again.  (…) If it’s okay, tell me your story in return.  I’d like us to be friends.”

나영이 아버지가 집으로 출발하려는 차 안에는 나영이가 타고 있었다. 나영이 아버지는 “나영이가 차를 오래 타고 와 피곤했던 데다 부끄러움을 많이 타 밖에 있고 싶다고 했다”고 했다. 알리는 안이 잘 보이지 않는 창밖에서 “언니가 정말 미안해”라고 몇 번이고 말했다.

Na-young was in the car that her father took to go home. Her father said, “Na-young is tired from riding in the car for a long time, and also she is very shy, so she said she would like to stay outside.” Outside of a window into which one couldn’t really see, Ali said several times, “I am really sorry.” (end)

(Thanks to Marilyn for the translation)

If you reside in South Korea, you can donate via wire transfer: Turnbull James Edward (Kookmin Bank/국민은행, 563401-01-214324)

Korean Gender Reader

(Source: Joseph Senior, via Visual News)

Just some quick links this week sorry, I’m very busy working on what feels like a dozen blog posts and offline articles at the moment!

Recent controversial events in K-pop (My First Love Story)

WTF Moment: Teen Top’s C.A.P and his jokes about domestic violence (Seoulbeats; see Feminoonas for updates)

Iron Butterfly: memoir of a female Kuk Sool Won master (BBC News)

Gay in Korea: foreign female perspective and foreign male perspective (Expatkerri)

Sejong move splits families, hits female civil servants’ marriage prospects (Korea Joongang Daily)

Portion of unmarried 30-something men growing, becoming social problem (Hankyoreh)

Number of elementary school students in Seoul falls 30% in 10 years (Korea Times, via Gusts of Popular Feeling; see The Marmot’s Hole also for more on Korean demographics)

Unemployed middle-aged men ostracized by their families (Chosunilbo)

• “In 2010, only 8.7% of working mothers in South Korea took maternity leave” (Hankyoreh)

The importance of women for the future of Korea (Korea: Circles and Squares. And after reading that, make sure to check out this revealing photo too!)

(Links are not necessarily endorsements)

International Magazines in Korea: A Cultural Invasion? (Part 1)

(Sources: left, right)

With covers like these, it’s easy to overestimate the “Westernizing” effects international magazines have on modest Korean readers. Especially by those who resent such changes.

Say, those who have ever called someone a “beanpaste girl” (dwengjangnyeo; 된장녀) for instance, a derogatory term for young women that supposedly spend beyond their means in pursuit of a Sex and the City lifestyle. But which in practice they can be called for doing no more than simply buying Starbucks coffee, nice clothes, or foreign food.

When such decadent women want to do some reading while sipping their frappuccinos though, until recently they were much more likely to be seen behind an international women’s magazine than a purely Korean one. That wasn’t just confirmation bias by their accusers.

Why are they so popular? And why, despite that, are they still not quite as big an influence as they may appear? Let’s answer the first question in this post and Part 2, and the second in Part 3 after that.

(Sources: left, right)

There are three reasons they are so popular. First, a practical one. Consider why they were once able to justify more expensive ad rates than Korean competitors, despite having much lower circulations (Sook & Firth, 2006; see the end of the post for references):

According to an interview with a media expert in an ad agency (June, 2004), international magazines justify [them] by claiming that they use modern printing techniques, higher quality paper, glossy covers, and more sophisticated advertising techniques…

I doubt that this difference in quality still applies in 2012. But when it did, it would have quite literally added some gloss to their preexisting exotic appeal. So much so, that the combination meant that international magazines:

…[could] deliver the ‘right target’ to advertisers. Instead of housewives, the major target audience of international magazines is single women. They are a segment who is interested in fashion and beauty and who possess disposable income.

Having different targets meant different content, which is the third and the most important source of their greater popularity, to be covered in Part 2. Indeed, jumping ahead, the greatest impact of international magazines has been that: a) most domestic competitors have likewise sexed-up their own content in order to better appeal to spendthrift single women; and b) a slew of wholly Korean magazines exclusively aimed at them have also appeared (e.g. Singles/싱글즈, not quite the symbol of Western depravity it may at first appear). And in light of that, it behooves me to point out that this series of posts is based on 5 and 6 year-old sources using 8 year-old data, and to reiterate that international magazines may actually no longer be the preferred choice of single Korean women.

But still: regardless of which are the more popular now, and well before consumers can get to grips with content like “His First Sex”, first they have to be persuaded to open a magazine at all. And ever since the first Korean edition of Elle appeared in the Korean market 20 years ago, international magazines’ combination of exoticism and content aimed at young, hip Korean women (rather than fuddy-duddy ajummas) has been a powerful and enduring source of appeal.

Possibly, the sophisticated consumer in you balks at that at something so simplistic-sounding, especially if you’re one of those young, hip Korean women yourself. But then no matter how impervious to suggestion we all like to think we are, on occasion we’ve all bought magazines primarily for things as frivolous as: the feel of the glossy paper; the “edgy” photography; ego-boosting headlines (“2012 Is Your Year!); the rebellious frisson of purchasing something with a nude person on the cover in a crowded bookstore; and so on. Maybe, if we’re honest, as something to be seen with too, and/or because we feel it’s what our imagined selves ought to buy. For its possession can signify aspiration towards or membership in a social class or group (in sociological terms, a form of “objectified” and/or “institutionalized” cultural capital), even if only to ourselves.

Say, like my April 2000 copy of the New Zealand music and lifestyle magazine re:mix for instance:

Partially, I present that here to demonstrate that I’m not trying to distance myself from people who buy magazines for “shallow” reasons, a common failing of commentators on pop-culture. But primarily, I do so to admit my own intellectual baggage, and the possibility that I’m simply projecting. By all means, please call me out on that if you think so, and of course just because re:mix happened to trigger various cyberpunk-millennial fantasies in me at 24 – and, ahem, still does at 36 – doesn’t mean that all 24 or 36 year-old Korean women likewise buy international magazines simply to indulge in their own Occidentalist fantasies.

But then, surely some do. And whereas I knowingly made particularly strong associations between a magazine and a life I aspired to, the possibility of consumers making any associations at all is precisely what magazine editors are aiming towards, influencing all aspects of its production. As this marketer explains:

Consumers have gathered from the beginning of consumption. Auto enthusiasts, quilting bees, and Tupperware parties are early examples of the impulse. Many consumer groups share an affiliation that is based upon enthusiasm and knowledge of a specific consumption activity.

In fact, academics and consultants have recognized these groups and dubbed them “consumer tribes” – a term borrowed from anthropology, describing groups of people who are brought together not around something rational, such as a job, but around deeper, more profound needs, such as kinship, passion, and identity.

Moreover, just like advertisers are constantly inventing new role models for consumers to aspire to, all the better to sell them products that (supposedly) help them achieve that goal, it’s especially helpful for companies if those creations are centered around their brands (think of the stereotypical Apple or Harley Davidson consumer for instance). This is especially true for foreign companies entering a new overseas market for the first time, as (source, right):

…they seek a sense of familiarity and want control over their brands. In order to meet their demands, advertising agencies focus on “developing what are deemed to be more cost-effective global campaigns that circumvent national borders by creating more expensive global consumer tribes linked by lifestyle values or preferences rather than spatial location.” (source, quoted in Sook & Firth 2006; my emphasis)

Logic which certainly applied to magazine producers (quite explicitly so by Cosmo below!), and accordingly it’s via advertising that international magazines can be said to have had the greatest Westernizing effect on the Korean media, as will be discussed next week.

But before I do, let me leave you with a parallel from the real world, lest you’re still unconvinced about the importance of branding by magazines.


To be precise, a parallel from an unidentified brand name shoe store in North England. Sociologist Steven Miles worked there for 10 weeks in the mid-1990s, posing as “an especially enthusiastic member of staff who was showing particular interest in customers and their purchases”, asking them numerous questions in order to (Miles, 1998):

…address the significance of consumption in their lives, most particularly in relation to the training shoes (sneakers) they were considering purchasing. The meanings with which these shoes were endowed, the role that these meanings played in the construction of personal identities, and the cultural context in which such meanings operated, were therefore the issues addressed….

The priority…was for the customer to discuss the role that training shoes (and often, as the conversation developed, other types of consumer goods) had in their lives, and what factors they believed influenced that role.

Sneakers may sound like a strange topic here, but recall that they were once considered so important by young people that they were prepared to mug and even kill for them, and Miles is very positive about the important, pro-active role one’s consumption choices can play in one’s identity, whether of sneakers of anything else.

However, it’s especially the next that has echoes in the purchase of magazines, by any age group (source, right):

…consider the atmosphere that the management actively seeks to promote in its stores. All branches of the sports store concerned are dominated by a large TV monitor overlooking the shop floor. This acts as a magnet for passing customers. British branches of the store often broadcast MTV…as far as the head office is concerned, this helps to create a relatively straightforward means of perpetuating a superficial feeling, on the part of the customer, of personal familiarity with what it is to experience this particular store.

And in particular (my emphasis):

What is also of interest in that paradoxically, measures are taken by the company to actively disguise the impersonal nature of the experience of shopping [there]….Though on the one hand the company’s training literature is entirely open about the importance of giving the consumer a common experience on entering the store in whatever country, on the other, any hint that efforts are being made to control such an experience are hidden from the customer’s actual perception of the shopping environment.

In the case of international magazines, these can be things as trivial as the choice of font and line-spacing, all designed to replicate the appearance and style of the overseas editions on which they’re based. Which may sound trivial, but next week I explain that, these days, Korean editions of international magazines have on average only 30% of “lift” material taken from those (down from 60% a decade ago), much of which has no more resemblance to the original articles and so on than the rough subject and the look. Or in other words, that “international” magazines sold here certainly have a foreign veneer, but are really a lot more Korean than they may seem.

Yet a veneer considered so enticing to consumers, that the Korean magazine Woman Sense/우먼센스, for instance, would change its cover title to English in 2009:

(Sources: left, right)

But all that will be discussed in Part 2 and 3. And on that note, apologies for the day’s delay with this post, the best I could do after having to get my modem changed 3 nights in a row last week(!) and thanks to all readers who tried to find copies of Sook’s and Firth’s papers below for me, and/or passed on other interesting related papers instead. As it turns out, while their download links on their citation pages here and here still aren’t working, if you do a search on the main allacademic page for, say, abstracts with the terms “Korea” and “magazines” in them, then you’ll get a list of search results with links that do work, and so you can click here and here for PDFs of them (or just ask me to send them).


– Oh, Hyun Sook. and Frith, Katherine. “International Women’s Magazines and Transnational Advertising in South Korea” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Dresden International Congress Centre, Dresden, Germany, Jun 16, 2006

– Oh, Hyun Sook. and Frith, Katherine. “Globalization and Localization in the Production Process of International Women’s Magazines in Korea” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, TBA, San Francisco, CA, May 23, 2007

– Miles, Steven, “McDonaldization and the global sports store: constructing consumer meanings in a rationalized society” in Mark Alfino, John Caputo, and Robin Wynyard, ed.s, McDonaldization Revisited: critical essays on consumer culture, Praeger Westport, 1998, pp. 53-65.

Update, October 2013: Alas, I never did get around to writing Parts 2 and 3, feeling that they would require too much regurgitation of the source material. Instead, I wrote a single, much shorter article for the Autumn edition of Busan Haps.