Korean Sociological Image #53: “SK-II No. 1 Whitening Celebration Party”


See here or here for more photos. Is such a deathly pallor really something to be aspired to?

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

Isn’t It Beautiful? (얼마나 좋을까?) by Lee Soo-young (이수영): Lyrics & Translation

( Source )

Last week, I mentioned that until I found DJ Areia’s trance remixes, then in almost 10 years here I’d never been particularly moved by any popular Korean music. But with a few noticeable exceptions, starting with Isn’t it Beautiful? (얼마나 좋을까?) by Lee Soo-young (이수영), a Korean adaptation of the Japanese song sung by Japanese folk singer Ritsuki Nakano (professionally known as “RIKKI“), and which was the theme song for Final Fantasy X, a role-playing game for the PlayStation 2 released in 2001. Difficult to avoid hearing in Korea at the time, there is no better way to describe it than as a simply beautiful piece of music, and one which deserves to be much better known among a, well, younger generation of listeners.

With apologies for the poor quality of the video, please take a listen for yourself:

I actually first translated the lyrics in July 2007 just after starting this blog, but like most of what I wrote back then that original post has since been mercifully deleted. As I began translating some of these songs for this research project of mine however, to be posted over the next several weeks (and hopefully to become a regular thing), I realized it would be a shame to waste it, both for the sake of the music and especially for understanding the original Korean. Which as you’ll soon see, is much more difficult than it may at first appear, and I realize now that I made many mistakes in the original!

Let’s start with the first verse. I won’t mention many specific words, because you can simply look those up in a dictionary yourself, but I will highlight some of the things I had difficulty with, as you may well be confused by them too. But this is by no means the final, definitive word on the lyrics in English, and I very much welcome and will appreciate any corrections:

바람이 들려준 이야기엔, 내 마음 설레였고

구름에 실려온 내일로, 그 목소리 향해

거울에 흔들리는 달에 비친, 내 마음 함께 떨리고

별들은 흐르는 눈물속에, 고이 다 흘러버렸어

The confusion starts almost immediately, for “엔” in line 1 is not simply a shortened form of “에” plus “는”, with the latter indicating that the “이야기” is the subject here. Rather, my wife says that the “는” is just added for emphasis, although she can’t say why.

( Source )

Next, although in hindsight the “내일” in line 2 is obviously “tomorrow”, that wasn’t so clear when I first started translating and didn’t know what the song was about; hence I wondered if it could be “내” plus “일”, or “my” plus “work/task”, but then there would need to be a space between the “내” and the “일”!

Also, the “오다” in “실려온” is not always simply “실리다” plus “coming” like I thought 3 years ago; rather, although it’s difficult to summarize the grammar point here, “오다” or “가다 ” added to a verb are not always simply “coming” and “going” in space respectively, but can also be in time too. Korean Grammar for International Learners, p. 340, describes them as meaning “continuous performance of an action over time as one comes towards the ‘present and continuous’ performance of an action over time into the future (away from the present) respectively”.

Finally, although I personally find it quite easy now, I should also mention the “버리다” attached to “흐르다” in the last line: if you look in your dictionary, it means “throw away” or “ruin”, but when added to a verb it can mean 1) the action of the verb has been completed with little or no room to spare, 2) the verb produced a state contrary to what was hoped for or expected, or 3) that the speaker feels relief that something has ended.  So:

My heart was throbbing to a story told to me by the wind, and

which was carried by a cloud towards the voice of tomorrow.

My heart trembled to the moon shining in a mirror,

and it all softly melted with the stars’ flowing tears

( Source )

Unfortunately, that is very different to what I wrote 3 years ago, and it may also be very different to what you yourself came up with too: there’s so much metaphor here, that my wife and I despaired with pinning words down to anything specific in English, particularly with line 2. And on that note, if you’d like a more poetic and/or readable alternative for all the lyrics (sniff), then consider these ones and in the details to this video for instance, but note that both are based on the Japanese rather than the Korean version. Moving on:

얼마나 좋을까, 둘이서 손을 잡고 갈 수 있다면

가보고 싶어, 당신이 있는 곳 당신의 품 속

거기 안겨, 몸을 맡기고, 어둠에 감싸여

꿈을 꾸네

This verse, or the chorus rather, was much easier. If we just focus on the problematic words first, of course the “둘” in line 1 means “two”, but the “이서” added to it basically renders it “[us] two, together”, or “you and I”. Then in line 2, “곳” or “spot, place” should not be confused with “것”, or “thing”, and just after that the “품” means chest, or bosom. Not that that last can’t also simply be looked up in a dictionary of course, but then I’ve never personally heard of that meaning of “품” outside of this song.

The grammar is also very easy, although I’ll quickly mention it for learners: first, the “ㄹ/을까” in line 1 is added when asking for someone opinion, or just reaffirming yours (making it analogous to the “eh” of Australian, NZ, and Canadian English”). Then, the “다” added to the “면”, or “if”, is only for definite hypothetical situations, as opposed to “If you grab the beer, I’ll grab the chips” for instance. Finally there’s the “네” in line 4, which denotes mild surprise, but then you’ve probably already had many Koreans replyingg “와…한국말 잘 하시네요” when you’ve spoken to them in Korean!

Imagine how wonderful it would be, if we could grab each other’s hands and leave

I’d try to go, into the place that you are in your heart

Hugged by you, I’d entrust my body (soul?) to you and

Wrapped in the darkness…I’m dreaming!

( Sources: left, right )


The next verse was also quite easy. Admittedly I’m confused by which tenses apply to what, but otherwise probably the only things of note are the “지” in line 1, which usually means “right?” as in a tag question, but like in English can just be part of a simple statement (like “좋을까” earlier); and the “지다” in “흩다” in line 2, which basically means “make into the state of the preceding verb or adjective”. In this case “흩다” means “spread” or “scatter”, so “be scattered”:

바람은 멈추고 목소리는, 아득하게 속삭이겠지

구름이 흩어져 내일은, 아득한 환상일 뿐

달빛이 스미는 거울 속, 내 마음은 흐르고 별들이 떨리다, 멈춰

흐를 때 눈물은 감출 수 없어

Which gives in English:

The wind has stopped, and my voice with become just a whisper

The clouds will scatter and tomorrow will become only a vague, distant fantasy

Moonlight will soak the mirror in which my heart flows and the stars tremble and stop

I can’t hide my tears when they flow

Finally the chorus again, with only a little changed:

얼마나 좋을까, 둘이서 손을 잡고 갈 수 있다면

가보고 싶어, 당신이 있는 곳 당신의 품 속

그대 얼굴, 살며시 스치고,

내일로 사라지는, 꿈을 꿨어

In line 3, don’t confuse “그대”, which means “you” or the other party involved, with “그때”, or “then”. Giving in English:

Imagine how wonderful it would be, if we could grab each other’s hands and leave

I’d try to go, into the place that you are in your heart


I gently touch and brush past your face, and

I dreamt a dream that is disappearing towards tomorrow

( Source )

And there you go! I hope you enjoyed the song and/or I helped you to understand it a little, and there’s certainly many more gems out there in Korean music if you’re prepared to look. Probably I’ll provide much less of an explanation for more recent songs though, as I’d rather focus on the content of the songs rather than on the Korean per se, but we’ll see!