Syndrome (신드롬) by ChoColat (쇼콜라): Lyrics, Translation, and Explanation / Reading The Lolita Effect in South Korea, Part 4


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

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

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

(Source, all Syndrome screenshots)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh yeah~

그 얼굴 닳아질라 널 자꾸 보게 돼 baby baby

너 귀가 따가울라 여기저기서 니 얘기뿐야

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

Boo 떠오른 new icon uh huh

Oh yeah~

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

Your ears are burning, everyone is talking about only you

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

Boo a rising icon uh huh

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

Next, there’s the chorus:

빠 빠 빠 빠 빠져 버린 걸 헤 헤 헤 헤 헤어날 수 없게

너땜에 앓고 있잖아 모두 다 la la la la like me

폐 폐 폐 폐 폐인이 된걸 너 너 너 너에게 중독돼

이순간 Shake me up Fill me up Heal me again

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

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

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

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

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

어떡해 미쳤나봐 낮이나 밤이나 니 생각뿐야

Woo 그 ment, motion 모든 게 issue 폭풍눈물 tissue

Boo 빛나는 new idol uh huh

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

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

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

Boo, shiny new idol, uh huh


너땜에앓고있잖아모두다 la la la la like me


이순간 Shake me up Fill me up Heal me again

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

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

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

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

내가 어쩌다 이렇게 됐나 몰라 몰라 몰라 몰라


내맘을알아줘 baby 맘을알아줘 baby You never break break my heart

날잊지말아줘 baby 잊지말아줘 baby la la la la like me

내맘을알아줘 baby 맘을알아줘 baby You never break break my heart

이순간 Shake me up Fill me up Heal me again

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

To me, you’re like an unreachable star

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

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

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

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

빠 빠 빠 빠 빠져 버린 걸 헤 헤 헤 헤 헤어날 수 없게

너땜에 앓고 있잖아 모두 다 la la la la like me

폐 폐 폐 폐 폐인이 된걸 너 너 너 너에게 중독돼

이순간 Shake me up Fill me up Heal me again

Never break break my hearta

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

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

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

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

Never break break my hearta

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

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

The “Reading the Lolita Effect in South Korea” series:

Korean Gender Reader


1) The difference between “sexuality” and “sexualization”

Angry K-pop Fan and I both love a recent post at Sociological Images for so succinctly explaining that:

I’m no prude.  I think that children are – and have a right to be – sexual beings.  However, there is a difference between sexuality (feeling sexual) and sexualization (being seen as sexy). I (and many other like-minded feminists) believe that girls should be sexual; but, sexualization (and its concomitant focus on appearance instead of desire) is bad because it denies girls’ sexual subjectivity in favor of sexual objectification.

2) International AIDS conference in Busan this weekend

See Busan Haps or the conference website for more details. Unfortunately though, it’s not really aimed at the public (it’s much too late to register, and was prohibitively expensive anyway).

Meanwhile, to any foreign readers that may be under the understandable but false impression that the Korean public doesn’t believe that AIDS exists here, let me point you to this eye-opening experience I had about that back in 2005 (scroll down to just before the “Lesbos” picture).

3) More babies!

– Congratulations to Roboseyo and Wifeoseyo, who are having a Miniseyo in October.

– Congratulations again to Shotgun Korea, who had Desmond William Wolfie Kim on August 18.

– And finally belated congratulations to Going Places, having a baby in November.

Dragon Korea, having a boy next March February (see last week’s post), ponders how to give a kid solid White-Western and Korean identities. And her husband designer diaper bags!

– Over at Busan Haps, Roy Early ponders how to keep strangers from constantly touching his children. I can’t say that I’ve had that problem myself, but we are both tired of our children constantly being given candy, which non-parents may be amazed to learn just how many Koreans seem to always have on their person.

(Source. It is just me, or does A-ran’s {아란} face on the far left seem very badly photoshopped?)

4) Please objectify us! Pleeease……

Hey, I’ve always maintained that it’s largely the current glut of girl-groups that is driving their increasing sexualization. So, to play Devil’s Advocate, Swing Girls (스윙걸즈) differentiating themselves on the basis of all members having D-cup breasts(!) are really just being explicit about something that other girl-groups have already been doing for years.

And boy-bands too of course. Two weeks ago for instance, Lee Joon (이준) of MBLAQ (엠블랙) helpfully reminded us of what’s really needed for a guy to succeed in K-pop these days:


Update: Angry K-pop Fan provides a more comprehensive analysis of the Swing Girl’s branding plans here.

5) Does Jung Ryo-won (정려원) have anorexia, or are netizens overreacting?

I’d be one of those netizens I guess, mentioning those anorexia speculations back in March and May 2009 (see #3 here), and adding that I wasn’t personally convinced by her explanation that she lost the weight for a movie role. While I do sympathize with her frustration with netizens though, I’m afraid that 2 years later I’m similarly unconvinced by her new explanation that she’s one of those voracious eaters that never seems to put on weight, especially as I used to be one myself (albeit 20 years ago!).

6) Singles eclipse nuclear families in Seoul

It’s a slightly inaccurate headline – two parents and any number of children constitutes a nuclear family, not just two – but it’s certainly true that more and more people are living alone: 24.4% in Seoul according to the JoongAng Daily, and 23.9% nationally according to Real Time Korea. These are only slightly below rates for Western developed countries, as this graph from 2006 indicates (I have more detailed statistics in my bookcase, but most are over a decade old sorry!).

See here for more background, and here for more on the industries that were already springing up to cater to the increasing numbers of singles way back in 2009. (The latter also happened to have that handy graph on the right)

7) Korean students with make-up

Under fear of being sued by parents, at least one teacher is no longer enforcing school rules that require them to wash it off (via: Yahae!)

For some context, see here.

8) Taiwanese woman sexually assaulted in Hahoe Folk Village

See the details at Asian Correspondent here. Also in Taiwan-related news, Gender Across Borders reports that a mass same-sex wedding is planned there later this month.


9) Korea not ready for a group like Chocolat (쇼콜라)?

An interesting angle on them from Gord Sellar:

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

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

See here for the full post, and here (and possibly here) for my own on the issues Gord alludes to with that last sentence. Also, Angry K-pop Fan makes some interesting comparisons between Chocolat and pan-Asian band Blush.

10) 16 year-old Suzy (수지) of Miss A (미쓰에이) endorses French Lolita Lempicka perfume


A friend of mine, a close watcher of K-pop, believes that manager JYP has tended to make Suzy wear more conservative costumes and do slightly less risque dances than her adult co-members of Miss A, nor made her the focus of the group, all quite unlike what he did for So-hee of the Wondergirls when she was a minor (a practice replicated by other entertainment companies, such as: SM Entertainment with Sulli of f(x); Cube Entertainment with HyunA of 4Minute; and indeed Paramount Music of {at least} Tia of Chocolat in #8 above). With this loaded endorsement however, that may all be about to change, as indeed a similar one (“Lolita Sexy”) early last year arguably symbolized a great deal about his past and future marketing of the Wondergirls.


Korean Gender Reader


소녀시대야! 900칼로리만 먹고, 이것 할 수있겠니? ㅋㅋㅋ

1) Miss A members scoff at other girl-groups’ starvation diets, and reveal that they eat healthily and normally.

For why this is such wonderful news, see here. I hereby appoint them as honorary ambassadors for this blog!

2) Three reports of sex crimes at Korean schools.

3) Can a Feminist diet?

4) More Korean married couples living with the wife’s parents

5) Korean women: please, for goodness’ sake, develop a personality! And men: get more comfortable with yourselves!

Complete generalizations of course, as the author happily admits, but still: I really appreciated this post in a “from the mouths of babes newbies” sense (no offense).

How accurate do you think her descriptions of Korean dating couples are?

6) Piggy Dolls “piggy” no more?

Turns out, their weight loss was for a diet advertisement (see #10 here for some background).

7) Same sex couple-tees?

We’ve all seen couple-tees of course, perhaps even worn them. But clothes designed to be worn by you and your friend?


8) Ministry of Gender Equality and Family Affairs urges teenagers not to use binge drinking as a study method.

After all, Korean teenagers are notorious for their alcohol problems, yes? Or was this supposed fad, of drinking baek-il ju (백일주) from 100 days (baek-il) before the university entrance exams, actually only highlighted by the Ministry in order to raise its profile and help justify its continued existence?

Not that I think the Ministry should be abolished by any means (despite its anti-abortion stance). But then it is notorious for some simply bizarre initiatives, and especially arbitrary, completely ineffective censorship in the name of protecting Korean youth. Neither of which I can see anything but corporatist reasons for.

9) Public protest scuppers plans for nudist forest.

Naturally however, the Korean media is still widely describing it as a nudist forest anyway.

Compare this similarly cancelled planned nudist beach on Jeju Island two years ago, which had been intended only to be open to non-Koreans.

10) New girl-group Chocolat set to debut on August 17. Has 3 bi-racial members (and 2 Koreans).

For which it’s been receiving a lot of attention, although it’s not the first to have bi-racial members (all 3 have American fathers and Korean mothers btw). Probably even more noteworthy and ominous though, is the fact that 2 members of the group are only 14 (the others are 17, 18, and {I think} 19).

See the following video for them introducing themselves. Note that the title says “Korean”, but it’s actually all in English:

Update: Ashley at SeoulBeats discusses them more here.