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!

Like the First Time (처음처럼) by T-ara (티아라): Lyrics, Translation, & Explanation

With lyrics designed to stoke any guy’s ego, and a music video full of eye-candy to boot, Like the First Time (처음처럼) by T-ara (티아라) is a very embarrassing song for a pro-feminist blogger to admit to liking.

Let alone have as his ringtone.

One of the handful of songs that got me addicted to K-pop though, then I’m guess I’m stuck with this peccadillo of mine. But in fairness, I wouldn’t have had it on my old, audio-only iPod for the past year if that’s all it could be be reduced to.

And in hindsight, is it really all that different to, say, You Look So Fine (1999) by Garbage, who to the best of my recollection have never been described as projecting an image of weakness and passivity?

Either way, here’s the remix by DJ Areia that originally got me hooked (downloadable here):

And here’s the original, which for a change I like almost as much:

And here goes with the translation:

왜 자꾸 두근두근대죠 이 내 가슴이

왜 자꾸만 터 터질것 같죠 왜 자꾸만

왜 자꾸 숨이 가빠오죠 미칠것같이

왜 자꾸만 수 숨이 막히죠 왜 자꾸만

첫 사랑도 아닌데 순진한 건 아닌데

그댄 자꾸만 또 자꾸만 또 느끼게 해줘요

Why does my heart throb so often? Why does my chest

often feel like it’s going to burst? Why do I often keep

running out of breath? It’s like I will go crazy

Why do I often feel like I’m suffocating? Why so often?

This is not the first time I’ve fallen in love, I’m not innocent

You often again and again make me feel this way

Nothing too difficult here. First, as we’ve seen in just about every other song translation, again “만” doesn’t mean “only” but is just added for emphasis. Next, “죠”, short for “지요” is an ending meaning “right” that turns the sentence into a tag question, but I haven’t put it like that in the text because just like in English, tag questions often aren’t real questions, and clearly aren’t here (again, they just seem to be for emphasis). Finally, there’s the construction “~ㄹ 것 같다” which is used twice, and literally means ” [future tense]-thing-same [as]”, or effectively “it seems like/looks like/appears that … will do/be”; hence “Why does my chest often feel like it’s going to burst?” and “It’s like I will go crazy”, although admittedly the latter doesn’t sound that great in English.

One thing of great interest to me personally though, because it sort of came up in another translation, is the “오다” added to “가쁘다” in 3, with a tag question at the end added on top of that giving “가빠오죠”. Now “가쁘다” means “gasping [panting] for breath; difficulty in breathing”, but what does the “오다” (“come”) added to that do to it? Well, this is what I originally learned, from page 16 of the grammar and vocabulary guidebook that comes with 5A of the Sogang Korean series:

If you’d rather have an English explanation though, then this is what my trusty Korean Grammar for International Learners (KGIL) says on page 340:

When [“오다” & “가다” are] expressed as auxiliary verbs, they signify that an action is carried out continuously and repeatedly over a period of time. In keeping with the original meaning of these verbs, the patterns [above] mean “continuous performance of an action over time in the past as one comes toward the ‘present and continuous’ performance of an action over time into the future (away from the present)” respectively.

Quite a mouthful unfortunately, which I think it could be better edited (I’m sure an “and” is missing in it), and I think the above diagram is a must to make any sense of it! But hopefully, now you can see why I chose “Why do I often keep running out of breath?” for “왜 자꾸 숨이 가빠오죠” at least, rather than “Why do I often run of breath?”. Granted, they effectively mean the same thing, and “Why do I keep running out of breath” would sound better in English (like in the translation in the video). But with the “자꾸” is  still in the Korean unfortunately, then I’ll allow it to awkwardly remain in the English too (and same logic goes for line 6).

그댄 나를 기쁘게 해요 그댄 나를 느끼게 해요

처 처음처럼 처 처음처럼 처 처음처럼

그댄 나를 미치게 해요 자꾸자꾸 원하게 해요

처 처음처럼 처 처음처럼 처 처음처럼

처 처음처럼처럼처럼 처럼처럼처럼처럼

처 처음처럼처럼처럼 처럼처럼처럼처럼

처 처음처럼처럼 처처처처럼처럼

처럼처럼처럼처럼 처처처처처음처럼

You make me feel happy You make me feel you

Like the first time Like the first time Like the first time

You make me feel crazy I want you again and again

Like the first time, like the first time…(etc)

Easy as, but it’s just impossible for me to do a literal translation and keep a straight face sorry: for instance the first line would be “As for you – me – joyfully – do” then “As for you – me – feelingly – do”…gotta love the way Korean uses adverbs. More seriously though, I don’t think “기쁘다” should ever be translated as “joyfully” in English (the first entry in Korean dictionaries, but used by precisely zero native speakers), and it’s a red flag for me for any translator that does.

After that, I think “again and again” is more appropriate than the literal Korean “often often”.

왜 자꾸 열이 나는 거죠 온몸이 자꾸

왜 자꾸만 다 달아오르죠 왜 자꾸만

왜 자꾸 아찔아찔 하죠 정신이 없어

왜 자꾸만 주 죽을것 같죠 왜 자꾸만

사랑 사랑 지금껏 말로만 했던건지

그댈 만나고 난 느껴요 난 진짜 사랑이 뭔지

Why do I often get this fever, Why does my whole body

often burn, Why do I often

get so dizzy and lightheaded, It’s crazy

Why is it often like I’m going to die, Why did I often

love through only words before now

After meeting you I feel it, I [know] what real love is

Again easy, but it’s difficult to know where one clause and/or sentence begins and the other ends, although of course the resulting numerous translations would all pretty much amount to the same thing.

Just 3 things of note. First, that although “정신이 없어” on line 3 is literally “without a mind”, “mindless”, or “absent-minded”, and that it’s especially tempting to translate it in that vein given the context of the “왜 자꾸 아찔아찔 하죠” before it (“Why do I often get so dizzy and lightheaded”), in reality it’s most often said to express one’s annoyance at some crazy and/or untenable situation. Like me trying to write this post with two toddlers literally climbing all over me and the desk demanding to listen to KARA for instance, or both of them bawling their eyes out when I tell them 5 times every other night is quite enough.

Next, the “주” in “왜 자꾸만 주 죽을것 같죠” on line 3 (“Why is it often like I’m going to die”) is just to emphasize to the “death” part (“죽다”).

Finally, in line 6 the “건지” in “했던건지” had me stumped for a little while. The “던”, of course, refers to “recollection of a state in the past, or of a repeated, habitual, or uncompleted action in the past”, and the “~았/었/였” form before that “gives clearer expression to the notion of ‘completeness’ and also expresses experience” (KGIL, pp. 318-19), but “건지”? Then I realized it was short for “것인지”, or literally “thing-is-yes?”, another way of saying “I guess”.

그댄 나를 기쁘게 해요 그댄 나를 느끼게 해요

처 처음처럼 처 처음처럼 처 처음처럼

그댄 나를 미치게 해요 자꾸자꾸 원하게 해요

처 처음처럼 처 처음처럼 처 처음처럼

처 처음처럼처럼처럼 처럼처럼처럼처럼

처 처음처럼처럼처럼 처럼처럼처럼처럼

처 처음처럼처럼 처처처처럼처럼

You make me feel happy You make me feel you

Like the first time Like the first time Like the first time

You make me feel crazy I want you again and again

Like the first time, like the first time…(etc)

No explanation: that’s the chorus again!


리무진에 champagne bling bling jewelry chain

나를 원해 목이 메인 그런 남자 oh no

항상 발길에 채이는 그런 남잔 just pain

Don’t wanna play this game 꺼져버려 이젠

Now I wanna pump up my gain this is about a man

You know you’re the only man 넌 나를 너무 잘 알기에

나를 기쁘게 기쁘게 기쁘게 해줘

나를 느끼게 느끼게 느끼게 해줘

Limousine champagne bling bling jewelry chain

I don’t want a man who wants me so badly he chokes oh no

I don’t want a man who always gets pushed around by a woman just pain

Don’t wanna play this game Get lost now

Now I wanna pump up my gain this is about a man

Now I wanna pump up my gain this is about a man Since you know me so well

You make me happy happy happy

You make me happy happy happy


Finishing the translation of this song late last night, and composing an introduction to (hopefully) pique your interest as I fell asleep, then that was the first thing I wrote this morning. In hindsight though, it’s a little frivolous for how provocative this verse is.

In particular, lines 2 & 3. But as they were also the hardest parts of the song to translate, then I’ll keep the introduction as it is for now just in case I’ve misinterpreted them.

The difficulty was because at first, little things meant that they were quite different to what you’d expect given the rest of the song. For instance, there’s a phrase “사랑에 목을 메다”  which means you’re very in love with someone, so much so that you’re sort of hanging around their neck all the time. But then in line 2 it’s not actually  “목이” but “목을”, and “목을 메다” means “choke”.

With that in mind, then “나를 원해 목이 메인 그런 남자” literally gives “me-want-choke-kind of-man”, which was very very easy to interpret as “a man that wants to choke me”. But to put it mildly, that raised alarm bells. Instead, there’s really 2 clauses here “나를 원해” and “목이 메인 그런 남자”, giving “me-want”  and “choke-kind of-man”, and cobbling those together I came up with “I don’t want a man who wants me so badly he chokes”.

That seemed out of place, but it made sense in the context of line 3, “항상 발길에 채이는 그런 남잔” literally being “always-a kick-get kicked-kind-of-man”, but which I interpreted as “always-gets kicked [pushed around]-kind of-man”, and presumably by his female partner. The English “just pain” cobbled on the end of that though, is probably just virtually random English, and too much shouldn’t be read into it.

Taken all together then, then there’s a huge double standard: the female protagonist is free to feel powerless in wake of her desire for her man, but a man that feels the same way about her, and is prepared to spend a lot of money on and get pushed around by her to win her heart? That’s unacceptable.

Which is fine I suppose. But why I say the verse is provocative though, is that given the context of the woman’s weakness and passivity in the song as a whole, then I’m left with the uneasy feeling that she at least wouldn’t mind if things were reversed. That she wants to be dominated by him.

What do you think? Is there something to that, or should I reconsider after having my second coffee?

Either way, that’s it, but for the chorus again:


그댄 나를 기쁘게 해요 그댄 나를 느끼게 해요

처 처음처럼 처 처음처럼 처 처음처럼

그댄 나를 미치게 해요 자꾸자꾸 원하게 해요

처 처음처럼 처 처음처럼 처 처음처럼

처 처음처럼처럼처럼 처럼처럼처럼처럼

처 처음처럼처럼처럼 처럼처럼처럼처럼

처 처음처럼처럼 처처처처럼처럼


You make me feel happy You make me feel you

Like the first time Like the first time Like the first time

You make me feel crazy I want you again and again

Like the first time, like the first time…(etc)

For more on T-ara and (indirectly) this song and the surreal ads above, see here and here. Meanwhile, for those of you that like your K-pop gossip, netizens are very concerned about Hyo-min’s (효민) recent excessive weightloss, the main character in the music video.

Next song to be translated: Oh! (오!) by Girls’ Generation (소녀시대), with a very similar narrative to this one.


Korean Sociological Image #37: Like a Virgin?

As they say, first impressions are everything. And so, with apologies to those of you unwise enough to read this blog at work, let me share mine of girl group T-ara (티아라) from their music video of Like the First Time (처음처럼) before proceeding: namely, that they were confident, sexy women, not at all embarrassed to perform risqué dance moves like the above in front of large audiences.

However, it was difficult to square that impression with their shyness in the following brief interview for Entertainment Tonight (연예가 중계) last month, conducted while making (rather bizarre) commercials for a mobile phone, and I would interested in hearing your thoughts on possible reasons for the differences, and how representative the interview is as whole of the way 20-something women especially are portrayed in Korean entertainment programs.

The most important point first: from roughly 1:00 t0 1:30, the interview focuses on group leader Ham Eun-jeong (함은정) feeling embarrassed about repeatedly hugging actor Yoon Si-yoon (윤시윤) for their commercial, despite having just met in the studio. In particular, at 1:10 below she says “어떡해”, or “How” as in “How can I do this?” while making an exaggerated expression of embarrassment, about which the reporter comments “굉장히 부끄러워하죠?”, or “She’s very shy, yes?”. Note also the addition of “근심” and “걱정” on the screen too for added context and atmosphere, (a habit of entertainment programs picked up from Japan), although rather confusedly they both mean anxiety, or worry.

Then at 1:25, she’s asked how she feels from hugging Si-yoon for so long, to which she replies “솔직히말해도…떨려요!”, or “To be honest…I’m shaking/trembling!”.

Natural feelings? Of course. But then recall her music video, in which she – not to put too fine a point on it – repeatedly bends over and thrusts out her bottom, jiggles her breasts, and runs her hands over her breasts and crotch while singing about how her body was on fire. Indeed, even the interviewer herself later (3:08) highlights the complete contrast:

Moreover, while I’ve never personally strutted my stuff on stage like Eun-jeong, I am actually quite comfortable – nay, somewhat notorious for – acting in front of large groups of adult students (I’m tempted to mention faking an orgasm in class once in my first year of teaching, but I’d better not), and doubt that I’d be embarrassed repeatedly hugging an attractive woman in front of others. Yes, I would be if I ended up having a large visible erection as a result, but that’s besides the point: if Eun-jeong was embarrassed, it wasn’t because she was visibly turned on.

And I stress “if”: my wife, for instance, also watched the interview, and at first told me her embarrassment was perfectly natural, but then readily conceded it was rather strange in light of her performances in music videos and on stage. Which leads me to my first question: do you think Eun-jeong was genuinely embarrassed?

One commentator at Omona! They Didn’t did at least:

…Eunjung lost her composure while filming a hugging scene with Yoon Si Yoon….It’s funny how Eunjung was so flustered and shy around a guy because she exudes such a powerful and charismatic presence on stage. I guess we are all prone to weakness in front of the opposite sex.

And I do remain open to the possibility. However, I’d argue that either subconsciously or deliberately, she’s much more likely to be playing to expectations and norms of the Korean media that she present herself as cute and innocent, regardless of her true personality; well illustrated, I think, by this 2007 commercial with Kim Tae-hee (김태희):

As PopSeoul! explains:

She acts all sugar and spice in wide-eyed innocence as she sips her drink carefully, but as soon as her date turns away, she lets loose her inner diva to strike a pose for the camera. Her date discovers the saved pictures on his Olympus and accuses her of being “nae-soong”.

Nae-soong (내숭) being the:

…inconsistency between a girl’s true personality (i.e. extroverted), and external (i.e. introverted, shy and innocent) personality. In other words, trying to hide your true intentions self by acting sweet and innocent.

And indeed the interview is full of demonstrations of how sweet and innocent they are. For instance, at 1:47 Park Ji-yeon (박지연) is embarrassed to learn that she is Si-yoon’s favorite of all the T-ara members (although you may be surprised to learn that she’s only 16, and hence her embarrassment arguably the most likely to be genuine):

And at 3:17, Eun-jeong feigns (I don’t think anyone would dispute this!) being upset at the other group members selecting her as looking the most different (read: uglier) before putting on make-up:

One music video and and one interview are by no means sufficient to get an idea of their true personalities however (to the extent that one sees any celebrities’ true personalities in front of a camera at all that is), and so I also briefly looked at some episodes of T-ara Dot Com (티아라닷컴), a quasi-reality show about them setting up an internet clothes shopping mall of that name. Here’s a brief segment of one episode, with English subtitles:

And in which their behavior is no different to that in the interview. Hence, while I do still feel that Eun-jeong’s embarrassment at hugging Si-yoon at least was completely feigned, I concede that T-ara’s cutesy behavior overall probably wasn’t an act, and not unrepresentative of Koreans their age either (for reasons explained here).

If that behavior is still a definite expectation or norm of Korean entertainment programs however, depends on such factors as how other women are portrayed in them; if there’s a large difference between men and women; and to what extent such programs offer opportunities for entertainers to present alternate, more serious sides of themselves if they wish to do so.

Unfortunately, I can’t personally say: even when I first arrived in Korea at the tender age of 24, I soon chose never to watch these sorts of programs because I had better things to do than seeing grown men and women acting like children on them. Now, at 34, I’m more concerned about the influence they will have on my own daughters, and to be frank would consider myself a failure as a father if they grew up to behave like members of T-ara do when they reach the same age.

However, in contrast to when I was 24, in fact there’s also some things I like about the Korean media which are on display in the interview, and which I’ll devote the remainder of the post to.

First, in a meta-sense, the practice of providing subtitles and/or commentary on them is simply great for studying Korean, especially considering the huge gap in real-life learning material for Korean learners, let alone intermediate level material. And if dramas aren’t your thing, then studying a 10 minute segment of an episode of T-ara Dot Com everyday is probably quite a tolerable alternative:

More to the point of this post however, there is the very human side of stars presented, a stark contrast to the pedestals Western medias tend to place their own celebrities on. For instance, not only does the interviewer ask at 3:39, which member of T-ara farts the most:

But at 3:49, we even get to watch the evidence:

And, lest he feel left out, Si-yoon is asked if he also farts, to which he replies at 3:57 that yes, he enjoys it:

Compared to that, watching him pick his nose and examine the contents at 2:30 was nothing. And hey, a guy’s got to do what a guy’s got to do, but in any other country I’d be surprised his agent didn’t want that cut out:

But not that showing that celebrities fart and pick their noses like the rest of us mere mortals are the only positives of course. I also love how the interview highlights Ji-yeon stuffing her face with strawberries at 2:57 for instance, and particularly from a basket that looks like it was bought from the back of a food truck, to be found in literally every Korean neighborhood at almost any time of day (for instance, selling salt at 5:30 in the morning). You see, something that looks like it could have been bought in my wife’s home village in 1970 is somewhat incongruous on the set of a commercial for probably one of the most technologically sophisticated products on the planet, and reminds me that constantly seeing such juxtapositions is one reason I love living here:

Finally, there’s the standard happy, bubbly ending of such shows, usually accompanied by cries of Hwaiting! (화이팅); if you’re not smiling yourself at least a little when you see one on TV, that’s probably because you’re being carried out of the room on a stretcher with blanket over your head:

To recap, I would love to hear: your own opinions on how genuine Eun-jeong’s embarrassment was; how representative of young women’s behavior on entertainment shows T-ara’s was; and whether they were simply being themselves or if they were fulfilling expectations and norms of how 20-something women should act on them (I realize that the last is a bit of a false dichotomy though, and should be considered more as a feedback loop). Are there any Korean entertainment shows where women don’t have to be cute? And how about 20-something men, or older women?

Alternatively, do you have any more pet peeves about Korean shows not covered here, or reasons that you really like them?

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


Everybody Bubi!

( Source: KBites )

While “Bubi Bubi” (부비부비) doesn’t quite mean what it sounds like in English, these will still probably be the most surreal advertisements you’ll see in your entire life:

Featuring girl-group T-ara (티아라), whom I talked about recently here, and actor Yoon Shi-yoon (윤시윤), 2 of the advertisements at least seem to show that bubibubihada (부비부비하다) means to touch, or rub 2 things against each other. Curiously however, that’s proving quite difficult to confirm, as even though it appears to be rather old, with references here and here in The Marmot’s Hole going back to early-2008, and a query at Naver on the meaning from late-2006, there’s still no mention of the term in print or online dictionaries.

From a reading of the former though, and K-pop blogs today, “grind” appears to be a much better translation, and indeed there’s even a 2008(?) Banana Girl (바나나걸) song called Bubi Bubi on that theme:

But then “Grind Grind” is a rather crude and unlikely name for a phone, and especially for one that KTF itself claims is aimed at teenagers. Hence the most likely explanation is that KTF is exploiting a double-entendre, and which Korean advertisers as a whole have a surprising proclivity for, especially sexual ones. But it would be appreciated if anyone more familiar with the term could confirm that; alas, married in 2004, and with two children after that, then it’s been a while since I’ve done any grinding in Korean nightclubs myself, and am unlikely to begin again soon!


Open Thread #7: Candy to my Ears

(Source: Nbbang)

Sorry, but it had to happen eventually: I’ve fallen in love with K-pop.

Well, with 3 more remixes from Greek trance DJ Areia to be precise. With apologies for dispensing with my normal analysis of the songs on this occasion, but I can’t remember the last time that I liked new music so much that I’ve lost sleep listening to it over the next few days.

Seriously, this music makes me feel like a smitten teenager, and hopefully it will some of you too.

The first track is My Ear’s Candy by Baek Ji-young, from her mini-album EGO that came out in August last year (the MV also features Ok Taec-yeon of 2PM). Curious about her music after recently writing about her soju ad, this is the gateway video got me hooked:

But not so much because of the cinematography and costumes, although I confess I have always loved that look with the white wig. More because Baek Ji-young looks like she’s genuinely enjoying herself, which makes a refreshing change from the forced smiles of Girls’ Generation in Oh! for instance, or alternatively the seeming disdain for the viewer that U.S./Barbadian singer Rihanna displays in Shut Up and Drive that SM Entertainment has been accused of plagiarizing.

Granted, Rihanna’s persona is appropriate for the title of the song, and I’m not so naive as to not be aware that Baek Ji-young’s may be just as carefully choreographed for this one also. But still, she does look like someone great to go clubbing with ;)

As for the remix, arguably it is very similar to the original (as is the next song too), so you may well be wondering what the point is. But there are differences, and which, as all trance aficionados are well aware, unfortunately you’re likely to be completely missing if you’re listening via your tinny computer speakers. Please try headphones instead, and you may be pleasantly surprised!

Next is Like the First Time,  by T-ara (say “tiara”). Put off by their simply atrocious Bo Peep Bo Peep (보핍보핍) last year though, and which even Areia’s remix could not save, then I’d never have suspected that this one would become my new favorite:

As happens to many viewers of K-pop these days, you might be very surprised to learn that one member of the group, Park Ji-yeon, is still only 16 (as is one girl in the next video too, but she looks her age). But that’s a long discussion I already had earlier this month; instead, consider this assessment of the of the the dancing and clothing in the video by Areia himself, as it partially inspired the topic of one of next week’s posts, and I’m very curious to hear your own opinions of it before I start writing:

The girls are supercute throughout the video and I find them very sexy at the scenes with the black dresses. The way they slowly move to the melody just kills my heartbeat every single time. To the untrained western eyes the video might just seem a bit cute or even silly. “It’s just some girls with short black dresses trying to look good, so what?” my overexposed-to-western-sexiness friends back home would say. But there is a huge difference here and this difference is very representative of the gap between the eastern and western stereotypes. It’s not okay to express too directly in Korea and that leaves you with only one acceptable weapon to tease your target: charm. And this is exactly what these girls are doing with their moves in this video – I’m not referring to the cute scenes. Whoever did the choreography and the dresses knew very well what they were doing. And the girls of course have done an excellent job at being charming. When I watch some sexy western video clip (let’s say Buttons from Pussycat Dolls) it hits my eyes. But this charm here hits me straight in my heart – I feel like wanting to hug the girls not…. Perhaps that’s the reason I’m into Asian pop in the first place.

Finally, here is Please Don’t Go by CL and Minzy (the 16 year-old) of 2NE1 (투애니원; say “to anyone” or, confusedly, “21”). No music video being made, then this one of a performance of theirs is unremarkable, but this remix at least is virtually unrecognizable from the original song, and in my opinion a vast improvement:

Update: For reasons explained here, unfortunately Areia had to delete that video, but the MP3 is still available for download.

Click on the titles of all the remixes for links to where you can download MP3s of them, and detailed explanations of what when into making them. I hope you’ve enjoyed them, but if not then thank you for bearing with me, and please remember that this is still *cough* an open thread, where you can raise anything on your mind.

Speaking of which, as of yesterday I am now officially in the job market again, and so would very much appreciate any readers help in getting jobs teaching adults in either Busan or Seoul, or of course anything not involving teaching at all. Unfortunately with having a family to support then I’ll need at least 3 million won a month before moving to Seoul especially, but hopefully that won’t prove too difficult?

Wish me luck!