Can beat Blackpink BTS
K-pop bands like BTS have created a hype about learning Korean
She could be right about that: In K-Pop, misinformation often spreads due to an incorrectly translated tweet. That can harm the idol's career. Quotations do not just have to be correct in the wording, the translators often have to explain aspects of Korean culture so that the statements can be understood globally. YouTubers Danny and David Kim have dedicated a whole series of videos called "Explained by a Korean" to this task. In the clips, they thoroughly deal with allusions and word games that international fans would otherwise not be aware of.
The phenomenon of fans learning languages through their favorite music is not limited to K-pop and Korean. Almost everyone who likes to listen to music with singing and who has a mother tongue other than English has probably already done so to a certain extent. I'm Brazilian, so my mother tongue is Portuguese, and I owe most of my English to the Californian punk bands I celebrated as a teenager. Back in my era of gruesome eyeliner, I spent hours looking up translations and watching subtitled documentaries. This dedication seemed natural to me: I liked these bands and their music, so I wanted to know more about them. So why should we wonder if western K-pop fans want to learn Korean?
"I think there is prejudice against K-pop fans for sexist reasons," says Yady, a 24-year-old fan of BTS and girl groups EXID and Twice. She lives in the USA, her mother tongue is Spanish. "I know that other foreign-language media in the USA also have their fan subcultures - international films, so-called world music. But these scenes are male-dominated." Yady says that since K-pop fans are often girls and young women, many would assume that they are not smart enough to do their research and understand their own fandom.
There is a tremendous variety of nationalities within the K-Pop fanatic. The fans know that, they are proud of it and help each other. Not only in understanding the texts, which often contain a few scraps of English - "oh my god", "baby, whussup", "get ya hands up" - but also when it comes to information about the idols' favorite styling products, or complex political issues.
But even among fans, it's not all peace, joy, pajeon (a Korean pancake). Non-Korean fans sometimes develop downright fetishes for the language or demand English-language songs from Korean bands. Yady sees ignorance rather than disrespect in such inquiries: "It's just satisfying when you hear your favorite voices in a language that you understand. The western entertainment industry probably also wants to force foreigners into assimilation." So one hopes for more accessibility for fans in their own country and thus more profit.
Music can completely break down language barriers. The pulsating beat on "내가 제일 잘 나가 (I Am the Best)" by 2NE1 exudes pure self-confidence. When Kim Taehyung aka V from BTS sings calmly and breathily to the restrained beat in "Singularity", everyone understands the melancholy in it, even if they can't speak a word of Korean. Packaged in a high-quality music video, these messages can penetrate all corners of the world without a language course.
"Even if there weren't any translations or subtitles, the music itself is a language," says Tássia, a 28-year-old K-Pop fan from Brazil. "You know if a song is sad or happy, even if it's an instrumental." With the facial expressions, the choreography and the scenes in the video, the message only becomes clearer. "Everything is language," says Tássia. "But not every language has words."
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