Innocent and not-so-innocent K-pop

I’ve been listening to a lot of K-pop recently… okay, I always listen to a lot of K-pop. How much you ask? Since I listen to the online radio station Seoul FM at work (the co-worker I share an office with has grown to like it too), during my transit and often when I write at night; I’d say I listen to 9-12 hours of K-pop Monday to Friday. It makes me happy and I like being happy 🙂 I also watch K-pop videos on YouTube occasionally (maybe an hour or so a week). So I’m pretty familiar with the music and to a lesser extent, the videos. K-pop videos tend to be slightly innocent and more cute than their Western counterparts. Or they’re like mini movies (which I love)! They tend not to be as focused on sex as their Western equivalents. This is slowly changing but it’s still basically true.

Which makes the occasional not-so-innocent lyrics in some K-pop songs stand out. None are vulgar of course, and many (but certainly not all) of the not-so-innocent lyrics are in English. The not-so-innocent lyrics that generally make me laugh/smile require a significant grasp of English to comprehend the meaning behind the words which makes it even more impressive. In other words, they tend to be slang expressions or words that bring to mind an image or thought. Without knowledge of the slang meanings though, the words themselves are harmless. Not only are they pushing the boundaries on what is proper but they are showing a very good command of English while doing so. One of my favourite examples is Move by Tae Yang (태양) featuring Teddy. I’m not sure who wrote the lyrics but I want to applaud them for the sexy imagery that the English lyrics that Teddy raps..

“And your body is my wonderland, I could play all night… I cock it and load it, call me Mr. Big Rocket… Niagara Falls, baby girl, I got you wetter than”

And while I never heard that Move was banned or slapped with a 19 rating in Korea, the same can’t be said about Rain’s Rainism. This song (and the album) came out just before I left Korea and it pushed the boundaries in both Korean and English. I have no problem with the lyrics but the censors in Korea did and it was deemed inappropriate for those under 19 (which would be the same as our Mature or R rating).  The key issue was the words “magic stick”, I’m sure you can guess the supposed meaning. Here are some of the more explicit lyrics from Rainism:

“See I’m about to change positions; Come and take my magic stick; Gonna take you for a ride; Guaranteed to make your body shake”

And while all of the lyrics I included are tame by Western standards… they do push the limits of what is acceptable and proper in Korea. Those are just two examples, there are more. In fact, there’s another song on my iPod Shuffle that I keep meaning to transcribe a portion of the lyrics from, but always forget. 

But it’s not just vague references to sex that can get K-pop songs or singers in trouble. They also need to be careful about mentioning drinking in the lyrics as that can get them censored as well. While I can vaguely understand wanting to protect children from sexual lyrics, protecting them from hearing lyrics about drinking seems odd given the drinking culture in Korea. But that’s another post!

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

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