***This is an older post about Monsta X all English album that I never completed to due the pandemic. I still feel like it’s relevant, especially with BTS’s “Dynamite” and Blackpink’s “Ice Cream” All English songs hitting the global market****
I started really thinking about the importance of Korean Pop artist and groups releasing all English songs or albums back in February 2020. It was prompted by Monsta X releasing a 10 track all English album called All About Luv . This album was mostly only promoted and released heavily in North American. Although other artist in the past have released English tracks, as far as I know, they are the first Kpop group to release an all English album. The songs for the most part are in true Monsta X territory. Classic pop melodies, mixed with a bit R&B, with songs talking about, well all things love, good or bad. Or in the case of Got My Number, maybe something more around the lines of lust. This would include 2 collabs featuring French Montana on the 2019 release of Who Do You Love and the new release, Beside You featuring Pitbull. Although I love just about every song on All About Luv, a few months later I do wonder if this all English album was even necessary.
It has been said time and time again that music is one of the strongest ways to bond and unify different cultures. If you know anything about the basics of music, music scales and music notes are the same all over the world regardless of language. As long as you can read sheet music, anyone from any country or continent can play the same song. Therefore music truly transcends language and culture. With lyrics, regardless of language, people want to be able to relate to what is being said and the feelings it’s trying to convey. What is more important is to be able to understand another culture and the type of music that reflects that culture and it’s history.
With Black American Rhythm and Blues or Spirituals, it tells a story of the diaspora living in a country with a lot of complicated history. With Indigenous music, from Native Americans, the Incas, or various tribes on the continent of Africa music is passed on from the generations that tell the story of tradition, struggles and history. Therefore I personally always find learning about a countries traditions and history an important aspect of understanding the music that derives from there. For me Korean Pop music is no different. A perfect example of this would be BTS’s Idol released in 2017. The cultural references not only in the song but also in the music video is indicative of the Korean culture they are proud to represent and sing about in so many of their songs. If you’re lucky, like I was, you’ll stumble upon an explain video like the one done by DKDKTV on their YouTube channel. https://youtu.be/IL7PEjk1pys
Can You Feel It
For me, good pop music is good pop music regardless of the language of origin. However, I have always been a fan of music from around the world and of different genres. As someone who has sang in groups and choirs from a young age I have had the opportunity to sing in various languages, everything from Spanish, French, German, Italian, even the South African dialect of Xhosa. One of the first things I learned, is the “feeling” and message of any song is the most important thing regardless of language. For the music to be felt by the listener and to find connection. That’s why we would spend time before hand learning what the song was about, the meaning and the message before even learning the language or the music.
Because of this understanding that I have of music is maybe why I fell in love with Korean Hip Hop and Pop from the beginning. The language never turned me off from it, as long as the song gave me some type of feeling. Whether that feeling was joy, happiness, excitement, sadness or evoked passion, it had me. If a song really caught my attention, I would stop whatever I was doing and look up the English translation just to see if what I was feeling was indeed the intended emotion of the song. One of the first songs I fell in love with was Exo’s Promise, a song written by members Lay, Chanyeol and Chen. I could feel the intense emotion without even knowing the meaning or lyrics. It is a song that was written right after a few members had left the group and they were at a crossroads. The song was written to communicate the gratefulness for supporting each other and the fandom, Exo-L’s, support of the group through their transition.
Another song that caught me in my feelings was BTS’s House of Cards. At this point I was trying to avoid BTS during my KPop journey in 2017/2018. I already knew who they were and their popularity in the US was growing rapidly. I wanted to listen to other groups before hoping on board the BTS train. While listening to a mixture of KPop songs on Spotify, House of Cards came on. I felt like a wave of emotion hit me. I just knew that there was deep meaning in this song. I played it on repeat before finally looking up the translation, which basically is a description of a toxic relationship of sorts. Again all in Korean, with a sprinkle of English mixed in throughout the verses. Having the song in all English would not have made a difference, because the sheer emotion and passion delivered in the song was enough. For me that is what music is all about.
Does All English Make Sense
As far as I know All About Love is the first all English album from a Korean Pop group. Over the years many Korean pop groups have either recorded existing Korean language songs all in English or a song in English just for the Western market. The first group that I can recall releasing an all English song in the Western market was Wonder Girls in 2009 with ‘Nobody” https://youtu.be/BA7fdSkp8ds. Most recently in 2018 NCT 127 recorded an all English version of Irregular called Regular, essentially the same song just in English. Again a year later they came out with an all English version of their song Highway to Heaven https://youtu.be/iFoqGyWhMws. However it was noted early on in the EP’s release that the English lyrics were a little bit racier than the original. Although the group says it’s song is about positivity the lyrics would suggest a little something more: “Baby you’re a bad girl, watch your mouth / Your body’s talking, say what you want / They know we got that chemistry, of how your body feels on me / When you get back, let me get that ”.
If you know anything or at least the basics of traditional Korean culture it is a very conservative and traditional country. Everything from dramas, music and most movies do not reference much in a sexual nature. If at all it is very “tongue and cheek” in their sexual references, more implied than visualized. I mean hell, idols and artist can’t even show their tattoos on music shows. Showing midriff and legs is the standard, but showing boobs and a little booty cheek is still met with side eyes and red ears. So to have such sexually explicit or suggestive lyrics is a big deal. Not to say that the Korean lyrics of some of your favorite pop groups do not suggest or imply a little something, but it is all up to interpretation.
With recent all English songs Dynamite by BTS and Ice Cream by Blackpink they were both written by American and Korean American song writers. Dynamite was written by American song writers David Stewart and Jessica Agombar. Ice Cream was written by collaborators Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande and long time YG producer Korean American Teddy Park. I reference this because the songs were written specially in English for the Western market. No weird or off translations from Korean to English, or misunderstanding of the lyric or it’s cultural references. They did what they were intended to do, sell albums, get radio time and blow up the Western charts.
The Race to #1 AKA Billboard
When All About Luv was released I think I heard Who Do You Love once on the mainstream pop radio. I was in my neighborhood supermarket and heard Someone’s Someone and almost dropped my container of milk I was so excited. I know that was probably mostly in part because I live in NYC and being such a large market matters. However considering how many times in an hour you can hear the same song repeat on mainstream pop radio it was still an anomaly to hear MonstaX on the radio.
Every main stream artist, regardless of genre strives for excellence and having their work acknowledged. Getting on the Billboard chart, whether it’s the Billboard 200, Global 200 or Hot 100 is for some the pinnacle of that hard work and success. I would have to say within the past few years this goal has been a focus for artist and fans alike of KPop music. To see there names climbing the charts with at least the Top 10 being the goal. BTS made history with the release of Dynamite hitting number one September 26th. https://youtu.be/gdZLi9oWNZg Then sliding to second a week later, then back to the number 1 spot the third week. Then they made history again hitting number one with Savage Love Remix w/Jason Derulo & Jawsh685, https://youtu.be/qvu4nPMyl3U making history again being in the number one and number three spot in the same week.
Blackpink’s all English track Ice Cream ft Selena Gomez peaked at number 8 on the Billboard chart on September 5th after it’s release. However their all Korean track How You Like that released in the summer of 2020 months before Ice Cream, peaked at number 1 on July 25th. They reached that coveted number one spot with a song mostly in Korean. They also set some records of their own tie the record for Longest Charting song by a Korean girl group. Funny enough they tied this record with themselves for their 2019 release Kill This Love. https://www.forbes.com/sites/hughmcintyre/2020/10/01/blackpinks-ice-cream-is-tied-as-the-longest-charting-song-by-a-korean-girl-group-in-hot-100-history/?sh=3a19a0f554d4
What I’ve Learned
What I’ve learned through my musical journey, is that overall, if you love music and cherish what it represents, language doesn’t really mater. Sure, everyone wants to hear songs in their native language or the sounds and beats that represents their country of origin or heritage. In the long run, music is one of the things that can be shared together regardless of nationality, heritage, language, or orientation. I’ve experienced this myself by all the concerts I have had the privilege attending over the years. To see people of all demographics singing, or trying to sing, their favorite songs by their favorite artist. Ultimately it can truly be the tie that binds us all together globally. I love the Korean songs as much as I do the English songs released by my favorite Korean artist. For me, I just worry that reaching for the golden ring of topping the Billboard charts will take away from what I think is the most important part of music. Feelings, emotions, expression, connection, passion; cause in the end isn’t that what music is really about.
Until next time…….