Heart2Heart, Kpop and Language in Music

The latest Vlog from Lindsay, who really should be blogging here more often, gives us her reaction for the latest American boyband, Heart2Heart. The group borrows a lot from Kpop with their single Facebook Official [MV], and was met with… well, much discord from Kpop fans, which bordered on Gagaism crazy [1] — perhaps Kpopism?

Lance Bass from NSYNC is promoting them — I did not know that and I completely missed his cameo on the video.

Back in my teens, I was obsessed with boybands. Like… you’d be ashamed of me. I take my shame with grace now. I’m not afraid of being looked down for my shames, so when you think I’m listening to Jonsi’s Go, I’m probably just listening to the BackStreet Boys or NSYNC… or maybe even Westlife, or maybe even 5ive. Ha!

I am also obsessed with language, and I have blogged about lyrics, languages and music, What Are Good Lyrics?, before in my now, almost defunct blog, in which I begin:

Ah… English, such a direct language. I often have discussions with people about the nuances of the different languages. Friends tell me that French and Italian are great for flirting, and my mom keeps telling me that different dialects in Chinese have so many words to describe food flavors, impossible to describe in Spanish or English.

However, what about songs?

At first shock view, Heart2Heart is Kpop influenced — which, in itself, seems like an amazing oxymoron, considering so many people say Kpop is too influenced by American music. If we turn down the volume, and just watch the video we can focus on the qualities of it. The production value of it doesn’t look that cheap compared to other pop music videos from even more famous artists, and even though the dancing is a little bit simple and the group isn’t militarily precise as some Kpop groups are, well… they don’t suck at dancing.

Believe me, I’ve seen SUCK.

Also, the guys have makeup, which takes me back to something that Lindsay mentioned back when JYJ made that horrible Ayy Girl [MV]. It went something along the lines of elements that worked in the Korean music industry that just don’t work for the American market. The fact that Heart2Heart sings in English makes it not a song specific for the Korean market and hence elements, like the makeup, don’t work.

On why Kpop should remain in Korean or it won’t be really Kpop are things for another discussion which will take forever, so we won’t be touching upon it.

Though the obvious tags that were on the music video makes it seem like they were targeting Kpop fans, or at least Kpop Western fans and maybe teenage girls who have no idea what Kpop is, they forgot that Kpop fans in the west do understand English.

I have a rule: never look for lyric translations. 99% of the time, it’s just never going to work the way you expect. It recently happened with a song I translated for Chinese class. I’m not completely disappointed because I do understand the difficulty of writing lyrics in Asian and Arabic languages, but yeah — I was a little down. What do I do with English? I’ve learned to block it out when listening to music.

I also rarely listen to music in Spanish.

So, as much as I would like to blame this on the beat and the awkward dancing, let’s be honest — people can’t swallow this down because they can’t block the fact that the song is called Facebook Official, and that they can actually understand the lyrics at face value. Have we forgotten that SNSD is famous for songs such as Gee [MV] — which I even admit is terribly catchy, Oh! [MV] and Hoot [MV]?

Do they need improvement? Yes. There’s always room for improvement, but such opinions should be given in a civil manner. I think Lance should get in touch with Lindsay Penn from LinzerDinzerTV — zing! cherry! — or you know, YAM. I mean, I’m getting a little giddy just knowing Lance Bass is aware of Kpop.


YAM Magazine editor, photographer, blogger, translator and part-time web designer. Film junkie, music junkie… and lately series (a.k.a. TV) junkie.

14 Responses

  1. Julili says:

    Damn you, you stole my idea. You need stop being so much in sync with me!

    About this: they need new haircuts, need a better producer and not to try and wank the Kpop fans.

    The way Kpop has spread is amazing, there are so many international fans it’s crazy. In a short amount of time there has been more Kpop concert held outside of Asia. The wave keeps on raising. Many are trying to ride on the wave. Heart2Heart are not the first trying to take advantage of the Kpop fans. Some groups in Kpop and some outside of it have seen the hype and are trying to use it. And that’s all good seeing as it is a business strategy.

    I agree with Lindsay, that this group didn’t consider their market that well. This for sure could fly off in Korea but for an American market? Of course, it all depends on how they market themselves and what kind of songs they do. But for a debut single, Facebook Official is really silly and just a bit annoying. It’s like they are mocking the typical pop-music listener (for example: me) by assuming that I don’t care about what the song says as long as it’s catchy. That may fly with Korean seeing as I don’t understand it, but in a language that I do understand, that is just a huge no-no.

    By the way, just because a Korean song may sound silly to us once we read the lyrics. It’s doesn’t apply to a Korean person. So much is lost in translation, specially with such complex languages as Korean or Japanese seeing as they differ so much from Roman and Anglo-Saxon languages in ways of grammar, semiotics and denotation. Not to mention how they play with their language seeing as they have so many homonyms, so we often don’t get the “inside” jokes so to say.

    Ugh, I better stop now or I will write an essay about this topic. I bet somewhere in Stockholm my English and Literature professor shake their heads as I use my degree to explain Kpop…

    On a final note: the international Kpop fans are being trolled and they are being trolled hard. Any PR is good PR and Heart2Heart, by bringing up Kpop to the mix, are making sure that a whole lot of people are talking about them and seeing their video. In that aspect, I congratulate them on their cleverness. But if they want to stay on float, they better deliver.

    • amy says:

      @Julili, mini-essay.

      But I do understand that the difficulty in writing in such language, which is a point in one of the paragraphs. But as I said in my What Are Good Lyrics post, no one can convince me of Arashi’s MONSTER being a good lyric. Anyone with basic knowledge Japanese can cringe, while a simple lyric in an Enka song can be deeply moving.

      At least in NEWS’ Koi no ABO, I get to mention these blood culture thing going on. LOL

      Of course, English is a very direct language thus making songs with words such as “I want you to want, I need you to need me, I love you to love me” don’t sound as weird in other languages…

    • amy says:

      @Julili, btw – i saw the funniest comment in their video that went along the lines of thanking them for uniting all Kpop fans (2ne1, snsd, etc) against something. LOL

      People who say request such version of song in English, underestimate the power of not understanding lyrics. xD

      • Julili says:

        @amy, International Kpop fans are really stupid. They complain about the behavior of Korean Kpop fans, and then they go and act the same way.

        I never would want to hear some of my fav Korean songs in English. I am already having some issues hearing them in Japanese….

  2. ersby says:

    Only about a minute before I saw this, I’d been sent a link to the Heart2Heart video as an example of bad pop music. At the moment, the number of views is 400,000. I’m interested to see if it becomes a meme.

    As for language, English has a practical advantage in that it has a lot of single-syllable words. This makes it easier to write lyrics, but I’m not sure if it necessarily makes them better. Translating poetry or lyrics must be a nightmare since the choice of words and the sound it makes is as important as the meaning.

    • amy says:

      @ersby, there should be generally two types of translations. The first one should be the literal one, that explains ideas the most no matter how awkward it sounds in verses as long as it explains the full meaning of it.

      The other one is the poetic translation – in the case of poetry – to instead make the verses rhyme and fit… or in the case of movies, the one that changes a joke completely to fit it with the language it’s using, or uses words that fit the character’s voices.

      In terms of lyric translations, it should be the first one. In the case of an alternate version of a song, it should be the latter.

    • Julili says:

      @ersby, I usually write my poems in english cus it’s so easy to rhyme plus that it has a certain “klang” to it. I write poems in Spanish and Swedish as well but I never find them as powerful as the English ones.
      When it comes to lyric-writing, then I prefer Swedish. I always find that interesting…

  3. Dani says:

    Personally I don’t really think the lyrics are the main issue, but more the overall stupid feeling it gives you.

    There are a lot of songs with bad lyrics that are considered to be great, Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana being a perfect example. I mean……if you think that “a mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido, yeah!” is some kind of lyrical masterpiece then you’re just dumb.

    Point being, the lyrics are not always the most relevant. Especially if it has to do with kpop, considering that most of the time “the fans” don’t give two shits about the lyrics.

    • Rodrigo says:

      @Dani, I’ll top your Nirvana example with the chrous of “Yellow Submarine” from The Beatles.

      At one point, I was all sound over lyrics for most songs. But later on, I realized that lyrics should be an important deal too. But the pop genre can get away with shitty/irrelevant lyrics because as you say, “the fans” won’t give a shit about the lyrics as long as their idols dance, perform and look good/sexy. I assume that their first impression has to be really strong to get away with it, either through first single and/or video.

      I think you may have given me a topic to blog about, lol.

      • amy says:

        @Rodrigo, you know that commercial (was it La Catolica’s ad?) that said sometimes lyrics are meant to be in English and used not only lyrics by RHCP’s Californication, but I’m pretty sure they also used Gaga or a Gaga look-alike.

        So it’s not only pop. It’s music in general.

    • amy says:

      @Dani, the power of music can make people disregard lyrics, yes. And even when you think you’ve listened to a great song, it’s pretty likely lyrics are stupid… unless it’s been written by a lyricist.

      The fact that lyrics in this are so bluntly eye-roll-worthy, not only with the “facebook official” part being throughout the chorus, but also plainly on the title. It lends itself to be easily shredded by fans who speak English (and are constantly requesting for English versions of Kpop songs) fluently.

      Yes, the whole thing gives you a stupid feeling because “facebook official” is such a silly concept.

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