I copied this from “Mini-Rant #1: If You’re Gonna Use English…”. When I wrote this I was commenting on SM Entertainment, but I’m expanding it to include CUBE Entertainment and just a rant in general on the topic.
Within the last few years English has crept further and further into K-Pop. Now almost every song has English somewhere in the lyrics. Early on the pronunciation was bad and the English was awkward at best, but as companies started importing members from the US or Canada, or added members who had lived in the countries for a time, the English improved… More or less.
Let’s just go on a case-by case basis for a bit so you can see what I mean:
You can almost set a clock by when they added English-speaking trainees. The overall quality of their English improved incredibly. Some songs were just awkward in their wording, others were awkward in their pronunciation. Now the recorded songs are much better, though sometimes pronunciation does play a part in misunderstandings with the lyrics. Here are some of the more awkward songs:
1) “내 여자친구가 되어줄래?”
Complaint: There is a pronunciation issue here with the word “heartbeat”. I think the line is “I only want your heartbeat”, I can’t quite understand what they’re going for. But anyways it sounds like they’re saying “I just want your herpies”. I may not know what they were trying to say, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what the composer was going for…
2) Sorry, Sorry
Artist: Super Junior
Album: Sorry, Sorry
Complaint: This isn’t a real complaint, just something kind of funny. Now I’m not sure if it’s the Korean accents doing this, or if it’s legit. Listen to them saying “Sorry”, especially in live performances. Well, I guess how they say it it’s more of “sOrry”. The members suddenly say that word Canadian style. Now I wonder where a Canadian pronunciation could have possibly come from??? (that’s sarcastic and said with a grin, for those of you who don’t know, Super Junior has had a Canadian member with them since 2007).
3) She Wants It
Artist: Super Junior
Album: Neorago (Sorry, Sorry Repackaged)
Complaint: Again, this one is more funny than a legit complaint (though aren’t these all?). Ryeowook gets the English line in the song that, surprise, is “she wants it”. But his Korean accent makes it come out as “Shit, woman.”. lol, I was a little surprised when I first heard it and had to backtrack to check. You hear it mostly in the recording, he seems to have improved for Super Show 3, though not by much!
4) Beautiful (Obviously)- Bonamana
Artist: Super Junior
Complaint: This one lies solely on member Kyuhyun. I’m not the only person to notice it though, this one is legit. When he says “Winner” it sounds like “Wiener”. Just watch the MV and listen for it.
5) Hug (English Version)
Album: Hug (Japanese Version)
Complaint: … the wording in this song is just overall awkward. It’s not necessarily wrong, most of the sentences are grammatically fine, but… IDK, that’s just not how English-speaking people speak English…
SM easily has the most English-speakers of any entertainment company in Korea.
Kim Kibum (Super Junior): Kibum lived in LA for a while, so his English is… well… understandable… sometimes.
Stephanie “Tiffany” Hwang (SNSD/Girls’ Generation): SNSD is really the first group to have non-awkward English in songs, and I blame it on their English members ^^ . Tiffany lived in California from 1989-2004.
Soo-Yeon “Jessica” Jung (SNSD/ Girls’ Generation): Jessica was born in San Francisco and raised in California until 2000, when she went to South Korea and joined SM Entertainment. She was there throughout the SM Awkward English phase.
Soo-Jung “Krystal” Jung (F(x) ): Jessica’s little sister was also born in San Francisco. She joined SM along with her sister in 2000 and worked for a bit as a commercial actress until she was trained as a singer and debuted with F(x). She’s the longest trainee SM has, with 9 years of training under her belt.
Amber Liu (F(x) ): Amber is from LA. She lived in California until 2008.
Henry Lau (Super Junior): Henry is the only Canadian to debut with SM Entertainment (though they probably have others, since they hold auditions in Canada every year and have for at least 3 years). He’s been with SM since late 2006, and also with Super Junior since then. Fans often credit him with improving the members English, as after he joined them their pronunciation improved sharply (though that could be a coincidence).
Former SM Member: YooChun “Mickey” Park (DBSK, formerly): Mickey lived in Virginia for a few years as a child. He admitted to often teaching the other members of DBSK English.
Cube has the least amount of foreigners at 1 (G.NA, who is Canadian).
Their English is easily the worst of ANY company in Korea. I can’t even give you specific song examples, it’s just awkward and bad all around.
Usually the English is PRONOUNCED correctly (or pretty close), but the words themselves are weird. I’ll give 3 examples:
Album: Sock of the New Era
Complaint: “Every day I shock”… … … what?
Album: (not sure)
Complaint: This whole song- any time they use English it makes no sense. I can’t listen to the song anymore, I just don’t understand what the hell they’re trying to say~
Artist: 4 Minute
Album: 4 Minutes Left
Complaint: In the very beginning HyunA (who usually is pretty good with English pronunciation) says “4 Minutes Left, 4 Minutes Left, 4 Minutes Left, 4 Minutes Left”… Except… OK, I live in Korea right now, so let me explain how this happens. When a word has an “S” at the end Koreans tend to push the sound on to the beginning of the next word. OK. So following that you go from “4 Minutes Left” to “4 Minute Sleft”. Now, Korea doesn’t have the “f” sound. It’s pushed to the “p” sound, the closest they have. “4 Minutes Left” = “4 Minute Sleft” = “4 Minute Slept”. But when a “p” and a “t” are next to each other Koreans get a little tongue tied and tend to just push it together or leave it out entirely instead of the “p”. Here is where HyunA’s pronunciation fell apart (and really surprised me at first): “4 Minutes Left” = “4 Minute Sleft” = “4 Minute Slept” = “4 Minute Slet”… But Koreans pronounce “E” sounds as we would pronounce a “u” sound… you see where this is going? Instead of “4 Minutes Left” HyunA sounds like she’s saying “4 Minute Slut”. Listen to the song~
I know the trainees are there to TRAIN, and probably don’t take part in the actual recording process doing things like checking English (though they might, SM has admitted to using Super Junior’s Chinese member ZhouMi or F(x)’s Victoria as a pronunciation coach when recording Chinese songs). But the more English trainees a company has the better their English gets. CUBE Entertainment DESPERATELY needs either an English coach or more English speakers to pick up their work… Some composers speak English very well (I know for a fact 2 SM composers are very good at English (they are friends of a friend)), so they can cover and check pronunciation themselves, but…. IDK, Cube needs serious help and I’m glad SM’s English isn’t as awkward anymore…
One company who does a pretty good job overall is JYP. They had English speakers right from the beginning, and work heavily with English-speaking composers, so their English has always been pretty good.