It goes without saying that Kpop has become increasingly popular outside of Asia in the past few years. And with bands performing on shows in the UK and US, gaining massive attention in the media, this shows no signs of stopping any time soon.
The growing interest in Kpop in the west provides a great opportunity for bands to gain a lot of exposure and show a new audience what they can do. Which means that the groups we love are able to visit the US and Europe more often for concerts and has led to a rise in Korean music events in cities across the country.
Something that has become very common, however, is Korean groups having an English version of their comeback song. It is typical for artists to have versions of their songs also recorded in Japanese and Chinese as these are the largest markets for Kpop outside of Korea itself. This is not a new concept as many artists have released English alternatives to classic kpop songs such as, The Boys by Girls Generation and Can’t Nobody by 2ne1.
However, it seems that rather than being an added bonus to a comeback, an English version of a groups latest song is almost expected. Whether this is because of the increasing activities of kpop bands in Europe and the US, is something to be debated. It could just be an example of a western audience trying to make Korean groups adapt to what they know as “normal”. Think about it, if a kpop group is performing on a UK programme, are they more likely to stick to the language the song was written in or sing it in English in the hopes of being more appealing to the audience?
I’m not saying that English versions of kpop songs shouldn’t exist because of course it is important for people all over the world to be able to relate to music no matter where it’s from. The growing interest in Hispanic artists has also led to bands such as Got7 not only releasing versions of their songs in English but also Spanish too. English versions of songs can also add another level to your favourite song that you never realise existed and may differ slightly to the Korean version due to translations being different. And sure, it’s always fun to be able to sing your favourite kpop song in your native language. However, it is a very fine line between exploring different languages through music and completely ignoring the language and culture that has made kpop what it is today. This can also lead to the question of ‘is it still kpop if its not in Korean?’.
It can be very easy for groups to lose who they are because they are trying to appeal to a different audience with a different cultural background when this should be reversed. If a group always perform to an English speaking audience in English, they are never exposed to the Korean version if they don’t actively look for it themselves. Almost all kpop fans listen to music in Korean and watch shows and variety programmes with subtitles and appreciate them as a piece of Korean entertainment. However, should kpop bands abandon their language in order to reach more people who can’t be bothered to read subtitles?
So are Kpop songs in English a celebration of the idea that music can be shared and appreciated by all or is it a product of western audiences being unwilling to change? Ultimately, I don’t think it is something that can be one without the other.
What do you think? Let us know whether you prefer to listen to Kpop in Korean or English in the comments.