“My favorite idol group recently made a comeback and dropped a new single album. This time, the band’s main vocalist dominated killing parts.”
Non-K-pop fans might be puzzled upon reading the above sentences, which consist of several Korean style-English or Konglish terms frequently used in the K-pop world. When it comes to K-pop, “idol” means a K-pop act, while “comeback” refers to the release of a new song or album. “Single album” is an album that usually contains one to two singles. “The main vocalist” can be thought of as a lead vocalist/singer in a band and “killing parts” are the sections of a song that hook people in.
There are plenty of other examples like “visual line (the members with the best appearance)” and “season’s greetings (an annual package of K-pop merchandises.)” Hence, most newcomers to K-pop have to surf the internet and grasp the meaning of unfamiliar terminology before immersing themselves in K-pop.
Konglish terms like these have a long history in the Korean music scene. Even in the 1990s, when K-pop was mostly targeting local and Asian markets, industry insiders often used English words to meet their needs and this gradually led to the ubiquity of Konglish.
“In Korea, people have long associated English with being cosmopolitan, international, youthful, and trendy,” CedarBough Saeji, a visiting assistant professor of Korean Culture at Indiana University in the U.S. told The Korea Times. “Therefore, the K-pop industry, which wants to be thought of as all those things, has always leaned on English in lyrics and names of tracks or albums. The industry has also coined new ‘English’ terms to fulfill their own needs.”
This view is echoed by Lee Hye-jin, a clinical assistant professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism of the University of Southern California.
“Some Konglish terms like killing parts were made to capture the desired effect or an image that the industry and fans want, while others ― such as comeback ― were developed in response to industry practices,” Lee said.
The professor also noted the influence of the Japanese entertainment industry, saying, certain words like “idol” came from the neighboring country.
In fact, K-pop is believed to have been affected by music from Japan among many other countries in the beginning until it came to develop its own distinctive characteristics such as an emphasis on music videos and choreography.
“The prevalence of Konglish terms on the K-pop scene can also be seen as an extension of the daily usage of Konglish in Korean society,” Lee added.
The possible role of Konglish in K-pop
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But K-pop’s global ascent, led by high-profile stars including BTS and BLACKPINK, has raised a thought-provoking question: is it okay to use Konglish ― which is often grammatically incorrect ― given that it can tarnish K-pop’s image as a global product? Some people even claim that persistent use of Konglish can baffle people and even prevent K-pop from reaching a wider world audience.
The industry experts disagree. Some say Konglish’s advantages can outweigh its disadvantages.
“Use of Konglish words in K-pop does not seem to be a big problem,” Professor Lee said. “A growing number of international followers have come to embrace Konglish as cool and unique K-pop slang rather than thinking of it as improper or broken English. Konglish can actually be a gateway for fans to learn about Korean culture as they trace its etymology, and K-pop fans these days even develop their own K-pop lingo similar to Konglish such as bias (a fan’s favorite member in a group) or bias wrecker (another member who looks appealing).”
Professor Saeji agreed, saying, “When native English speakers encounter Konglish in K-pop for the first time, they might be confused and some might laugh about it. But if they are K-pop fans, they laugh about it and love it because it becomes a sort of insider language. They also deploy those insider terms to make them feel like they are part of this new K-pop universe.”
Pointing out non-native speaker fans from around the world sometimes learn K-pop terms even before knowing about their English dictionary definitions, the professor explained that for them, these terms are not incorrect English words, but just new words or phrases being taught to them by K-pop.
“New English terms emerge all the time and many of them are coined by non-native speakers,” she said. “English is spoken in so many widely flung areas and is pretty accepting of loan words and new terms. The most important thing to remember is that in the context of K-pop and Korea, English has long been a language that allows for more creativity.”
Lee also touched on the issue of “Americentricism” and a possible role Konglish can play.
“There can be concerns about how the wide usage of Konglish in K-pop can further perpetuate the stereotype of East Asians as those who speak broken English,” she said. “Such a stereotype can reinforce the notion of Asian Americans as perpetual foreigners in their own land and can have detrimental effects on them, but these are not K-pop issues but issues of Americentricism and America’s entrenched history of institutional racism.
“The focus should not be on getting Koreans and the K-pop scene to use proper English but to get the world to accept Konglish as a different style of English that is uniquely Korean. Maybe the use of Konglish in K-pop can help achieve that goal, especially as K-pop continues to become globally popular.”
Source: The Korea Times