The Translating Fans Behind K-Pop’s Global Success

VICE K-Pop: music, fandom, celebrities and all things K-pop.

This month, VICE is going all out on all things K-pop and Korean music, with articles and videos about music, fans and celebrities.

Anyone planning to get into K-pop knows all about the huge amount of content they have to consume to become familiar with their band of choice. Music videos and the weird press tour usually do the trick for their Western counterparts, but with K-pop acts there are seasons of reality and variety shows, behind-the-scenes footage, dramatic episodes – the list goes on.

The conversion from curious spectator to committed fan would be impossible if international fans are unable to understand what they all mean, which makes fan translators indispensable today, when K-pop has become a phenomenon. global. This loyal legion of supporters have made it their mission to provide correct and consistent translations to non-Korean speakers, all for the affordable price of zero dollars and zero cents, and the promise of unwavering support for their idols. .

Fan translators often take up the challenge due to the lack of Korean media coverage available in other languages. Although company transcripts in other languages ​​such as English, Spanish, and Indonesian, among others, are provided from time to time, they are often riddled with inaccuracies.

“It’s always the ones that seem to blow up and cause a lot of misunderstandings,” Young said (@17_HAMZZI on Twitter), a 29-year-old translator from K-pop boy group SEVENTEEN, told VICE. “I would have liked someone who was fluent in both [English and Korean] would go out and fix [the mess], so I guess that’s one reason I started doing it. She and the other translators VICE spoke to asked to be identified only by their first names to protect their privacy.

This line of work is not new, having served as a bridge between supporter and idol since the days of LiveJournal and Dailymotion. But what sets the current generation apart is how they’ve managed to turn this simple hobby into a successful business, with a level of organization and online savvy that was just beginning in the mid-2000s. While most of these translators hang out on Twitter, they are also on other corners of the internet such as YouTube and V Live, a streaming platform for Korean celebrities.

Since K-pop content usually spans multiple categories, most translators adopt a certain niche that allows them to focus on a specialty and manage the workload. Some support shorter but more frequent social media updates, such as Misa (@misayeon), administrator of a Twitter fan account dedicated to the girl group TWICE, with nearly half a million followers.

“Usually what I would do is around morning time in Korea, I would open the Naver page,” she told VICE, referring to the South Korean search engine and news portal. Korean. “I know what time important articles usually come out, so I just check a few times to see if they have anything important. If they don’t, I go about my day and mostly rely on notifications to the novelties that could possibly be translated.

Meanwhile, others are overseeing larger-scale projects such as hour-long radio episodes and entire seasons of pre-debut survival shows. Raw footage is usually viewed in sections, then put through several rounds of reviews before being released to the public. Since this is no small feat, fans often band together to spread the load. Suvi, 28, project manager for K-pop translation YouTube channel @Like17Subs, told VICE that their 50-person team is made up of Korean language learners from different locations and skill levels.

“There are typists and timekeepers who can only speak [Korean] good enough to understand where sentences start and end, and quality checkers – traditional speakers who can read lips, when we have trouble hearing what [SEVENTEEN] say,” Suvi said. As she only has time for administrative work these days, her role is to continue to “look for volunteers and keep everyone updated on which parts have already been completed and which still need to be filled”.

It’s a lot of hard work to balance on top of real-life responsibilities, especially since fan translators cater to a market that wants everything on-demand.

“A lot of people on Twitter and YouTube message me, asking me when this radio show is coming out or if I can focus on this one instead because they want to see this member,” Young lamented.

The heaviness of this whole process can make fandom less fun.

“I watch [what I translate] so many times that I sometimes get fed up. I love the band, I love the members, but by the time I’m done, I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I’m sick of their voices!’ Even though I want to help, I don’t want it to be something that causes me more stress and makes me want to leave. [fan translation work].”

“I watch [what I translate] so many times that I sometimes get fed up. I love the band, I love the members, but by the time I’m done, I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I’m sick of their voices!’

Posting updates at lightning speeds also doesn’t give them much time to provide context, which could hurt the image of the idols they want to represent. This risk is particularly apparent in the realm of live translation. Cel, 21, administrator of a Twitter account @_KingdomUpdates, knows this all too well, as his posts for the Mnet survival show have already sparked a war of words among fans of the participating groups. What was actually a casual observation by a contestant was mistaken for shading directed at his contestant, resulting in hurtful online exchanges.

“It was in no way controversial from a Korean speaker’s perspective, but it was taken out of context. I remember watching afterwards and seeing the number of retweets and likes on the tweets I created increase dramatically,” she recalled. “It was definitely a challenge because you try to go fast but also try to be precise and present everyone in an unbiased light, while keeping the American speaker’s point of view in mind when translating as well. from Korean.”

Little leeway is given to those who make mistakes in the process, as fan translators are usually held to a higher standard by their idols’ fellow fans. There is a constant pressure to portray their idols perfectly and even take on leadership positions, which is a responsibility that none of them have underwritten or prepared for.

“I don’t like it, to be honest,” Misa admitted. “I would like to be seen as just a regular fan who can fangirl my favorite artists, but I feel like a lot of people take what I say as an official statement. I can’t even say I like them. this member’s hair today without anyone saying to me, ‘Oh, what about the other members’ hair?’ I can’t be a personal account anymore, and that’s kind of sad. But that’s the way it is.”

“I would like to be seen as just a regular fan who can fangirl my favorite artists, but I feel like a lot of people take what I say as an official statement. I can’t even say I like them. this member’s hair today without anyone saying to me, ‘Oh, what about the other members’ hair?’ I can’t be a personal account anymore, and that’s kind of sad. But that’s the way it is.”

Despite the challenges they face collectively, the fulfillment they get in return and the impact they have on the lives of fans is immense. For example, VICE spoke to Zhali Lucina, a fan who relies on translations to dissect the quirky AI world of girl group aespa. “A part of [aespa’s] the content comes with auto-generated English subtitles, but it’s always different when the translations are done by the fans themselves,” she said.

“Due to [fan translations]I appreciate the details [of the members’ comebacks] more and feel connected to the group. Sometimes I feel like I’m in KWANGYA too, even though I don’t know where it actually is,” she explained, referring to the alternate dimension of Aespa mythology.

When Lou del Rosario fell down a rabbit hole on DAY6 in early 2021, she discovered another dimension to the industry she’s loved for a decade.

“I now keep a notebook with the Korean lyrics and their English versions of the songs that really struck me. Even when I’m alone, I’m able to comfort myself and find the solace I would normally get from my friends and loved ones. my family,” she reflected, leafing through her notebook.

“I now keep a notebook with the Korean lyrics and their English versions of the songs that really struck me. Even when I’m alone, I’m able to comfort myself and find the solace I would normally get from my friends and loved ones. my family.

None of this would be possible without fan translators, she said. “We’re really counting on fans who know Korean well to spread the word.”

In many ways, these translators are the invisible promoters partly responsible for K-pop’s global success, which is precisely why they choose to fight every day.

“My main reason [for running my account] It’s just because I love TWICE: I want to translate their words correctly, convey them to the international community and give them a good image,” Misa explained.

“I’d rather be part of the team that helps make the translations as accurate as possible than waiting for someone to do it themselves,” Suvi said.

But this high-risk, high-reward environment isn’t for everyone. A budding translator must not only have a solid command of both languages, but also an awareness of what is really at stake.

“There is a concept of communication as a way of constructing reality – the things we say influence the way we perceive things, and the way we perceive things is [what makes up] our reality,” Cel said. “When I communicate something, I take a lot of responsibility, knowing that what I say has an impact.”

“People don’t necessarily take translations with a grain of salt – they usually only take a translation that others trust without thinking about [it]”, Suvi said. “These fans may have a twisted view of how an idol is because the only way they consume their idols’ work is through your translations. Keep in mind that you influence how others interact with a group.

Follow Angel Martinez on Twitter and Instagram.

About Dawn Valle

Check Also

[Journalism Internship] K-pop idols beware, virtual humans are coming for your jobs

[Journalism Internship] K-pop idols beware, virtual humans are coming for your jobs

The line separating reality from the virtual world is blurring, especially in the K-pop industry …