It’s no secret that you can find tons of puns and subtle bits of wordplay in pieces of music and it’s no different for K-Pop. Many idols and groups will add these details in their songs much to the delight of their listeners…or at least listeners who know what the original Korean can really mean. Oftentimes when they’re translated directly, fans are left wondering what exactly is going on. So here are just a few cases of words, phrases, and not so hidden sayings found in K-Pop that aren’t so clear in English but make a lot more sense with a little bit of explanation.
1. BTS’s “Crow-tit” conundrum
If you’ve ever listened to BTS‘s “Bapsae” you probably did a quick translation to see what “Bapsae” really means and found out it’s the Korean word for a crow tit bird. But that doesn’t exactly make a lot of sense that BTS are singing about a bird, does it?
Well, it does if you know the Korean idiom! The phrase “If a crow-tit walks like a stork, it will tear its legs” is a common idiom in South Korea. The saying is really just another way to say “don’t be something your not” but it’s often used in a negative way. Oftentimes it is used to “put people in their place”.
So when BTS are singing “They call me bapsae” they’re basically calling out everyone who’s saying they’re trying to be something they’re not as well as telling their listeners to be whatever they want to be in life.
2. BIGBANG’s “Flower Road”
Every K-Pop fan has listened to BIGBANG‘s “Flower Road” or has heard the saying “We’re walking the flower road” but what exactly does the term “flower road” mean? While we’ve got nothing similar in English and it simply sounds like the idols are walking on some kind of flower-lined path it actually has a much sweeter meaning.
If you don’t take it literally, it’s actually meant as a wish for success and happiness for the group. So when you say, “Let’s walk the flower road” you’re really saying something like “Let’s walk on the road filled with happiness and success together.”
3. “No Sana No Life”
If there’s one motto that every ONCE knows it’s “No Sana No Life” but have where exactly did it come from? Originally the saying was “사나 없인 사나 마나” (sana eobsin, sana mana) meaning “without Sana, there is no life.” While it does make sense that this would get shortened to “No Sana No Life” there’s a little bit more to this saying than meets the eye.
The original Korean is actually a play on words. Sana’s name in Korean, 사나, is an active conjugation of the Korean verb “살다” (salda), which means “to live”. Which is why the saying has more than one meaning! It means that the Korean verb “to live” cannot exist with Sana, as well as, life itself would be meaningless without her in it!
4. GFRIEND’s “Rough” translation
Although there is the Korean word for rough in the last part of the chorus, many people have been stumped by why they chose to give it this title in English especially after learning what the translation of the Korean title is. In Korean, 시간을 달려서 (shiganoel dalreoseo) means running through time.
And this timely explanation puts a lot more emphasis on all the clock imagery and running used throughout the music video! So if you’ve ever watched the MV and weren’t quite sure what the clocks had to do with anything, hopefully, this clears things up. Although why nobody thought to include the word time in the English title is still a mystery!
5. The “Angel” play on SEVENTEEN Jeonghan’s nickname
Although this one’s not really a translation error, it’s still interesting to know a little bit of the backstory. Jeonghan isn’t just called an angel because of his personality or good-looks, but also because his birthday is October 4th. In number form that’s 10-04 and when said out loud in Korean it’s the same word as angel!
But those numbers don’t just make sense for Jeonghan, it can also be applied to B.A.P‘s song “1004 (Angel)”!
6. f(x)’s “Rum Pum Pum Pum” toothy pun
The Korean title of f(x)‘s “Rum Pum Pum Pum” is 첫 사랑니 (cheot sarangni) doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when directly translated as it means “wisdom tooth.” But it’s actually a genius pun!
With only one character difference between that and 첫사랑 (cheot sarang) meaning first love, it’s a great play on words. The group further incorporated this feeling by having lyrics about how first love can be painful like a wisdom tooth, meaning you will always remember your first love!
7. Epik High’s “Trot” road
In Epik High‘s “Trot”, there is one particular line that says, “I have nowhere to go. I have no energy. Just like the lonely Gary hyung without the road.” While the reference to Gary is pretty clear, you might wonder why he’d be lonely without the road.
Well, the word for road in Korean is 길 (gil), which just so happens to be the other member of Gary’s now disbanded group Leessang. So the line actually has a double meaning!
8. Girls’ Generation’s “Sailing (0805)” references
The girl group has included a lot of interesting puns and references in their songs but one that fans still can’t get over is the line in “Sailing (0805)” which says, “For you who made the deep darkness of the ocean into pink light.”
Not only does this keep with the sailing theme, but it’s a play on words that references the group’s black ocean and the way they were able to come back even stronger.
9. MAMAMOO’s pupa problem in “Taller Than You”
MAMAMOO‘s “Taller Than You” has a lot of lyrics that just don’t translate well if taken literally. But one of the weirdest may just be the line “번데기 앞에서 주름을 잡을까요” which translates literally to “wrinkling in front of a pupa.”
So why would MAMAMOO be singing about bugs? Because they’re not! This is actually a Korean idiom that means “an inferior person trying to show off.” So the girls’ are just using it to tease each other!
10. HyunA’s “Red” monkey butt headscratcher
During “Red”, HyunA compares herself to a monkey’s butt…or does she? The line in the song is “A monkey’s butt is red. If it is red, then it is HyunA.” which doesn’t exactly make all that much sense.
But when you find out that there was a popular children’s song in Korea where someone sings about one thing and the next person has to connect it to another that is related to it.
So in other words, HyunA isn’t trying to compare herself to a monkey’s butt but rather to the word “red” instead!