Increasing Popularity of Kpop, but lack of meaningful subtitles

One of the most interesting shows from the Korean entertainment industry of late is The Genius. It is a game of strategies, alliance, double-cross, and more, which runs every week eliminating one contestant each week through a regular match and then a death match to decide who goes home in the end until there is no one left but only the champion. The games that are created are so genius and brain wrecking that a U.S. entertainment media licensed its right to replicate the same kind of game show. It ought to be a welcoming change for the U.S. audience who are so used to seeing the kinds such as Wheel of Fortune (a luck oriented game) or Jeopardy (a simple showcase of knowledge). Of course there are plenty of shows that feature muscles such as World’s Strongest Man, but there is nothing like The Genius.

Unlike Kpop music, however, there is a serious obstacle for this type of shows to thrive outside of the Korean speaking world. The show heavily depends upon the conversation of participants in order for the audience to truly appreciate the depth of the show in that the current level of subtitles generated for the Korean broadcastings simply do not live up to the expectation of the non-Korean speaking audience nor does it even try. There is a dichotomy in play here. As good as the content may be, there is no point of being good if it were not presented with a good communication—in this case, a good subtitle.

Traditionally, the importance of subtitles has been overlooked in the media industry because it was not to be perceived as a tool to reach your main audience. As such, having impressive subtitles was neither required nor expected. Such is not the case with Kpop. As important as the actual content is, it is all the more important to supplement that great content with an equally great subtitle in order to maintain the expectation of the non-Korean speaking audience that can get much bigger than its counterpart on the other side of the language barrier. After all, it is its appeal and the aspiration to reach the non-Korean audience that makes Kpop so special. So why is it any less important to equip Kpop with stunning subtitles that reach the minds and hearts of the non-Korean audience at its inner core?

Granted that there are little resources available to produce the dashing subtitles that can communicate even the surface implications let alone between the lines. The problem is most often hiring the trained professional translators. The translators are usually too mechanical in their understanding between the languages. They may be good at transferring the surface meaning, but they seldom delve into the deeper meaning underneath such as subtlety, between-the-line, cultural implication, and/or social perceptivity.

The subtitle industry in Korea has been operating under such an assumption that only the minimal efforts are needed for the transference of the story line to some foreign nationals that might happened to watch. The number was small and unimportant. By and large, it was for the sake of their Korean audience who might otherwise feel uncomfortable watching together with their non-Korean friend/spouse. The level of expectation on subtitle was very low indeed. However, such is no longer the case. The success of Kpop hinges on the success of generating a meaningful subtitle. Or else, it will only become the success of a Korean pop—nothing more and nothing less.

The Korean entertainment industry must embrace the reality that the vast non-Korean audience does not appreciate being left out of understanding the full context of what they are watching. If they invest so much in creating the Kpop content, why are they so skimpy on investing equally to make their Kpop creation whole? It is time now to open up their eyes to perfecting Kpop.

—-Jonathan You

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