Releasing updates at blinding speeds also doesn’t give them much time to provide context, which could adversely affect the image of the idols they want to represent. This risk is particularly apparent in the field of live translation. Cel, 21, an admin for Twitter account @_KingdomUpdates, knows this all too well, as her posts for the Mnet survival show once sparked a word war among fans of the participating groups. What was actually a casual observation of one contestant was mistaken for shade directed towards their competitor, resulting in hurtful online exchanges.
“I watch [what I translate] so many times to the point where I sometimes get sick of it. I love the group, I love the members, but by the time I’m done, I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I’m tired of their voices!’”
Despite the challenges they collectively face, the fulfillment they gain in return and the impact they have on fans’ lives are immense. For instance, VICE spoke to Zhali Lucina, a fan who relies on translations to dissect the girl group aespa’s quirky AI universe. “Some of [aespa’s] content come with auto-generated English subtitles, but it’s still different when translations are made by fans themselves,” she said. “Because of [fan translations], I get to appreciate the details [of the members’ comebacks] more and feel connected to the group. Sometimes, it makes me feel like I’m also in KWANGYA, even if i don’t know where that actually is,” she elaborated, referring to the alternate dimension part of aespa’s mythology. When Lou del Rosario fell into a DAY6 rabbit hole in early 2021, she discovered another dimension to the industry she has loved for a decade.
“I’d love to be seen as just a regular fan who’s able to fangirl over my favorite artists, but I feel like a lot of people take what I say as an official statement. I can’t even say that I love this member’s hair today without anyone being like, ‘Oh, what about the other members’ hair?’ I can’t be a personal account anymore, and it’s kind of sad. But it is what it is.”
None of this would be possible without fan translators, she said. “We really rely on fans who know Korean well to get the message across.”In many ways, these translators are the unseen promoters partly responsible for K-pop’s global success, which is precisely why they choose to soldier on every day. “My core reason [for running my account] is just because I love TWICE: I want to translate their words properly, convey them to the international community, and give them a good image,” Misa shared. “I’d rather be a part of the team that helps make translations as accurate as possible than just wait for someone to do it themselves,” Suvi said.But this high-risk, high-reward environment is not for everyone. An aspiring translator must not only possess a firm grasp of both languages, but also an awareness of what’s truly at stake. “There’s a concept of communication as a way of constructing reality—the things we say influence how we perceive things, and how 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 just take one translation that is trusted by others without thinking about [it],” Suvi said. “These fans can come up with a twisted view of how an idol is like because the only way they’re consuming their idols’ work is through your translations. Keep in mind that you affect the way other people interact with a group.”Follow Angel Martinez on Twitter and Instagram.
“I now keep a notebook with the Korean lyrics and their English versions of the songs that really hit me. Even when I’m alone, I’m able to comfort myself and find the solace I would normally get from friends and family.”