Sunday, June 21, 2020

Respecting Re-Specting Respect

BT21 Characters by RM & Suga
What do you think of when you hear the word "respect"?

What message do you really want to convey when you say “I respect you.”?

I absolutely love the history and evolution of language- and it’s important to realize that it’s moving all the time. 


When a musical artist uses a second language, it allows natives of that language to see their words in a different light. BTS songs allow that to be a two-way street: I can learn about Korean from my English perspective; they can examine English from a Korean one. We both benefit. I’ve included an English translation of the BTS song Respect (from Map of the Soul: 7) to explore this a bit more. I also looked at Lemoring’s youtube translation for help. First, respect to the fans who use sites like genius.com and YT to do these translations and the reflections they attach. It helps so many of us learn. It’s awesome to have so many brains available, noting references to other songs and discussing the Korean idioms used and their equivalents. Notions are voted up and down, creating more accurate reports. I hope you take a look at the page.


I have italicized the lines of the song that are performed in Korean. As you’ll see, RM and Suga rap in an awesome mix of both languages. They use whatever works best for both the situation and intent.


Moving on, in the paragraph above the last I used “respect” to mean “kudos” to or “appreciation” for fans. This use may have been the starting point for BTS in this song. “Respect” has become a slang or short used both in South Korea and elsewhere in everyday conversation to mean these things. “nowadays this word floats around me”. They are questioning this use- they are arguing that it might be pretty hollow or shallow.


So RM dives into the Latin basis for the word, which is really cool to me:


Re-spect: Look at. Again. And again. 


“Look again and again and you'll see faults

But you still want to keep looking, despite of that”


He’s remarking that we SHOULD look at something over and over again. Do we really respect the person or thing being examined? We should put the effort in to look closely. And keep looking. Powerful, powerful stuff!


Today, I see the connections of inspecting and re-specting all our systems: social justice, civil justice, criminal justice, political, medical, environmental, mental health care, educational- and doing the same regarding our leaders. The massive success of thousands of youth and young-at-hearts signing up to attend the June 20 Trump rally with no intention of attending was, to me, an example of re-specting. We can’t give up- we must forge ahead and work. We need a lot more of this to be able to truly respect our ideals, what we have, and who we are.


RM seems to mirror this idea that respect is a vital part of human life that and we always need to be working on ourselves:


“You'll need that perfect belief towards someone (Ayy, ayy)

So I can't get myself to easily say

The weight and thickness of it is vague

I hope someday I can confidently say it

And mean it when I do, to you and to me, huh”


RM is admitting he is reluctant to either use the term toward someone else or have it applied to himself. I love the phrase “the weight and thickness of it is vague”. That’s delicious thinking to me. Words have weight and thickness. 


Verse 2 is performed by Suga, who is the oldest group member of BTS. He’s addressed as “hyung” and “hyungnim” by RM because of that elder status. To my understanding, in Korean culture, someone older than you is to be addressed with more respect and is to be the leader to follow. A younger man refers to a slightly older one with the term “hyung” this way. The bigger the gap, the more respect needs to be shown to the elder. This includes using different titles, words, and behaviors. It’s another reason why I find this song so interesting. There’s this cultural structure they grew up in, but they want to keep examining themselves and others to decide if they should really “respect” them or themselves. Suga raps:


“To be honest, there's no need for admiration

When there's not even respect

Everyone except you knows people talk shit behind your back

I honestly respect you

You have no intention to respect me so just skip it

Respect, I respect you

Applause to that pal who speak ill while smiling”


Suga is not assuming the dominance his culture appears to automatically give him in regards to RM. He’s calling out a general tendency to adore someone to their faces but then pour hate on them when no one’s looking. The translation help on Genius on “talk shit behind your back” was really interesting to me. The Korean phrasing used relates to an old story where a wife secretly ate pumpkin seeds and tried to hide it from her husband. She didn’t get away with it because he either found the empty shells she hid or saw them after she pooped them out. Shells don’t get digested. Truth comes out.


The fact that Suga is saying he respects RM is big. It’s real because culturally, I don’t think it’s expected. And while he says he respects RM, and I believe he truly does, he still refers to RM as “kid” and “rascal” in this song. 


The Outro of the song is an adorable, seemingly unscripted conversation all in Korean- as if they are exhausted. They are still confused about the word, but laughing and having fun with each other before deciding that “admiration” is a great synonym. Suga, who is known for having an old-sage type personality, ends up muttering how hard English is in general. To me, it’s also a wry admission that life’s tough and never perfect.


[Intro: RM & sampling]

Re-re-re-respect

Should I go or should I?

Should I, should I go or should I stay?


[Verse 1: RM]

Put your hands in the air

Put your hands in the air

Just like you don't care

Just like you don't care

Ayo SUGA (why?) nowadays this word floats around me

"Respect" but these days I'm confused of its meaning

They say it's said when someone keeps doing something (Why?)

I'm not really sure either, brotha, do ya know?

It's obviously superior than love

Probably a concept that exists at the most superior rank

Out of all the superiors

Isn't that called respect, huh? (what I'm sayin')

"Re-spect" means as it sounds, to literally look again and again

Look again and again and you'll see faults

But you still want to keep looking, despite of that

You'll need that perfect belief towards someone (Ayy, ayy)

So I can't get myself to easily say

The weight and thickness of it is vague

I hope someday I can confidently say it

And mean it when I do, to you and to me, huh


[Refrain 1: Suga, RM]

Please don't say respect easily, yeah

Because even I am not sure, yeah

Sometimes I'm scared of myself

What if the weak me is found out


[Chorus, Suga, RM]

(Respect) Everybody says it so easily

(Respect) Though you don't know what it is

(Respect) Please take a look again

(Respect) One time

(Respect) Two times

(Respect) I won't say it easily

(Respect) Even if I don't know well now

(Respect) One day I'll say it

(Respect) One time

(Respect) Oh yeah


[Verse 2: Suga]

"Respect"- what is it? (What, hyung?)

I don't know, that's why I'm asking, you rascal (Oh, I see)

"Respect"- what even is it?

Why is everyone saying respect

Honestly I can't understand

Admiring someone

Was it something really that easy?

I still can't understand it

To be honest, there's no need for admiration

When there's not even respect

Everyone except you knows people talk shit behind your back

I honestly respect you

You have no intention to respect me so just skip it

Respect, I respect you

Applause to that pal who speak ill while smiling


[Refrain 2: Suga, RM]

(Respect respect)

Hope all the glory and prosperity seep into your life

(Respect respect)

Hope the road in front of you is eternally blessed

(Respect respect)

Money, honor, forward, forward

(Respect respect)

Yes, I respect you, yeah


[Chorus: Suga, RM]

(Respect) Everybody says it so easily

(Respect) Though you don't know what it is

(Respect) Please take a look again

(Respect) One time

(Respect) Two times

(Respect) I won't say it easily

(Respect) Even if I don't know well now

(Respect) One say I'll say it

(Respect) One time

(Respect) Oh yeah


[Outro]

(S) "Aye, do ya know what respect is?"

(RM) "I don't know, hyungnim,"

(S )"I don't know either,"

(Both) "Why is respect this hard?"

(RM)"'Respect', well, is to look again, I don't know,"

(S) "'Respect', what?"

(Both) "'Respect'!"

(RM)"'Admiration'!"

(S) "Kid, I think this is what respect is. Why is English so hard?”

(RM) "I know right?"



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