- Non-native English speakers picking up on errors in Baek Yerin’s lyrics might indicate there’s a problem
- To err is human—to push boundaries is divine
- Why do Baek Yerin’s lyrics seem to get more wronger and more wronger?
- Nothing is impossible IF you think differently—but you have to think
- Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness—it’s a sign of intelligence
In part 1 of this 2-part post, I looked at some curious grammar ‘errors’ I found while reviewing some song lyrics. I was reviewing the lyrics in preparation to teach these songs to some high school students. BTS wasn’t the only Korean artist suggested by my students. Even more surprising was that the suggested artist didn’t record just one song in English. In fact, it turns out this artist wrote and sang the entire album in English. Then I did the same with their follow-up album. Anyone figured out who this could be?
The artist chosen by two different students in two different classes was Baek Yerin. Both students chose the cryptically titled “0310“. As far as I can determine, Baek Yerin “…writes the lyrics to most of her songs.” (Feb 26, 2020, SnackFever.com) But several grammar mistakes jumped out at me while going over Baek Yerin’s lyrics. They didn’t appear to be conscious choices. They seemed to be genuine grammatical mistakes by a non-native English speaker.
Non-native English speakers picking up on errors in Baek Yerin’s lyrics might indicate there’s a problem
To be clear—I am not belittling or mocking Baek Yerin’s lyrics. Writing a song in your mother tongue is no easy task. Writing two entire albums in English is an accomplishment in and of itself. I am questioning her decision not to work with a native English speaker to avoid making simple grammar mistakes. In an article posted on Koreaboo, an English translation of a Korean netizen’s comment about Baek Yerin’s lyrics reads:
I really like Baek Yerin as an artist but this album is really disappointing. These songs are ruined because of her awkward English lyrics and it’s a waste. Baek Yerin is amazing at expressing herself through Korean lyrics but with awkward English lyrics, you don’t get the same vibe. To those of you saying ‘but her English is fine’ think about it…if people spell certain Korean words wrong, you get upset. You have to realize that her English is just not that good. I heard she learned it on her own but it’s weird. The album is just emotional. I can’t listen to ‘hate you’ because of the choppy lyrics.(follow Koreaboo on Facebook and Twitter)
Here are some examples of Baek Yerin’s awkward lyrics from “0310”:
- I hope that I could be seemed really fine with you leaving
- Suddenly, all the things seem complicated
- Tell me how not to get hurted or broken
She also capitalizes the word “If” in the lyrics when it occurs in the middle of a sentence. Any native English speaker would’ve pointed out immediately that ‘hurted’ is not a word. Even Google Docs tells me that. Is there a case to be made for poetic license? Perhaps—but not a very strong one.
To err is human—to push boundaries is divine
I stated in part 1 that we should consider song lyrics in the appropriate context. It is not usually necessary for a proofreader to go over song lyrics. They’re raw. They’re emotional. They break the rules. But to break the rules, you need to know them first.
Will a jazz musician sometimes play a few notes out of key on purpose? Yup! Not by mistake, but intentionally—for effect. I liken that to Ed Sheeran singing, ‘like a magnet do’ instead of ‘like a magnet does’ for rhythm or cadence. I’m certain Ed knew that ‘like a magnet does’ was correct, but he consciously chose to ignore that rule.
I don’t think we can say the same about Baek Yerin’s grammatical errors in “0310.” Hurted is not a word. The past tense of hurt is obviously hurt. If she’d needed a two-syllable word so the line flowed, she could’ve turned hurt into ‘hu-urt.’ Or she could have chosen another 2-syllable synonym (wounded, injured, battered, crippled, etc.).
An amateur musician playing random notes out of key because they don’t know ‘the rules’ will sound awful. The experienced jazz musician doing it to create an effect will be deemed edgy or adventurous. Know the rules before you break ’em.
Why do Baek Yerin’s lyrics seem to get more wronger and more wronger?
I decided to examine other samples of Baek Yerin’s lyrics. It’s no surprise I found more examples of these types of errors.
From “Mr. Gloomy,” where she capitalizes “It” in the middle of sentences throughout the song:
- Every lovers remind me of you
- Every nights are rough for me
- If I ever have to leave / Where would I go? / Should I really have to leave?
- Somewhere or anywhere that near by you
- Make it more longer, make it more stronger
- And I wish we’ll be together / When life makes us apart
- I have much memories of getting more weaker
- Come on let’s drink and have / Very unmanageable day / Would you want me in babe?
Nothing is impossible IF you think differently—but you have to think
Copywriting is full of rule-breakers. You only need to look as far as the Adidas slogan “Impossible is nothing” or Apple’s “Think Different.” These weren’t mistakes—they were intentional choices.
The choice to capitalize words like “If” and “It” in the middle of songs is very unusual. I tried to determine if she had particular reasons for doing so. Was she trying to draw attention to something? If so, I couldn’t discern what it was.
The famous poet E. E. Cummings was well-known for only writing in lowercase letters. Again, his choice to do so was precisely that—a choice. It wasn’t done because he didn’t know better. With a master’s degree from Harvard, we can assume he knew how to use capital and lowercase letters. He would also misspell words on purpose. Again, a conscious choice. It’s unlikely Baek Yerin chose to capitalize “If” or use ‘hurted.’
Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness—it’s a sign of intelligence
What does all this mean? I dunno. But non-native speakers will always be held to higher grammatical standards than native speakers. It will be assumed the native speaker chose to break the rules while the non-native speaker was ignorant of them. Though not always the case, it usually holds true.
I would not suggest that non-native songwriters hire a native-speaking copy editor or proofreader. I would urge them to at least run their lyrics by a native speaker. Working in collaboration with a native English-speaking lyricist would be another great option. At the very least, spellcheck your English lyrics. Google Docs or Grammarly would’ve caught “hurted’ and “If.” Intentionally breaking the rules is cool and edgy. Making grammar mistakes ’cause you were too cocky or lazy to check—not so much.
What do you think? Have I got a legitimate point? Or am I a grumpy old former English teacher unfairly criticizing Baek Yerin’s lyrics? Leave a comment below!
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