8 Korean Words Every K‑Pop Fans Need To Know

Learning Korean with your favorite k-pop songs

[Featured image by David Radomysler]

K-pop music is an important part of South Korean culture and has already conquered the world from East to West. If you’re old enough, you probably remember the craze for the pop-rock band Tokio Hotel and how the number of people studying German increased in the 2000s after the group released their album Schrei. Well, it’s pretty much the same with K-pop bands except a million times more impressive.

Which fan never wanted to catch a word or two of his favorite K-pop songs? Unfortunately, non-Korean speakers mostly understand three words when a Korean song comes on: “love,” “baby,” and the other B-word (in K-rap music), as they are often sung in English. However, some Korean words also appear quite often, and knowing them will help you understand a few terms in most of these songs.

Music and languages are potent means of communication that bring us together. Whether you’re a K-pop fan, K-rnb fan, or even both, Korean has become part of your musical culture. You may not win a karaoke contest, but each word on this list is one step closer to your beloved idols.

8. 슬픈 (Seulpeun) / Sad

슬픈 (seulpeun) means “sad.”

We rarely feel better after our sad selves listened to a sad song, but we love doing it. Maybe we try to be in symbiosis with the music like some Romantic heroes, and while they enjoy seeing the reflection of their soul in Nature, we’d rather get depressed on our bed listening to a breakup song. It’s almost an intellectual activity.

Best Friend by iKON is the perfect song to cry over if you’re trapped in unrequited love with your friend. In the chorus, Jinhwan says the word “슬픈” (seulpeun) while singing, “I would say it’s a pretty, sad dream” (English translation). Can you hear it?

You can also practice your listening skills with these songs:

  • chorus of Heroine (주인공 ) by Sunmi;
  • pre-chorus of Stay by Blackpink;
  • chorus of Stay With Me by Taeyang feat. G-Dragon.

7. 운명 (Unmyeong) / Fate, Destiny

운명 (unmyeong) means “fate” or “destiny.”

As in the song DNA by BTS, love seems more powerful and greater when you think you’re meant to be with someone. Chance, the stars, the universe, everything worked out harmoniously to make sure you meet your soulmate. It’s like being the hero/heroine of your K-drama, and your heartbeat is the perfect soundtrack.

But fate can be cruel. In the chorus of Poison by GOT7, the lover’s kiss is compared to poison, and they can’t help stop themselves from kissing the person they love as if it was destiny’s will. They use the word 운명 (unmyeong) in the chorus. Can you hear it?

You can also practice your listening skills with these songs:

  • post-chorus of Behind the Mask by Twice;
  • chorus and refrain of DNA by BTS;
  • pre-chorus and chorus of The Chance of Love (운명) by TVXQ.

6. (Bam) / Night

(bam) means “night.”

The night is the most complex moment of the day. It’s the perfect time for romantic dates (Walk On Memories by EXO), and although it can symbolize eternal youth when you’re having fun with your friends like there’s no tomorrow (All Night by Girl’s Generation), it’s also a moment of introspection (Mikrokosmos by BTS) and loneliness when you feel overwhelmed with sadness (Starry Night by Mamamoo).

Time For The Moon Night (밤) by GFRIEND is about seeing the one you love in your dreams because you can’t be with him/her in real life. In the chorus, they use the word (bam). Can you hear it?

You can also practice your listening skills with these songs:

  • refrain of Ko Ko Bop by EXO;
  • pre-chorus, chorus, and post-chorus of Purple Night (보라빛 밤) by Sunmi;
  • chorus of Starry Night (보라빛 밤) by Mamamoo.

5. (Son) / Hand

(son) means “hand.”

Two holding hands represent the strong bond between two people, and it’s a romantic and chaste act that may affect you, especially at the beginning of a relationship. But since life is not a K-drama, hands can also be naughty (Candy by Baekhyun), and if you’re not lucky in love, they can be the ones that crush your heart.

In Life Goes On (방탄소년단) by BTS, holding hands symbolizes friendship and solidarity during the pandemic. In the pre-chorus, they use the word ““(son) to kindly ask you to hold their hand. Can you hear it?

You can also practice your listening skills with these songs:

  • pre-chorus 1 of Candy by Baekhyun;
  • intro, chorus, and outro of Eyes Locked, Hands Locked (눈 맞추고, 손 맞대고) by Red Velvet;
  • pre-chorus of Love Whisper (귀를 기울이면) by GFRIEND.

4. (Sum) / Breath

(sum) means “breath.”

Sometimes life gets so hard that you feel like you can barely breathe, and you just need to calm down and take a break from the world that makes you sad and anxious (Breathe by Lee Hi). So taking a deep breath is a way to pull yourself together. On a happier note, love can take your breath away.

When it comes to declarations of love, it’s all about hyperbole, as in the song Getting Closer (숨이 차) by Seventeen. The band uses the image of being out of breath to express how badly they want to be with their lover. In the chorus, they say “숨이 차게” (sumi chage), which can be translated as “out of breath, breathlessly”. Can you hear it?

You can also practice your listening skills with these songs:

  • verse 1 and verse 2 of BBoom Bboom (뿜뿜) by Momoland;
  • verse 1 and chorus of Breathe (한숨) by Lee Hi;
  • pre-chorus and bridge of Paradise (낙원) by BTS.

3. (Kkum) / Dream

(kkum) means “dream.”

Dreams are sweet escapes from reality, and this break can happen either when you are asleep (Time For The Moon Night by GFRIEND) or when you focus on your deepest desires to achieve your dreams (Verse 1 of Suga’s Interlude by Suga). But sometimes you meet someone so special that being by his/her side makes you feel like you’re having the sweetest dream (Euphoria by BTS).

In No More Dream, the BTS members criticize the lack of dreams and daring among young people, and the word (kkum) is repeated all over the song, especially in the refrain. Can you hear it?

You can also practice your listening skills with these songs:

  • chorus of Dream (상상한 꿈) by Jamie;
  • chorus of Dreaming (꿈에) by BTOB;
  • pre-chorus of Euphoria by BTS.

2. (Nun) / Eyes

(nun) means “eyes.”

Eyes are appealing and convey all the feelings that words cannot express; that’s why many songs mention them, especially love songs. Eyes gazing is something intense and intimate. But if you can see the passion in the eyes of the loved one, you can also notice the jealousy in the eyes of envious people.

Making eye contact is also a way to assert yourself and show your strength of character and determination. In the pre-chorus of How You Like That by Blackpink, Rosé uses the word (nun) to say to her haters, “While looking into your eyes, I’ll kiss you goodbye” (English translation.) Can you hear it?

You can also practice your listening skills with these songs:

  • chorus of Beautiful (아름다워) by Monsta X;
  • chorus of Eyes, Nose, Lips (, , ) by Taeyang;
  • verse 2 of New Face by PSY.

1. 사랑 (Salang) / Love

사랑 (salang) means “love.”

Whether it’s romance or friendship, love is everything. Sometimes it comes all of a sudden, and sometimes it doesn’t last the way you thought it would; sometimes it’s a bummer, and sometimes love is great. Regardless of what your situation is, there is always a Korean song that perfectly matches the state of your heart.

I Love You (사랑해) by Treasure is about declaiming your love. In the refrain, they repeat the expression 사랑해 (salanghae), which is a casual way of saying “I love you.” Can you hear it?

You can also practice your listening skills with these songs:

  • verse 1 and pre-chorus of Kill This Love by Blackpink;
  • chorus of Love Scenario (사랑을 했다) by iKON;
  • chorus of Shine (빛나리) by Pentagon.

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