Sam Kim came onto the radar when he auditioned for Kpop Star, a talent search competition. He is my brother’s age (1998), extremely talented, and a Korean American. His Korean is not fully proficient and yet now, he is singing in the language and immersed in his heritage culture.
His story fascinated me. In his audition, while a judge is complimenting him, he shyly admits that he doesn’t know what the judge is saying. And throughout the show, he speaks in English most of the time, as he can express himself more succinctly. But now, he is in a culture and language far from his hometown Seattle. He has culture shock of going to his heritage. And yet, he pushes on.
This song is beautiful and offers an intimate look into his transition into Korea. When I first listened to it, the first line in Korean he sings drew my attention; translated, it means “It would be good if I could improve in Korean faster.” It made my heart ache. What incredible pressure he must be facing at the mere age of 18, singing in a tongue familiar yet foreign to him, in a society that is mostly nostalgic.
Here’s the song:
And here are the lyrics, which I will analyze. My analysis is on the right side:
Can I run and hide
I’m stuck inside my memories
Step away from time
take me to a place
where I will never grow old
This is referring to Seattle, his hometown
his place of memories,
a place, that now, is in his past, in his memories
where he will never grow old, since memories never age and are immortal
I’m tired everyday I’m thirsty for the rain
That waters all of my melodies
The needle in the sky
never fails to light my night
And it sews my heart on my tattered sleeve
Seattle has lots of rain and throughout the song he refers to it as such
“needle in the sky” is the famous Space Needle
and then he does a pun, saying the needle sews his heart
on a tattered sleeve; tattered due to his hard work?
Oh please my heart is all for you
Just please take care of me I’m all for you
Take take take me all for you
Take take take me home to you
Seattle is his home
and it takes care of him
(even though he isn’t there now?)
한국말이 더 빨리 늘었음 좋겠어 (I wish my Korean would improve more quickly)
나의 마음을 더 잘 전할 수 있게 oh (So I could convey my feelings)
비가 많던 그 곳 모두들 건강한지 (The place with rain (Seattle), are they okay there?)
가끔 내 생각은 하는지 (I wonder if they think about me)
He is still struggling with the language and wants to be able to convey his emotions
and yet, in all of this, Seattle is still in his mind and heart
and he wonders if the city remembers him
*I have wondered about the nature of cities myself, especially since I just left Montreal. It’s almost as if a city or a town loves a person back and can infinitely love back, but once a person leaves, the city is indifferent. And it hurts, but things always change and we can never return to the city that we left.*
아직 낯선 여기 나를 좋아해주는 (It’s still awkward here)
새로운 친구 내게 생겼어 (I got a new friend)
New friend referring to Seoul, his new home,
or rather, place of residence
because he still is figuring out his position there and creating his home there
*Can we create home? Can we have more than one home? What defines home for diaspora, people who are uprooted from their hometown? Is home something more fluid? Or is home for diaspora like Sam Kim and other Asian Americans portable, not necessarily bound to our place of birth, but by the memories? For me, Montreal is a bit of home for me. I love the city, its downtown, its languages, its simple beauty, its bilingual nature. I think it’s the first time I fell in love with a city, but does that make it home? Or is it the memories and the times I spent there?*
Oh please 이젠 날 받아줘 (Oh please, accept me now)
Just please 들어가게 허락해줘 (Oh please, allow me enter)
늘 여기 있던 것처럼 (As if I lived here)
Let let let me in your heart
Here, he is appealing to Seoul
asking it to accept him
as if he was one of its citizens
He still doesn’t fully understand Seoul,
and so he wants to get into the city’s heart
들려줄 말이 너무 많은데 (Please listen, I have many things to say)
Perhaps Seoul isn’t listening to him?
Oh please 내 손을 잡아줘 (Oh please, hold my hand)
Just please 어제처럼 날 안아줘 (Just please, like yesterday hug me)
늘 함께 있던 것처럼 (Like when we were together)
Take take take me home
Here is where it gets a bit confusing;
who is he speaking to now?
He is singing in Korean
but now he uses ‘home’ rather than ‘heart’
Is this signifying that he is more Korean now and will use Korean to talk to Seattle?
And does that then imply that Seoul is still not his home
and never will be?
Or, perhaps, this is signifying that now,
his home spans Seoul and Seattle,
a fusion of the two that he embodies in himself and his music
and home is now more abstract, found in the tension of transition and the mixing of languages and cultures, finding the balance for him
~ ~ ~
I feel almost like this song can be the anthem for anyone who moved. This tension, which in Sam’s case is more explicit in the languages he uses to distinguish between the two. When I found the lyrics, a part of me resonated. The lyrics are very raw and the music itself is very striped down, focusing on his voice and its vulnerability.
And the lyrics. There are so many things to explore, some which I touched upon above. I just recently finished an ethnography on Korean women in diaspora (people who are uprooted from their home) and the themes discussed in it are found here, in this talented eighteen year old’s writing.
I am looking forward to more of Sam’s material. I applaud him for including this personal track on his debut mini album. It shows that he is using his music to help him digest his situation and I believe that this is the purpose of music. Music is to help cope and understand what is happening and Sam did this in this song. There is clearly a story and a person behind this song and I can feel it.
~ ~ ~
So, it’s been a while since I posted, eh? Sorry about that, readers. It took an extraordinary song as “Seattle” to push me to write again. Just like I said about music, writing also is how I digest what I learn and experience. On that note, I feel like since it’s been a while since I blogged my thoughts, I haven’t been critically thinking as much. I write for class but that’s it. I still do think and apply what I learn in class but when I write, my speculations and thoughts become more concrete.
I hope to organize my thoughts and ideas more on this blog, especially as I learn more about diasporic identity and Asian history. The more I learn, the more I realize that everything is connected and the world is meshed beautifully and sloppily together.
Thank you for reading this very long post, friend~ 🙂
~Ashley J Chong