Sam Kim’s “Seattle” Analysis

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?

Ignoring 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

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10 thoughts on “Sam Kim’s “Seattle” Analysis”

  1. Thank you so much for writing this! I just discovered Sam Kim this week and I am in love with his music. This song stood out to me because I can relate to it. Wanting to learn more about your heritage, feeling like an outsider, wanting to be accepted…

    I agree that this song can be an anthem for anyone who has moved. It makes you think about what “home” actually is and what it means. Is home a place or a state of mind? Ah, this is making the wheels in my head spin! Haha.

    1. IKR what a talented kid. And such raw, honest thoughts at such a young age.
      sidenote: I went on your blog and I love the stuff you’re doing there. It’s refreshing that there’s another Christian who also likes K-Pop, haha. So often it seems as if it’s impossible, but like, it’s music. As long as it doesn’t come before God.
      Anyhow, I will probably follow your blog! Thanks for commenting ^^

  2. I first heard this song and felt a lot of pain by the end of the song. This song is beautiful like many of his others, but I really think he had been crying by the end of the recording. Sam Kim deserves all the fans in the world. Thank you for writing this. I was not expecting a detailed analysis of the song when I clicked the link, but I am very happy it was.

    1. Michelle thank you so much for this comment. You remind me why I started blogging; so that I could reach out to others and share with people. I haven’t written in a while, but you inspired me to write again, if only to connect with more people. Thank you for your comment again! 🙂

  3. I discovered this song last night and fell in love right away 💕 It was difficult for me to understand the meaning of the song even after looking at the lyrics… Thank you for the detailed explanation!

    1. Hannah thanks so much for referring back to me! I love your blog and it’s always great to connect with others who were also impacted by a song 🙂 I’m looking forward to your future posts!

  4. Hi, I read you analysis, really good. I enjoyed this. So nice to see someone noticing this boy talent. If you watch Sam Kim Documentary, he said that he wanted to learn korean faster that he could properly talk to his parents and convey his feelings. He was not very good in korean language and his parents were not good in english. They talked not much, but still cared for each other. That’s why he sang in korean later and the part, that was confusing to you, is like he is talking for his parents, asking to take him with them, he want to be with them more 🙂

    Sorry for mistakes 🙂

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