NEW YORK • Last month, South Korean pop group BTS observed their sixth anniversary with an annual celebration called Festa – 10 days of new interviews, behind-the-scenes clips, choreography videos and the release of their member Jin’s first solo song, Tonight.
They also held their fifth “Muster” fan gathering, continued their Love Yourself: Speak Yourself tour and released a new mobile game.
But the boy band’s seven members were not the only ones with hectic schedules. A network of dedicated volunteer translators also had to work, churning out content for the fandom known as the BTS Army.
BTS are not the only K-pop group with a linguistic battalion to translate Korean into other languages – fellow stars such as Blackpink, Red Velvet and NCT have teams on the task as well – but its scale is massive, with a legion of translators on Twitter whose followings range from tens of thousands to the low millions.
While Korean-to-English translators on Reddit, YouTube, Tumblr and Instagram are numerous, around a dozen Twitter accounts are the primary resources for English-speaking BTS listeners.
Many of these translators became involved because they noticed incorrect or incomplete English transcripts online and also because they saw an opportunity to participate in the rise of a group they wanted to see succeed.
At the first BTS concert 20something fan Kim Jiye (who posts as @doyou-bangtan) attended, she saw the band wanted “the concert to be a way for us to share in our joys and pain, just as humans walking alongside each other”, she said in a telephone interview.
She left the show thinking, “I’m really happy that I exist in this world and these people do too”.
Each translator account has different areas of expertise and interest. Bangtan Translations is one of the largest, posting comprehensive, authoritative interpretations of lyrics, tweets and videos.
The six-person Peachboy team does social media posts, lyrics and letters from the subscription-based Fancafe platform. Spotlight, which has four members, has a special knack for live interpreting.
Translating for one of K-pop’s biggest groups comes with pressures. The sheer amount of content requires some discernment, even as a growing English-speaking market demands more and wants it faster.
Some translators have experienced burnout, especially those working alone at the mercy of an incredibly active and devoted fan base.
The person behind the popular account @cafe-army shared a letter to followers on June 27 announcing an “indefinite rest” to focus on his personal life, which had been “compromised” by so much time translating.
Fan translators do not have the opportunity to ask BTS or the songwriters the group works with about the intent of a given track, instead inferring context from interviews and past lyrics.
Korean also comes with its own particularities, idioms and references. BTS song, Ddaeng, uses the title word in at least six different ways over four minutes.
Fans, meanwhile, appreciate the reassurance that comes from having a variety of interpretations to choose from.
Ms Myla Adjin, 18, creator of the popular BTS fan account @cosmosdior, is just beginning to learn Korean. She looks at multiple accounts for translations, then adds her own perspective based on her knowledge of the group.
“I’m not set on one, like they’re definitely right,” she said. “I try to get everyone’s point of view before I make a final decision.”