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So remember Friday, when we all discovered that PSY, (formerly) the world's favorite horse-dancing Asian pop star, had rapped some (seriously) anti-American lyrics in 2004? And remember Monday, when everyone freaked out that President Obama would still shake his hand at the White House? Well, about that: something may have been lost in the original translation — including all of the explicit parts, and most of the parts about killing American soldiers. The Washington Post's Max Fisher, an Atlantic alum who has been on the PSY beat before your ears even heard "Gangnam Style" for the first time, did his homework and asked Korean experts about PSY's (not so) anti-American lyrics that got the YouTube sensation of 2012 into so much trouble. 

Here's that widely circulated translation of PSY's lyrics, which started making the rounds after one of those "iReport" pieces of citizen journalism at CNN:

You know what isn't good? Google Translate. Google Translate gave us this weird translation when we plugged in the Korean: 

Fucking Sy rap: Iraqi prisoners tortured Dan and the amount of room for gardeners Advisor told you to Shit on the amount of room for gardenersBaby Amy daughter-in-law Abby Ofay killVery slowly killing him suffer.

Which is why Fisher sought out Korean experts (graduate students, native speakers, Sino-North Korea coordinators) and came up with three translations: 


All the — Yankees torturing Iraqis
All those — Yankees who ordered the torturing
Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law and fathers
Kill them very slowly and painfully


All those — Yankees been torturing Iraqi captives and
All those — Yankees who ordered them to torture
Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law and fathers
Kill them all slowly, kill them all painfully


The —— despicable Western women and men who tortured Iraqi war prisoners and
Dog —— despicable Western women and men who gave orders to torture
Their daughter, mother, daughter-in-law, father the big-nose, kill all
Very slowly kill, painfully kill.

"One thing you'll notice is that none of these translations begin the first two lines with the word 'kill,' as the original did," Fisher writes. And not having "Kill" in those first lines obviously changes the way you interpret the lyrics. You could see how PSY could be calling — and, no, this isn't okay — for violence against the Americans who tortured Iraqis and the authorities who ordered the torture of Iraqis, as opposed to violence directed toward every American. That changes the narrative from something that's very anti-American to anti-American torture. 

And that seems to fit into his Friday apology. "I understand the sacrifices American servicemen and women have made to protect freedom and democracy in my country and around the world," PSY said in a statement picked up by CNN. PSY said the song "was part of a deeply emotional reaction to the war in Iraq and the killing of two Korean schoolgirls that was part of the overall anti-war sentiment shared by others around the world at that time," reported CNN, which also may have started this whole thing. Not that these no translations take away any of the damage done to PSY's reputation or minimize that much of what he said, but still: there's your clarification for you.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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