How BTS’ memoir was brought to life in Filipino, according to translator, editor
Telling the 10-year story of BTS is daunting. Their songs — which feel like a peek into the septet’s thoughts is a good way to start. At the same time, it’s easy to get access to bite-sized information as it’s available among fan accounts. They never fell short in sharing content as well.
Yet what makes “Beyond the Story,” which was released last July 9, so riveting is how it weaves their stories together, through their own words which is sort of an unfiltered peek from their past to the future. Combining it with Filipino, which is among the 23 languages used to publish their work, is a body of work that is as gut-wrenching as their tough beginnings.
RM and Suga’s recalling of a podcast appearance during their “O!RUL8,2?” era is one of the many examples that show the difference of English to Filipino, the lattermost seeming more like a punch to the gut. Both members lamented how K-pop idols suffer from stereotypes that their music is “inferior in quality and professionalism”
“Idols by nature anyway, they shush me and look down on me,” one anecdote read in its English copy.
On the other hand, the Filipino translation delivers what seemed like a slap which feels directed to the reader. “Likas naman yatang ganyan ang mga idol, ayaw nila akong pagsalitain at mababa ang tingin sa akin.”
Filipino is a language used by fans to express admiration. Usually done through a string of curse words — where a lot of fancams can suffice — is dramatic and passionate. But it actually turned out to be a rightful canvas for BTS’ thoughts to be brought to life.
“The process of translating at first was very challenging. Because even if we have a lot of similarities with Korean culture, there are certain ways that Koreans say something or they have certain idiomatic expressions which might be quite difficult to translate into Filipino,” Oliver Quintana, one of its Filipino translators, told INQUIRER.net in an exclusive interview.
To add more context, Filipino follows the subject—verb—object when it comes to writing sentences. Korean, on the other hand, follows the subject—object—verb pattern.
“So, the challenge was not just to translate it but also to contextualize it in the Filipino setting. We imagined how the members would say a specific phrase or express themselves, as if they were Filipinos,” Quintana said.
“In some of the parts, you would see BTS would be using Filipino expressions like ‘ay’ or ‘naku’ or use words which are ‘very Filipino,’ but cannot be translated into English, like ‘kilig’ which captures a specific feeling and cannot be translated into English, but something that we and the Korean culture also have,” he added.
Meanwhile, Bernalyn Sastrillo, who served as one of the editors, admitted that she and the Apop publishing team dedicated a lot of effort into the research. “Grabe ‘yung research. Kahit nanonood ako ng maraming K-drama at nakikinig ng K-pop, hindi siya enough,” she said. (The research was extensive. Even though I have watched many K-drama and have been listening to K-pop, it’s not enough.)
“Pagdating sa history ng K-pop — which is nand’un sa original text — kailangan siyang i-fact check,” she continued. (When it comes to K-pop history — which includes the original text — it has to be fact-checked.)
BTS’ words in Filipino
Quintana revealed that the project was offered to him by Apop publisher Agno Almario, where the company was tapped by BTS’ label Big Hit Music’s partner in the Philippines.
“Of course, I felt excited but at the same time, I felt very much pressured. We have a very big fanbase here in the Philippines and the fans, Pinoy Armys, are very knowledgeable about the group,” he said. “They’re very passionate and they always show up. I wanted to really make sure we will not only do the material justice, but we also want to bring it closer to the Filipino audience.”
“Some of the challenges were making decisions on what to retain in Korean, for example, you retain the words bingsu, kalgunmu or precise movements of a choreography, so mahirap ‘yun (that’s hard),” he continued.
On the other hand, Sastrillo admitted that she was overwhelmed with joy to take part in the project as she’s a fan of BTS. “Dahil Army ako at dahil naging editor din ako, meron akong working knowledge. So medyo napadali ‘yung page-edit ‘yung certain parts,” she said, as she noted that looking back at some of the septet’s past performances made it easier for her to do so.
(Since I am an Army as well as an editor, I already have working knowledge. So editing the page became somewhat easier, especially certain parts.)
“Sobrang honored ako, naging part ako ng BTS history kahit papaano. Sobrang dream project nga ‘to para sa Armys,” she continued. (I am extremely honored that I became a part of BTS history somehow. This really is a dream project for Armys.)
But since RM, Jin, Suga, J-hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook are very different, especially with how they express their thoughts, it was an “honor” for Sastrillo and Quintana to get a deeper understanding of who they truly are.
Quintana admitted that one of the parts that struck him the most was Jin urging his bandmates to “cook their own food,” with him stressing that they “shouldn’t eat” takeout and delivery food all the time.
“It was Jin who said, ‘We shouldn’t eat like this. We should cook our own food. And then nagluto siya. T[his] and more are [the] many ways na naipakita niya ‘yung pagiging Kuya niya and the care and concern he had for the younger ones (And then he cooked their meal. This and more are the many ways that he was able to show his being the older brother among them, showing care and concern for the younger ones ,” he added.
Sastrillo confessed that it was “challenging” to translate RM’s thoughts as he’s someone who’s poetic. “Marami kaming translators na bihasa sa Korean, pero maraming expressions si RM na mahirap itawid sa Filipino,” she said “Magco-consult and magsu-suggest kami sa isa’t isa and nahanapan [naman] ng paraan. Ang ganda ng thoughts niya, and [worth it] na nai-capture ‘yung pagiging poetic niya.”
(We have many translators who are proficient in Korean, but there are numerous expressions from RM that are difficult to convey in Filipino… We will consult and suggest to each other and find a way. His thoughts are beautiful, and it’s worth capturing his poetic nature.)
The editor also said that Suga is a “man of few words” but his “inner thoughts” show how much he is of a “deep person,” while J-hope’s “optimistic” personality is proof of how he truly lights up a room.
With a smile, Sastrillo took notice of the group’s younger members — also known as the “maknae” line — and how their thoughts evolved throughout the book’s first chapter to the end. She then noted that V is someone who’s “chill” while Jungkook initially didn’t speak too much in the beginning, before you would see how “much he grew” in the final parts.
“Si Jimin naman, may pagka-blunt siya at times. Confident siya magsalita, kaya tumatak sa’kin ‘yung parts na naging vulnerable siya,” she said. Nakuha namin ‘yung tono na ‘yun, and ang dami niyang ni-reveal na hindi ko alam before. Sa kanya ako na-surprise at mas minahal ko siya dahil dito.”
(Jimin is the blunt one at times. He speaks with confidence, which is why the parts where he becomes vulnerable really resonated with me… We captured that tone, and he revealed so much that I didn’t know before. I was surprised by him and I loved him even more because of it.)
During the interview, Sastrillo also clarified that she would receive the translated work, and that’s where her work begins. She sees the translated text as if BTS was recounting their experiences in Filipino, but dedicated effort in making sure that it wouldn’t deviate from the group’s thoughts.
“Every time na hindi malinaw ‘yung pagkatawid ng message or concept, d’un talaga ako pumapasok. Ang role ko is ayusin ‘yun para mas maganda or maayos ‘yung pagkasulat niya sa Filipino,” she continued.
(Whenever the message or concept is not clear, that’s when I come in. My role is to fix that to make the writing in Filipino more beautiful or coherent.)
Appreciating Filipino language
Noting how BTS embraced their Korean roots, Quintana hoped that reading the Filipino translation of the group’s story is a challenge for fans to “embrace” their roots.
“BTS themselves have shown us the power of embracing one’s culture and embracing one’s own language and one’s heritage. Not because they want to please, but because they are proud of who they are.” he said.
“In the same way, the book translation in Filipino challenges us also to embrace who we are, and to be proud of our own language. And show that Filipino can be a universal vehicle for any material or any story to be told in a special way. The story of BTS told in Filipino becomes very important because it shows us that just like BTS, we must learn the value of sacrifice and hard work,” he continued.
On the other hand, Sastrillo pointed out that BTS’ songs like “Dope” and “Mikrokosmos” are more “gut-wrenching” in the Filipino language, noting that reading their thoughts using our “mother tongue” will make you understand them more.
“Lumalapit kasi sa’yo ‘yung experiences nila. Kumbaga sa utak mo, hindi na siya dumadaan sa translation. Naiintindihan mo kung saan sila nanggaling and even sa lyrics, tumatagos siya. Kasi ‘yung Filipino, mas madrama siya,” she added.
(Their experiences became somewhat more relatable. It’s like the words no longer go through the translation process in your mind. You understand where they’re coming from, and even in their lyrics, it penetrates you. Because Filipino language is more dramatic in nature.)
But at the same time, the editor also realized how much of a “trailblazer” the group was in their group. “Ang dami nilang standards sa K-pop and music industry na brineak nila, so parang na-break nila without needing to change who they are,” she said, as she expressed her admiration to the group for staying true to their roots.
(They have set so many standards in K-pop and broke many records in the music industry without need for them to change who they are.)
“Na-discuss sa book kung paano mini-mix ‘yung mga bago nilang natutunan sa Western and nagse-stay true sa roots nila. Feeling ko after all of this, hindi naman sila nagbabago,” she added.
(The book discussed how they combine what they learned from the west with what their roots have to offer. My feeling is that after all of this, they would not change at all.)
Quintana then hoped that Filipino fans would see themselves as the seven-man BTS who went through numerous passages of fire to be who they are today.
“Katulad din tayo ng BTS sa pagpupursigi, sa pagtitiyaga, and isang araw, lahat ng bagay na binigay at isinakripisyon natin ay magkakaroon ng kahulugan at magdadala sa’tin sa tagumpay. And napakasarap na basahin at matutunan ‘yun sa wikang kinalakihan nating lahat,” he said, with a huge smile on his face.
(Just like BTS, we share the same values of perseverance and determination, hoping that one day, everything we have given and sacrificed will have meaning and lead us to success. And it’s truly gratifying to read and learn about it in the language we all grew up with.) EDV