Behind the Music : Psy and G-Dragon are "Tree Frogs"?
Seems like Psy's sixth album has got everybody talking and shouting "Gangnam Style!"...but it's also got some of us non-Korean fans scratching our heads. This new series is to help people understand the meaning behind the titles of your favorite K-pop songs.
So, why are Psy and G-Dragon singing about tree frogs, you ask?
Psy's track "Tree Frog" is based on an old Korean folk tale that is told to children in an attempt to encourage filial piety, an aspect of Confucian philosophy that teaches people to selflessly honor and obey their parents. Because of some confusion between English and Korean, English speakers sometimes call this story "Blue Frog"- however, the frog in the story is not blue, this is just a translation error.
The story goes, there was once a tree frog who was very, very disobedient towards its mother. He did the opposite of everything she asked, and his disobedience to her causes her to grow sick. When she is about to die, she decides to make one final request. Knowing he would do the opposite of what she asked, she asks her son to bury her next to the river as opposed to the mountainside. When she dies, her son feels terrible about how he's treated his mother, and decides to honor her last wish. He buries her next to the river exactly as she asked, and a little while later it starts to rain. Her son is so afraid the rain will wash her grave away that he can't stop crying. Legend has it, this is why tree frogs cry when it rains, and because of this story, Koreans sometimes call contrary people "tree frogs".
Similar to Sunny Hill's "Grasshopper Song" which subverts the story of the ant and the grasshopper by retelling it from the lazy grasshopper's perspective, Psy's song "Tree Frog" twists the meaning of the tree frog story.
Psy uses the familiar story to challenge people who try to tell him what to do. He says, "I'm not wrong, I'm just different," and asks that his detractor to "please go worry about yourself." Society tells him he should be ashamed of being a tree frog, but he isn't. In fact, he's proud to be a tree frog and doesn't understand why that's such a bad thing.
G-Dragon who has a featured rap on the track then references a children's song about the ribbiting sounds of singing frogs. This turns the entire story of the tree frog on its head- whereas the folk tale has our tree frog crying to mourn for his mother and the way he's treated her, G-Dragon's rap says, "loudly, loudly, loudly shouting, two frogs are singing a song, it's suffocating."
In the original children's song, the frogs sing throughout the night, even though they know no one is listening. G-Dragon and Psy, however, are well aware that people are listening to them. GD goes on to ask, "Do they know me, a child that was heartbroken because of neglect?" Clearly, GD has a problem with the system of conformity taught by the story of the tree frog- it hasn't done him any favors, so he's challenging it.
Unlike the children's song, G-Dragon and Psy describe the frogs' singing as "suffocating". But who is being suffocated? It's a little hard to tell, they might mean that the two of them feel suffocated by society's expectations of them. They could also mean that their song suffocates the voices of people who go against them. Either way, G-Dragon finishes his rap on a confident note- "Let's just wait and see who becomes successful- you'll be embarrassed, you'll be jealous, you'll like me."
The song is especially poignant coming from artists such as Psy and G-Dragon, who are both known to ignore convention and go with their own instincts, regardless of what everyone else has to say about them.
What are your personal thoughts on the song? Are any of you proud to be 'tree frogs' too?
[Reference: Sejong Society]
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