In 2020 I fell down the VTuber rabbit hole. Or, more accurately, it was closer to a certain dog-shaped hole. The rabbit would come later. Having watched a fair bit of Kizuna Ai back when she went viral in 2017, I had an idea of what a Virtual YouTuber was, but I had no idea that there were others out there, much less large companies with multiple generations of talent. But a combination of factors in early 2020 pushed them much more mainstream, followed not long after by a massive explosion of interest courtesy of a native English speaking branch of one of the largest companies, Hololive.
Around the same time, Vocaloid producer Kanaria dropped what would become a viral hit in its own right, a catchy number using the GUMI voice pack named “KING”.
While unquestionably popular (the original video has about 50 million views on YouTube at the time of writing), the song was well outside of the typical sphere of content I tend to watch on that platform, so it initially passed me by. Of course, these things do have a way of getting back around, and that came in the form of Hololive.
With the debut of Hololive English in September 2020, it was the first time I was actively present for a new generation, and the first time I was able to actually understand what they were saying in real time without the need for translators in chat or clippers subtitling snippets of videos after the fact. And of this new group, entitled “Myth”, the very first to make her appearance was one Calliope Mori, a.k.a. the rapping reaper, who caught everyone by surprise with a banger debut single and 4 track EP that same day. I was officially hooked.
“How about that,” I thought, “so these girls do music too huh?” Little did I know that as I followed this new frontier in corporate-backed VTubing, “KING” was doing the rounds as a popular cover song both within and without the company’s stable of talent. Possibly some combination of the striking key visual, catchy beat and memorable hook “LEFT SIDE RIGHT SIDE” made it an attractive, strategic proposition. After a while the name reached my ears, but I was yet to hear the song itself. That is, until May 2021, when Suisei Hoshimachi posted her take on the song, pitched down slightly to accommodate her powerful lower register.
In short, I loved it. I went back through every other Hololive talent’s covers: Ayunda Risu, Shion Murasaki, Roboco-san, Reine Pavolia, and more; different takes on the song one and all, some more different than others, and plenty good on their own merits. I put them all on repeat while I was working from home, and came to find my recommendations filling up with either one of two new types of video:
- Covers of other songs by Hololive talents
- Covers of KING by other YouTubers
In that latter camp, and perhaps rather related to my last post, was a number of English-translated covers of the song. One I found that I was quite impressed with was by a fellow named Will Stetson, who makes translating and singing Japanese song lyrics his speciality. He had several such covers that impressed me in fact, such as Ado’s “Usseewa” and Chinozo’s “Goodbye Sengen”. And as I kept coming back to listen to (and sing along with) them, I had to wonder: what did the original lyrics say?
Like with “Pride and Arrogance”, I hit up the internet to find some translations of the lyrics. As far as I could tell, there was only a single prominent one which every other site I saw had reposted, by Magenetra on Tumblr: https://magenetratranslations.tumblr.com/post/625742668501237760/here-is-a-translation-for-kararias-newest-song
The meaning of those words I’d been jamming to were quite different to those of Will Stetson’s aforementioned English cover. Naturally, of course, simply translating words from one language to another will not preserve the meaning exactly, to say nothing of the musical construction; being the melody, cadence, rhyming, and other lyrical devices. Nor can any one translation be the “correct one”. As such, being different is what I expected. I myself did as much not so long ago (NB: it was eighteen months ago now RIP).
But knowing that bugged me. The more I thought about it, the more certain lyrical choices in that and other English covers became a bother. Not to say they’re bad choices, or wrong choices, by any stretch of the imagination. But it wasn’t how I would do them. I could feel that itching in my brain again, the one that compels me to be like Thanos and say “fine, I’ll do it myself”. So I did. With a pretty good grasp of English, a pretty bad grasp of Japanese, and a slew of Japanese to English dictionaries at hand, I set out to craft my own take on the song in English.
I’ve included the original lyrics in Romaji above my interpretation as a useful reference point for each phrase of the song. Note that words that were in English in the original are written in ALL CAPS. It helps to be familiar with the melody and play the song as you read to best understand the flow.
using the GUMI voice pack
[Verse 1] JP: Yuuhei rikou iku mae ni EN: You're chaining me up for my wit? JP: Yuuhei ja rikou ni nangi DARLING EN: You hate to obey your orders, darling JP: Yuuhei STOP! Shittenai shi EN: No, wait, stop! I didn't mean it! JP: Kanben ni shitoite nante zannin EN: Forgive me for saying such a cruel thing JP: Hitosama negau kakera no IRONY EN: The masses' wasteful wishes share in shades of irony JP: Daremo ga negau mukishitsu na you na EN: Alike in lieu of lonely individuality JP: Hitoashi saki ni hajimetetai you na EN: Nobody knows the outcome; still they stand in unity JP: Saki ga mienai VIRGIN HAPPY SHOW EN: to be the first to see your virgin happy show [Pre-Chorus] JP: Nai no arata ni onegai hitotsu EN: I know I don't have a new request to ask of you JP: Ai mo kawarazu omake ni WARNING WARNING EN: I'm a constant lover, there's no need for warnings, warnings JP: Nai no anata ni onegai hitotsu EN: I know I won't have a new request to ask of you JP: Haritsumeta omoikome EN: Tension building up, I want you on my [Chorus] Both: LEFT SIDE, RIGHT SIDE JP: Ha o mukidashite EN: When you bare your fangs at me JP: pa-pa-pa terekusai ne EN: pa-pa-pa pathetic shameful thing Both: LEFT SIDE, RIGHT SIDE JP: Ha o tsukidashite EN: Show the beast that's underneath JP: pa-pa-pa EN: pa-pa-pa Both: HAHA, YOU ARE KING Both: YOU ARE KING [Verse 2] JP: Mujaki ni asobu EN: Playing like you're free of sin JP: kitai kitai no DARLING DARLING EN: Getting my hopes up darling, darling JP: Ken age ni warau EN: By your domineering grin JP: itai itai no kieru EN: The pain I feel is vanishing JP: Buzama ni shineru EN: Like a fool I'll die at peace JP: nigai omoi mo naku natte EN: So no hard feelings; thanks for all your JP: Lo-lo-love, ra-ta-ta EN: Lo-lo-love, ra-ta-ta JP: Kiraigirai no saitei naite DOWN EN: So why am I now aching, breaking down? [Pre-Chorus] JP: Maido arata ni onegai hitotsu EN: My demands are still the same request to ask of you JP: Ai mo kawarazu PICK UP no WARNING WARNING EN: I'm a constant lover, pick up on your warnings, warnings JP: Nai no anata ni onegai hitotsu EN: I know I won't have a new request to ask of you JP: Haritsumeta omoikome EN: Tension building up, I want you on my [Chorus] Both: LEFT SIDE, RIGHT SIDE JP: Ha o mukidashite EN: When you bare your fangs at me JP: pa-pa-pa jamakusai ne EN: pa-pa-pa pain in the ass I think Both: LEFT SIDE, RIGHT SIDE JP: Ha o tsukidashite EN: Show the beast that's underneath JP: pa-pa-pa EN: pa-pa-pa Both: HAHA, YOU ARE KING Both: YOU ARE KING Both: YOU ARE KING
Okay, now to explain my thought process. Going in, I had a few general rules I wanted to abide by:
- Each line should match the original line’s syllable count and stresses as closely as possible
- Each line should match the original line’s meaning as closely as possible
- Retain lyrics already in English where possible
- Retain lyrical sounds where possible
I suppose I’ll start with the chorus, since that had the least to adapt (not that that meant any less work on my part). The second and fifth lines are the same in both choruses, and both express the idea of bearing one’s fangs and letting them poke out. Saying basically the same thing twice was a bit boring to me, so I decided to make the second line a literal interpretation (when you bare your fangs at me) and the fifth line a metaphorical one (show the beast that’s underneath). Originally the latter was about a “stepford smile”, but the phrasing was awkward and, while thematically appropriate, it didn’t communicate the idea well for anyone not familiar with the trope.
The third line varies slightly between the two choruses. Initially, it talks about an unspecified “this” being embarrassing, and in the refrain, it’s bothersome instead. I interpreted the subject to be the perspective character, making the lines a sort of self-deprecating remark in contrast to the self-assuredness of the titular king being sung about. I also liked that in Will Stetson’s interpretation, the word following “pa pa pa” also started with a “pa” sound, so I incorporated that to the particular phrasing I used for each remark (pathetic shameful thing/pain in the ass I think).
Next are the two pre-choruses. Like the main hooks that follow them, they also are fairly similar to each other. The first and third lines in each speak of the requests the singer has of another person; specifically that it’s always the same request. The first lines differ slightly in each, with the latter pre-chorus putting particular emphasis on that sentiment. The third lines are the same in both, and are themselves almost identical to the first lines.
I decided to convey this repetition in English by repeating the same line in the initial pre-chorus but swapping out a single word (I know I don’t/won’t have a new request to ask of you). I also made a point of starting the line with “I know” and ending it with “you” to match the sounds of the line in Japanese (nai no…tsu). For the same reason, the repeated pre-chorus’s first line starts with “my demands” (maido).
The second line was challenging to adapt because of the sheer volume of meaning in such a short syllable count, while also needing to involve the English words “warning, warning”. Playing on the constancy of the singer’s requests, I opted to make their love constant also, which becomes the reason to need no such warnings, or pick up on them, as the line varies to on returning. This line also repeats the rough phonemes as in the Japanese at the opening (ai mo ka…/I’m a con…).
The last line was perhaps the one that most varied from the Magenetra translation. I couldn’t square their interpretation’s meaning with how the lyrics read individually, and tying the last line into the third but not the second to the first seemed inconsistent to me, so I took a different track. Namely, I wanted the last line to lead directly into the chorus, so I put the part about stress/tension into the first half of the line and used it as a reason for a desired connection with the object of their affections (tension building up, I want you on my/LEFT SIDE RIGHT SIDE).
By far the most of my time was spent on the verses. Of the two, the first verse came a little easier; I’m not sure if it actually just flows more readily or if I just got lucky with coming up with the right lyrics much quicker than for the second.
In any case, the first verse opens with three consecutive lines starting with the same word and an ABAB rhyming scheme even in Japanese. Naturally I had to capture that same feel in my version, so I opened those same lines with as close to the same sounds to each other as I could get, which even approximated the sounds in Japanese (yuuhei/you’re chain[ing]/you hate/no wait). The end of those lines rhymes as well (wit/it and darling/thing).
The words themselves speak of what sounds to be a sort of power relationship between the singer and their “king”, wherein a smart (read: smart ass) person is locked up by a cruel one who has difficulty obeying orders. Looked at from one position, this relationship could be evoking dom/sub roles, or from another it could be seen as abusive. As a side note, Magenetra highlights that the words used for “smart” and “obedient” are homophonous, which I don’t think we can replicate in English.
Following that, the verse switches up the flow to a similar one used for the pre-choruses. The meaning is a little hard to parse, but the broad strokes I took away from it are that the people are wishing to be first to get in on the same thing, that it’s ironic and somewhat inorganic that they are, and nobody knows what’s going to happen when they do. They key words to include here were the English “irony” and “virgin happy show”.
Now I have no idea what the latter is meant to be, but as it’s already English, include it I must. Hence, I built the fifth to eighth lines to lead towards it. However, given the staccato rhythm of the lines, I injected consonance into my word choices to give them a sense of impact on the alternating stressed syllables (share in shades/alike in lieu/still they stand). I really liked how that turned out, and how having that idea made writing those lines so much easier.
In contrast, the second verse did not have nearly as obvious a set of translations or techniques I could invoke, I felt. Of all the lyrics, it is these I have revised the most. I may well continue revising them.
The first and second lines open the verse by accusing the singer’s partner of pretending to be innocent to play into their hopes and wishes. While it was fairly easy to fit lyrics that said those things into the prescribed meter, it took several revisions in conjunction with the following lines to make something that flowed and rhymed. Unlike the first verse, there isn’t as clear a template to follow. It took a lot of convincing on my own part to change “innocent” to “free of sin” for that purpose.
Likewise, lines three and four underwent several iterations. The former speaks in ambiguous terms of a smile or laugh that could be brave or intense or admirable. Whether that’s good or bad is hard to read. I decided to call back to the first verse’s implied relationship to suggest it’s overwhelming such that all else, like pain, is forgotten.
You see, the key word in the latter line is “disappear”, and for a long time I was hung up on that matching the cadence of the Japanese but not matching the rhyme with “darling”. I could have simply thrown “-ing” on the end but the extra syllable irked me more. I needed a present participle verb to mean something went away but with the same emphasis as “disappear”, and it took an embarrassingly long time to find it.
But the most trouble was line five, with the infamous bleeped “die”. I was unmovable on having that word line up in exactly that syllable, which was complicated by the other part of the line. It speaks of dying clumsily or awkwardly, and it kind of left me at a loss because, like, how do you do that??? For a long time I half heartedly left “clumsily” in there because it fit, but I eventually hit upon framing it as a fool’s choice to die in the midst of comfort instead of live in it, which tied the whole thing together with the preceding and following parts.
I also felt strongly about the following part, specifically line seven, in that it should remain unchanged, and that line six should lead into it not unlike the pre-chorus to the chorus. Lines four and six talk about pain and bitterness fading, respectively, so I took the latter of those to refer to letting go of a grudge or grievance (no hard feelings) and invented a follow up to go with it (thanks for all your/[love]). The flow of this line is not exact, though the original packs a tonne of syllables into a much smaller time by truncating a lot of them, so I figure if I can get away with that anywhere, it’s here.
And of course the last line was simultaneously a challenge and child’s play. The original line once again conveys a lot of information in a short time, namely a repeated hatred and condemnation followed by breaking down into tears. Ending on the English word “down” led me to “breaking down” as in mentally, and I noticed the preceding words in Japanese sounded very similar to each other, so I took a leaf out of Billy Ray Cyrus’s book (aching, breaking down) to squeeze all those big emotions into three words.
The first half of the line also got that treatment. Since I already covered the emotional aspect, I needed to cover the journey to them, lyrically. Since the opening of this line in Japanese also repeats sounds, I wanted to do that here too for a double whammy of rhymes. As it so happens, I was able to do so by framing the line as a question, which also allowed me to rhyme the words with the Japanese words (kirai girai no/so why am I now). Imagine synergising the weeb’s three main languages all at once: English, Japanese, and meme. Boom, microphone drop.
Okay that last thing was cringe but hopefully you thought the rest of the explanation wasn’t! I had a fun time not only putting together these lyrics but also writing up this post explaining my journey to doing so as well.
I want to make clear here that by writing this I don’t mean to imply that anyone else’s interpretation of the lyrics is wrong or bad; translation is an interpretive exercise at the best of times, to say nothing of capturing someone’s creative voice!
All I did was for my own enjoyment, and I hope you can find some of that in reading it (or singing it! If you want to use these lyrics in a cover, please send me a message!). So if you made it this far, thank you! And remember,
YOU ARE KING.