Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Kanye West Sucks Stronger & Harder

Kanye "George Bush Does Not Care About Black People" West has just released a new album called Graduation.


Alan and I both have watched the video, and he has documented the following errors:


That's pretty funny. Some of it seems to make sense, but it is all written in katakana, which is rather hard to read, especially as it flashes by so quickly. It is also sort of like reading a children's story written for preschoolers, who would not be assumed to be able to read kanji. Somehow the "baby talk" style of writing clashes with the "tough guy" image of the video.

Sometimes katakana is used to convey a robotic style of speaking, though.

I was initially optimistic that the katakana flashing on the screen might make some sense, since one of the first ones appeared to be ストロンガ which is in fact the transliteration of "Stronger," the name of the tune and this is flashed on the screen when Kanye sings the word. But my optimism did not hold out long.

This was followed by ヨリナガク which is the katakana version of より長く or the translation of "longer." This is not quite right because "I can't wait much longer" is sung, and the grammar doesn't match in context. And it seems odd that one of the words "stronger" would be transliterated as if it were a name, and the other word "longer" would be translated.

The first katakana bit in the video コセロ [kosero] at first didn't make any sense. It is flashed when the lyrics "that which don't kill me" are sung, so I can only assume it is supposed to mean "kill" but this would be 殺せ [korose] and would be written コロセ [korose] instead of コセロ [kosero] in katakana. So evidently they had some editing problems or a dyslexic typist. Anyway, the katakana doesn't match the lyrics because 殺せ is the imperative form, as in the order "Kill!"

The next one isn't too bad. He sings "right now" and イマスグ appears. This is the katakana version of 今直ぐ, which is in fact a good translation of "right now."

Then we see イマオマエガヒツヨウダ (ima omae ga hitsuyou da = 今おまえが必要だ) which is a good translation of "I need you right now."

But things went downhill from there. Some bits like ガンバレ (ganbare) are presumably supposed to be real words in Japanese, but this is misspelled so that it actually reads ガソバレ (gasobare), which makes no sense. I also can't see why it appears there.

Other katakana looks just like gibberish, but it flashes by so quickly I can't read it properly. The single characters (ne), (gi), (te), (za) and (yo) appear for seemingly no reason.

At one point I saw キガクルウ (ki ga kuruu = 気が狂う) or "to go crazy" which seems to match the lyric "go ape."

I am mystified by some bits like タツセイシロ (tatsuseishiro). What is this supposed to mean? Is this an error for タッセイシロ (note the small )? If so, it would be 達成しろ or "achieve it!" (But achieve what?) This mistake of using instead of ッ appears to be typical of typing by a non-Japanese typist that cannot tell the difference.

Another bit オレハコロサレナイ (ore ha korosarenai = 俺は殺されない) appears when the lyric "don't kill me" is sung, but the Japanese literally means "I cannot be killed." It is followed by …ハオレヲツヨクスルダケダ… (...ha ore wo tsuyoku suru dake da... = は俺を強くするだけだ) which does mean "... will only make me stronger..."

The lyric "I need you to hurry up" is appropriately accompanied by イマスグイソグンダ (ima sugu isogunda = 今直ぐ急ぐんだ).

In one scene, the nurse looks into a room and screams and "タスケテ!"appears as a sort of subtitle. This is a literal translation of "Help!" the phrase usually used where someone is captured and needs to be rescued -- the damsel in distress's classic cry. But it seems a bit incongruous for a professional nurse to call for security this way.

One bit レダケオマエヲ (re dake omae wo) seems to have been part of a longer phrase with both ends cut off for some reason.

The subtitles for the security guards' lines -- ウゴクナ! (ugoku na! = 動くな!) (Don't move!), トマレ! (tomare! = 止まれ!) (Stop!) and ナンダコレハ…? (nanda kore ha...?) (What the...?) -- appear to be fine, except that the typist continues to confuse with . So ナンダ [nanda] actually is the nonsensical ナソダ [nasoda].

Anyway, overall it seems like they did actually have a real translator translate some bits, but probably they gave the translator only extremely short bits of text to translate, which were translated out of context. And then they had a non-Japanese typist create the titles, so additional errors were introduced at that stage.

By the way, I like Daft Punk's version of this song much better than Kanye West's.


And I like this version as well.


  1. Another bit オレハコロサレナイ (ore ha korosarenai = 俺は殺されない) appears when the lyric "don't kill me" is sung, but the Japanese literally means "I cannot be killed." It is followed by …ハオレヲツヨクスルダケダ… (...ha ore wo tsuyoku suru dake da... = は俺を強くするだけだ) which does mean "... will only make me stronger..."

    I think they probably meant to say something like "俺を殺さないことは俺を強くするだけだ" (Ore o korosanai koto wa ore o tsuyoku suru dake da).

  2. 俺は殺されない is passive voice, not potential, so "I won't be killed."

  3. "That which does not kill me makes me stronger." is a famous Nietzche quote. There should be a stock Japanese equivalent out there somewhere, but I don't know it.


  4. ...the attempt appears to be to have 'robot'-like text scrolling across the bottom that folks aren't meant to understand. That being the case, why go to the trouble of translating anything at all? Why not just do what The Matrix did and toss in random alphanumerikana characters?

    I can understand trying to get it right, and I can understand not caring. But I don't get half-assing the whole thing. KF

  5. Quote: At one point I saw キガクルウ (ki ga kuruu = 気が狂う) or "to go crazy" which seems to match the lyric "go ape."

    the lyric is actally "go apesh*t" (the last part being edited out), so I think "go crazy" is acurate... though it leaves out a bit of connotation. :)

  6. Now as for "タツセイシロ (tatsuseishiro)". If you take the nickname/quote "George Bush Does Not Care About Black People" to an extreme and show a certain lack of knowledge of japanese (which I *do* lack japanese grammar knowledge you can get:
    tatsu - to sever
    sei - government/suppression
    shiro - white

    I'll let you draw your own conclusions, and I certainly do not mean to suggest I know what Mr. West is thinking. (This is my first exposure to his music.) I just found it odd that I could pick that out of to (really horribly) fit his nickname from above.

    (please delete if inapproprate... I'm just trying to learn japanese in pieces.)

  7. Now I know why the Japanese never got rid of Kanji, as had been suggested during the modernization of Japan -- it would make Japanese almost totally unreadable.

  8. As I was looking for a stock Japanese translation of the Nietzche quote, I stumbled upon this page.

    Let me quote the relevant bits:

    English term or phrase: "That what does not kill you makes you stronger"
    This is a saying by German philosopher Nietzsche. I have already found Chinese equivalent, but my question is to all native speakers of Japanese whether it is possible to have it translated in katakana system. It is ment to be for artistic purposes.

    This was a request for help by a Polish translator living in the UK, asking about how to translate this same quote into Japanese, and specifically into katakana. The similarities with the Kanye West video are too astounding to be coincidence. This request is also dated several weeks before the single was released.

    Could this guy have been working on the video? Why would they hire a Polish translator that evidently knows no Japanese?

    The mind boggles.


  9. No wonder I couldn't translate 90% of the text. Thanks :D

  10. The "stronger" is misspelled, too. In the video, it flashes by as ストンガ, so it's missing the 'r' sound.

  11. Actually, 「ストンガ」 isn't that bad, but i'd put a long vowel at the end. You rarely see that final /r/ reproduced in katakana words.

    And about the poster who complained about all katakana text, there is at least a precedent for that. If you're trying to give something a retro flair (which he was), all katakana is a good way to do it, since the original Japanese computers couldn't handle kanji yet. You can still see this on early nintendo products, and some bank mainframes. For example, whatever printed the name on my Tokyo-Mitsubishi bankbook can't even do the small tsu.

    They had to force japanese into the original 7/8bit ASCII space, hence half-width katakana. That said, I doubt they knew about that. Or... maybe they were trying to avoid using kanji so they wouldn't end up on this site. :P

  12. oh, you were talking about the medial 「ロ」 Yeah, that's a mistake.

  13. Looking at the "Stronger" bit more carefully, I now see that it actually says ストソガ [sutosoga], with the typist again mistakenly typing ソ [so] instead of ン [n] and leaving out the ロ [ro] completely.

    Pretty pathetic.


  14. Well, I just arrived to Japan (again), turned the TV and first thing I saw was a song captioned with all katakana. So it appears that such way of captioning could be nautral in some contexts for a native.
    In that case it was some Japanese song of unknown to me genre, sung by middle-aged woman in the TV studio. No baby talk or retro computing flavor noticed. It changed to regular hiragana/kanji a minute later (maybe during chorus) though.
    And other thing. Did you noticed Kayne West UniverseCity flash webpage. It features some more katakana words that seem to me randomly created with a few katakana characters. With my little knowledge of Japanese it makes even less sense that the video.

  15. Japanese song lyricists have a different approach when writing. The practice of using a different kanji word for a similar meaning word (with furigana over the kanji),using katakana, using the same word both in kanji and kana in the same sentence etc. The song performance you've seen was probably an Enka song which has a great amount of this practice. Enka is old style Japanese ballad and retro to the bone (not computer-retro though)

    Some examples of the practice:
    -真実 (shinjitsu) read as 本当 (hontou) meaning "real"
    -運命 (unmei) read as 定め (sadame) meaning "fate" (from Yoake machi by Yujiro Ishihara, closing theme of 70's-80's police series Seibu Keisatsu)
    Not Enka lyrics, but a J-Rock album name: 大人 (otona) read as アダルト (Adaruto), Shiina Ringo album name.

    心とこころ (kokoro to kokoro) heart and heart / two hearts (from Ore wa matteru ze by Yujiro Ishihara)

  16. Addition:

    真実 (shinjitsu) read as 本当 (hontou) meaning "real"

    (from the song Higurashi by Yoko Nagayama)

  17. The first time I saw this video on MTV (don't ask, it was on as background noise) I mourned the bastardization of one of my favorite Daft Punk songs :/ I'm glad I don't know Japanese, else my head probably would've explode while watching the video.

  18. hey, I happily stumbled onto your blog!

    While looking at different tattoo ideas on-line for the first time, I saw there were sections devoted to tribal art as well as japanese and chinese characters and lettering, which I think is problematic. It is one thing if it is part of the culture a person claims and represents, but totally innapropriate for everyone else.

    I have heard stories of people who have chosen to culturally appropriate symbols and writing only to find out that they had permanently inked something really ridiculous into their flesh. I laugh at these stories, I feel that people should research and not be morons who feel they can easily borrow select things from other cultures with little or no awareness.

    I appreciate everyone's contributions to helping folks be better informed of words and meaning, as well as dishing it up with a nice side of sarcasm!
    My kind of blog!

  19. I came across this posting quite by accident, but it reminded me of this "Stronger" remix in "Janglish" (the rappers mix of Japanese and English):


  20. I don't understand why someone with almost infinite resources like Kanye West can't hire an actual Japanese person to write things in Japanese, or at least someone who speaks Japanese at a second semester college level. They're really not that difficult to find.

    Seriously, though-- STOSUGA?

    So not impressed.

    Also, about the alternate pronunciations of kanji that was mentioned before-- It's used by songwriters and poets a lot to create puns or make words that may sound awkward more beautiful sounding. One of my favorite foods, 餺飥, is pronounced "houtou," even though it should be pronounced "hakutaku." Because hakutaku sounds kind of silly, it became houtou instead.

    The katakana to denote kanji reading, I believe, is to show that it's pronounced using the Chinese-derived pronunciation instead of the Japanese pronunciation.

    About the Shiina Ringo album, 大人 means adult, hence why she subtitled the album ADULT (or, the other way around, actually). That's not an alternate pronunciation at all, just a translation.

  21. I tried to comment on this a week or so ago, but it must not have gone through. I'll post that content again, and it should help answer the additional claim that Shiina Ringo is simply "a translation." But the album title is not by any means pronounced "otona"; it's "adaruto," even when written in Kanji.

    --failed post follows--

    運命 read as sadame is all over the place, actually. I'm pretty sure I'm seen it in at least three Japanese songs, none of them enka. Right off the top of my head, I'm almost certain TSUNAMI by the Southern All Stars does that, and I'd be willing to bet 定め is almost never seen in songs, because , while "sadame" SOUNDS poetic, that kanji looks kinda cold, if that makes any sense.

    Anyway, a more recent singer that goes way overboard in this area is 椎名林檎(shiina ringo).

    Turning to a random page on one of her CDs, I find:
    read as
    kono doa- nara yaburenai
    sono tou nara kuzurenai [note that she actually uses an older form of kuzuru than is available on my computer, with the 'moons' having two 'dots' instead of two connecting lines]
    ano ten nara tsuburenai
    dore mo usorashiku kaotteimasu

    Not only does she use old-fashioned orthography with now-mostly unused kana and no small kana.
    Not only does she use weird kanji (馨) and kanji where most people would use none (此の、其の、彼の、何れ).
    She also uses kanji for the English loanword "door" (and everywhere else foreign loanwords appear in her lyrics, which is not a little).

    Anyway, for an example of a lot of annoying katakana in Japanese literature, read Miyazawa Kenji's アメニモマケズ (ame ni mo makezu). Just slap those katakana into Google. It's an extremely famous poem with simple enough language rendered a little hard to read just because he uses mostly katakana. There was a time when it seemed as though katakana might win the day, after all.

  22. kaxx> I think you're looking for pattens that aren't there.

    When I read "tatsu" the first word I thought of was "to stand".
    "Sei", meanwhile, can be any of a billion kanji (slight exaggeration).
    I'm pretty sure that "shiro" only refers to the color.


  23. Anonymous, it's aul in wot your ust to. Inglish spelled like this is a bit hard to read as well, but shurely not impossible. In enny case, it's simply not true that switching to all-katakana wos an Occupation idea; the Occupation wos trying to maintain Japanese culture as intact as possible. Aul the reforms came frum inside.

  24. Wow, thanks for this post! I always assumed that the flashes of Japanese were accurate, because I was much too lazy to pause the video in order to read and translate the katakana. Now that I'm reading this, it's pretty funny that as much as us Americans make fun of "Engrish", we can make such huge and UNCORRECTABLE mistakes like this. Thanks, Kanye! ^.^