Girl group NewJeans were recently embroiled in controversy over the lyrics of their song Cookie. Many fans felt the song’s lyrics were too mature for the group as the majority of the members are underage.
On 27 August, NewJeans’ agency, ADOR which is under the Hybe Labels umbrella released a statement explaining the intended meaning behind the lyrics of Cookie.
Read ADOR’s full statement below:
Hello, this is ADOR.
Thank you so much for all the interest and love you’ve shown since NewJeans debuted on July 22. As a show of appreciation for all your support, we added an extra week to the group’s promotional schedule, but sadly we’re nearly at the end of the promotional period for NewJeans’ self-titled first EP. Even though their first promo is wrapping up, the members will be opening their own Twitter accounts to talk to you soon, and there will be plenty of photos, videos, magazine shoots, and more. We thank you for your continued support and hope you’re already looking forward to the second album.
While preparing for the promotions of “Attention,” “Hype Boy,” “Cookie,” and “Hurt,” ten music videos, phoning, pop-up store, shorts on social media, special videos, and more, NewJeans and ADOR have been spending every day full of excitement and nervousness.
ADOR wanted to make the album New Jeans an expression of the members’ innocent elegance and their pure, effortless charm. Thankfully, many people have empathized with and supported our vision: songs and videos that look to promote an innocent and honest message and paint a collective portrait of the group members, an emphasis on maintaining their natural vocals, and choreography that emphasizes their natural chemistry and flow. And that support has been incredibly uplifting for NewJeans and everyone here at ADOR.
So we think it’s unfortunate that there’s been controversy surrounding the lyrics of “Cookie,” one of the three title tracks off the album. We see now that our intention behind the song was interpreted differently from our expectations, and most importantly, we apologize for everyone who has felt uncomfortable and concerned as a result.
For that reason, we owe you a detailed explanation. It could be argued that it’s better not to address such malicious claims, but as our vision for the album is very specific and clear, we concluded it would be best to make that direction explicitly known.
We released “Cookie” last because, as the girls explained in a video beforehand, the song was made specially for all the fans who were waiting patiently for NewJeans to debut and because it shows how much confidence we have in the musical direction the group is taking.
The tracks on New Jeans are deliberately ordered so that they tell a story that takes place over “Attention,” “Hype Boy,” “Cookie,” and Hurt.” Everything is open to interpretation, but the intention was to reflect our vision of the relationship between artists and fans and between creators and consumers, with each song having its own underlying messages we wanted to convey.
We wanted “Attention,” including its music video, to capture the hope we had for people to pay attention to us and the new music we’re putting out by emphasizing the musical direction and overall tone of NewJeans as a group. “Hype Boy” and its videos then dive into details, expanding on the story started in “Attention” to show what makes each member of the group special by giving each of them their own music video with unique story lines that all tie back together with the same ending. This final dance party sequence serves to underscore our unique approach to choreography and the NewJeans members’ unconstrained interpretations that make it their own.
In contrast to the emphasis on choreography in “Hype Boy,” “Cookie” is consciously focused on the music. The song revolves around the paired idea of burning CDs and baking cookies, which share the same conceptual verb in Korean. We backed this with a beat that you don’t often get to hear when it comes to K-pop girl groups, signaling the daring new direction we’re taking. Lyrically, dinner and water are synonymous with staple foods and, in the context of our song, represent just going through the motions. When you reach for dessert instead, you’re looking for something more exciting than an everyday meal that goes beyond merely filling you up and tastes great, too. “Cookie” has the confidence to do just that while remaining humble enough to call itself a dessert and express that in a cute way. The underlying message of the song is the value of NewJeans’ attempt to make new and original music. That’s why, even though we produce NewJeans’ music and all the related content for everyone to enjoy, it “ain’t for free” and can only be found at our place ADOR, pointing listeners toward the whole message the group ultimately aims to convey through their debut album. The music video opens with a cookie rolling in and ends with a CD rolling out. This unexpected change was meant to drive the message home further. We took this symbolism one step beyond that and brought it to life with a CD player bag to carry the album that specifically echoes the shape of a cookie.
Lastly is the album’s closing track “Hurt.” After the display of confidence in the three lead singles, the forthright honesty in the album’s only B-side comes across as something of a surprise. Creators have to take a level-headed look at their work; they may be confident in what they are producing, but winning the heart of the consumer (fan) is another question altogether. In presenting something new and different to the world, we were hoping to also gain the approval of the listener (but asking for you to “come and show me first”). In that way, the song is an honest display of just how nervous we were to put our new creation out for everyone’s consideration. We live in a time when confidence is highly prized but in which we actually all feel hesitant when it comes to trying new things, and “Hurt” touches upon this idea as well. But it also shows us that being upfront and open about your fears is a kind of confidence in itself.
As we previously said when explaining the group’s name, pop culture is like a kind of comfort food. Just like the jeans in NewJeans, we keep coming back to them. We don’t have to eat these foods, but life wouldn’t be the same without them. And then there are some people who even seek them out more and more until they become staples of their diet. Some desserts are so good that we look more forward to them than to the main course. From that perspective, trying to make a judgment call about whether the meal or the dessert after it is superior to the other is a meaningless argument, and this made “Cookie” the perfect single to be released last and wrap up the message behind the whole album.
The ADOR team didn’t take any issue with the lyrics to “Cookie” when we were making the album because our vision for original and wholesome music was crystal clear to us. Slang terms aren’t taught in school and not everyone is familiar with them. It’s impossible for people to be familiar with every idiom and offensive term out there, and predicting their reception around the world is an even more challenging task.
To be sure, we consulted with English professors, professional interpreters, translators, and native speakers about this issue, who suggested it isn’t a commonplace interpretation and one they had to look up as they were unfamiliar with it themselves. The common thread in all of their opinions was that it’s very problematic to put total confidence into any one interpretation, that a person’s understanding relies on a mix of objective facts and personal experience, and that this must all be considered together in a wider context. They added that the word “cookie” is also not a commonly used slang term for anything sexual and therefore not a problematic word itself, but that any listener could take the word to mean something different depending on their personal experience and exposure to certain slang meanings. They also gave no credit to the argument concerning singular and plural use of the word as both are extremely commonplace, noting that if someone’s goal is to find ill-intentioned meaning or interpret it as slang used among a small subset of people then they will, but that they would be wrong to conclude with any certainty that this is in line with any definitive meaning.
Considering how common it is to use friendly and familiar imagery like a cookie even in content targeted toward the youngest children, it would be nonsensical, for example, to stir up controversy over the American tradition of Girl Scouts knocking on strangers’ doors to sell their cookies, or the flyers reading, “Get your Girl Scout Cookies before it’s too late! Ask my daughter today.”
Perhaps most importantly, as we touched upon before, we used the idea of a cookie to represent the singular thing that breaks us out of the ordinary—that is, music, and therefore the album—and “it” was best represented consistently throughout the translated lyrics in singular as opposed to switching haphazardly between “cookie” and “cookies.”
After this issue arose, we took it upon ourselves to research different slang terms, finding there exist wildly different and unexpected meanings for everyday words like cake, biscuit and rice, strawberry, melon, and more. If someone wants to stir up controversy, then, it isn’t any specific words that’s problematic but any words they choose to target at all. Importantly, words take on entirely different informal meanings in the context of different cultures, places, and at different times in history, so judging how suitable any one word is is ambiguous at best. Considering that, it’s difficult for any song lyrics to ever be free from disputes. Rather than mention any of the readily available examples and risk offending anyone, consider this scenario provided by a native English-speaking professional translator:
“If an English song had the line, ‘Hey little puppy, eat this taffy, yum,’ and someone wanted to read it literally into Korean slang—which would basically say, ‘Hey you s*head, go f* yourself’—what should we do about a viewpoint like that?”
We at ADOR are incredibly grateful for everyone campaigning to ensure minors are protected and who share their good ideas and helpful opinions. We see you, we thank you, and we respect you. What we don’t condone, and what we regret to see, is those people who stir up controversy for its own sake but under the deceptive guise of protecting minors. Going beyond misinformed speculation and hasty judgment and as far as to try and make a point by putting words in the mouths of minors in a provocative thumbnail can hardly be seen as protecting them in good faith. It seems inappropriate to fill the heads of the very people they claim to want to protect with slang terms they’re unlikely to learn anywhere else using sensational means.
The lyrics to “Cookie” were written by two native English speakers: a Korean woman and a Swedish woman in their 30s. The song was also translated by a bilingual Korean woman. Given how sure we were in our vision, everyone was stunned when the issue arose. Still, we were under fire from a false accusation saying the lyrics were presumably written by a man in an apparent attempt to distort our intention. Aside from assumptions around gender, we also saw hasty judgment made around the question of age. The ADOR team has also been concerned about the way NewJeans has been portrayed as an unusually young group (with two 19-year-old members and the others 18, 17, and 15 in Korean age) when other teenage groups have similar lineups, as well as the stereotype some people hold that young people are unassertive and uninvolved with the world around them.
It’s possible that this long explanation would have no sway over people who have already made up their minds about the issue. Despite our best efforts, we’re worried whether we’ll be able to deal with each and every harmful interpretation with malicious intent behind it for that reason. After all, a toxic perspective can take something harmless and see it as something that’s anything but. We believe the most important factor when it comes to interpretation is context. As always, context is key.
Everyone at ADOR will do their best going forward to prevent any further misunderstanding.
We did our best to provide a clear and consistent explanation of our vision leading up to the release of “Cookie,” which, as detailed earlier in this letter, represents the culmination of our work on the album as a whole. We believe the reason NewJeans and ADOR’s content has received so many comments on its innocuous, innovative approach is because we have been sincere in our intentions. Everything we have presented to you so far has come from a place of deep sincerity. Every time we have reached out to fans, be it through the music, promotions, album design, performances, social media posts, or otherwise, we have done our utmost to be honest and upfront. We focused on making a quality product and thought carefully about how to best meet the desires of the fans, carefully crafting, for example, every aspect of the album as well as the collectibles included with it and the quantity thereof. No one’s perfect, but ADOR’s goal is to be friendly, open, and straightforward with our fans, and we’re actively working toward that end.
The most heartbreaking comments we saw towards NewJeans and ADOR were those that said we were scheming something or had a hidden agenda. But we think that’s a weak argument because we don’t stand to gain anything good from it. It’s necessary to ask who benefits from the growing accusation about our label having an underhanded motive. The members of NewJeans sing, “Attention is what I want,” but this is in no way the kind of attention that the group, nor ADOR, nor even their adoring fans, are after, and these unfounded rumors have really taken their toll on everyone involved with the project. We are here to care for our newly debuted artists and are actively working to protect them, and really hope fans and listeners continue to do the same.
Now that we’ve gone over the details of our intentions and the current circumstances at length, we hope everyone can put these unwarranted doubts behind them and enjoy all the content we have put so much care and good faith into without reservations.
Thank you as always.
What do you think about this? Tell us in the comments!
Cover Photo Source: Twitter/NewJeans_ADOR