Suga, aka Agust D, Sings About "Freedom of Expression" on "Haegum"
What is the meaning of "Haegum" by Agust D? The song has capitvated fans of BTS and beyond. Let's unpack its lyrical content and more.
The world of K-Pop may have been disheartened when it was revealed in October 2022 that the members of BTS were taking on military service and thus going on hiatus from working as a group, but that didn't mean that the music stopped entirely. The talented members of South Korea's biggest act have kept fans interested by releasing solo music, including Suga, aka Agust D, who delivered a full-length project to fans titled "D-DAY" in April 2023.
Titled "D-Day," Agust D's solo debut spans 10 songs and even sees him tap fellow BTS member J-Hope on one of them. Out of the tracks offered by the singer, fans seem to particularly resonate with "Haegum," a rap track whose title you may not immediately understand unless you're versed on South Korean traditions. So, what is the meaning of "Haegum"? Let's unpack Agust D's popular song.
What is the meaning of "Haegum" by Agust D?
It appears as though there's a bit of a dual meaning to the title and meaning of Agust D's new standout track. According to Wikipedia, a haegum is a traditional Korean string instrument that resembles a vertical fiddle, but with two strings. It is one of the most popular instruments in Korean music and is often considered a bridge between string and wind instruments with a sound that is a hybrid of a violin and a viola.
The other meaning of "haegum" is applied when it is used in popular Korean vernacular, in which it means "lifting a ban and allowing something that is forbidden," as host IU explained while interviewing Agust D on IU's Palette in April 2023.
During that interview, Agust D explained a bit more what the term means to him.
"When working on 'Daechwita,' I downloaded tons of Korean traditional instrument sources. Playing around with the sounds, I eventually wrote the beats for 'Daechwita' and 'Haegum,'" he explained, as translated in the YouTube video's English subtitles.
He continued: "The word 'haegum' came to me. When I was young, I played rhythm games. I love rhythm action games. When beating a certain stage, you'd unlock a forbidden song; then you could play a new rhythm. It was 'freedom from forbidden. Why don't I try and break free from those things?'"
As for the song's lyrics? Let's unpack them, as translated online from Korean.
On Agust D's interpretation of "Haegum," the singer promotes "a new kind of haegeum" which is based on "lively rhythm." Rapping in Korean, he claims that "Interpretation is free for all" and demands, "Out with the nonsense." He criticizes societal systems by rapping "Freedom of expression / Could be reason for somebody's death" before questioning "Could you still consider that freedom?"
It seems as though Agust D is looking to create a circle of like-minded fans with his calls for "a new kind of haegum."
He goes on to add, "If your convictions are reflected in your judgment and speculations / And you believe that your freedom is on the same level as others / Then don’t hesitate, just get on board / Liberation from all that's forbidden."
All in all, Agust D states clearly in the lyrics, "This song's simply about freeing what's forbidden." However, he notes that it is important to "remember to differentiate freedom from self-indulgence."
Later in the song, Agust D criticizes the "endless influx of information" present in our ever-connected world today. He claims that type of system "prohibits freedom of imagination, and seeks conformity of thought."
It then seems as though the singer comes to a realization in his second verse, wondering if "maybe we do it to ourselves." He proclaims that we are "slaves to capitalism, slaves to money / Slaves to hatred and prejudice / Slaves to YouTube, slaves to flexin’ / Selfishness and greed have gone off the rails."
Toward the conclusion of "Haegum," Agust D makes one more new plea to listeners: "Don’t get swept away by this tsunami of info / 'Cause we all differentiate freedom from self-indulgence."