In pop culture and literature in general, the four classical Western elements have created their own meanings. Air stands for freedom, while earth is stability. Water symbolizes emotion and life, while fire is a destructive force that destroys all in its path if it isn’t controlled. While all are played with in various ways, especially as you branch out to aspects relating to the core four (for example, breathing is to air and one can say the use of river in lyrics would also stem from water), fire is one that has always personally intrigued me – and not just because of my obsession over Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Fire is passion. Fire is destruction. Fire is representative of heat which keeps us warm. Fire as an element gets a bad reputation because of its destructive nature, but fire also sustains us during cold times. The element provides light even in darkness. Fire cannot run wild, it must be controlled. It is multifaceted and layered, and its easy to see why it is used so frequently in different capacities in lyrics.
A recent example would be Black Pink‘s latest single, “Playing with Fire.” Cliche lyrics aside, it is a textbook case of how fire is used to represent love – after all, love can be destructive, it shouldn’t be any surprise that love and fire go together so frequently. With platitudes such as “Because love is like playing with fire, I’ll get hurt,” it’s easy to see why this is such a standard example. It doesn’t play into the multiple ways fire can be used, and sticks to one particular dimension, giving the lyrics no depth.
I wanna throw my all into your fiery path
Look at me look at me now
You are burning me up like this
Our love that’s like playing with fire
My love is on fire
Now burn baby burn
Another example that plays to the same angle as “Playing with Fire” is SHINee‘s “Like a Fire” from the groups 2013 album, Chapter 2 – The Misconceptions of Me. In a similar fashion, the lyrics compare love to fire. However, it does not play up the hurtful nature of fire, but rather, it adds in a dimension of passion into the equation.
My entire body is heating up after seeing you
My heart is so scorching I burnt my hand,
Take responsibility for my love
Blazing hotter than the sun
I’ll burn it all my love
Like a Fire Like a Fire
All just for you
Like a Fire Like a Fire
Here, fire is used more to explain the desperation behind the love, going so far as to declare “I love you, passionately” at one portion of the song. It is a straightforward track, and it’s lyrics are used to play up to general idea of the heat that comes with love. The main difference is that fire is used to declare a love that is not destructive, but one that is essential as the sun, a love that is part of life. It is accepting of the fire and all it’s aspects.
In a switch from the love and fire analogy is that of fire as a passion that sends one to go to great heights to achieve their goals and dreams. Which is why it is only fitting that 2NE1‘s debut song, “Fire,” is included. The group went to heights few K-pop girl groups achieve in such a small amount of time, but has seemingly fizzled out, the fire stoked by the group having gone out.
My eyes are filled with shining stars
Even the light burning in my heart
Won’t be forever, there’s nothing to lose
With the lyrics talking about running to catch their dreams, and that they will set the roof on fire so people should ring the alarm, the song is the perfect debut song. Lyrically, the element plays little into the story of the song, but it serves more as an allusion to be used. Fire = 2ne1, and it is still equated to the group ’til this day.
Another group that has come to equate fire to themselves is BTS‘ “Fire.” Befitting the group, it is more in line with the sentiment expressed by 2ne1’s own “Fire.” It takes the concept of fire as a passion igniting one and takes it to another level.
Throw your hands up, scream, burn it up
It’s on fire
Set everything on fire, bow wow wow
(Fire) All you with a lot of fear, come here
(Fire) All you who are suffering, come here
(Fire) Lift up your fists, all night long
(Fire) With marching footsteps
(Fire) Run and go crazy
It seems almost axiomatic to equate the fire that is expressed by BTS in “Fire” to the group. In a speed and way that no one expected, they have reached higher levels of the K-pop hierarchy. And this song seems to bring their philosophy: it is about running towards the goal in mind, with the destructive nature of fire as your guide, all while living life their own way. While 2ne1 sets everything on fire, yet lessens when not attended to, BTS is the fire that they themselves will continue to flame, no matter what happens – the fear, the hardships that comes with the idol package, is nothing because this is their dream.
In these four songs, we see fire used in two primary ways: to express love and it’s destructive nature, and fire as the starting force to run towards dreams. These aren’t the only K-pop tracks about fire, and it’s a sure thing that other tracks, such as JYP‘s “Fire,” have different meanings. Then there are tracks that revolve around an object used for fire, with NCT 127‘s “Fire Truck” and SNSD‘s “Fire Alarm” coming to mind. These may have another dimension to them since they don’t deal with fire directly. Fire gets a bad reputation for it’s destructive nature, Fire Nation meme and all, but at the end of the day, fire is also used to portray love, passion, dreams, light, and even hope.
Do you have any other songs in mind that play with fire? Sound out below!