A Growing North Korean K-pop Idol Industry

The South Korean Kpop Hallyu wave in America is going strong. Could there be a future growing presence of North Korean idol groups competing on the music scene?

I came across a trending topic last night regarding North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong Un.

A ‘Spring is Coming’ concert was held in the North’s East Pyongyang Grand Theatre with a lineup of popular South Korean artists and a spotlight on the K-pop girl group Red Velvet. Leader Kim reportedly “made time” for the event in his schedule, bringing along his wife Ri Sol Ju.

Tensions between the North and the South have eased considerably, and this seems like a good sign with the upcoming summit scheduled in late April.

I would really like the two countries to unite.

North Koreans are living under terrible conditions and so many people have been separated from family…generations just cut off from one another. As with Vietnam and Germany before, I hope that in my lifetime at least the two countries that never should have been separated will come together once again.

I am an American with no intricate knowledge of political nuances, but I just don’t think it is right for a people to be divided, and pitted against itself. It simply makes no sense to me. I am reminded of Youtuber’s like Indonesian Jaka Parker and North Korean defector Sunny that show and speak of the living conditions.

(Although it seems Sunny’s channel was deleted for some reason after a recent live stream. I hope she is okay…)

Does North Korea Have Kpop Idols?

North Korean Kpop Idol Group Moranbong Band photographed while traveling. Image Copyright of REUTERS - BBC News
North Korean Kpop Idol Group Moranbong Band photographed while traveling. IMAGE: REUTERS – BBC News

In the 90s, the South Korean government established the Kpop industry that today has millions of loyal fans worldwide. Coupled with Korean dramas, this has surged interest in the culture of its parent country in waves – or Hallyu.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has also taken an interest in idol groups, forming girl bands and recently attending a concert with Southern idols. If reunification is someday on the horizon, could a united Korea completely dominate with exports of music and other related media?

Pictured above is Moranbong Band – a girl group hand-picked by the ‘hermit country’ leader himself.

If I remember correctly, the Moranbong Band idol group were whisked away before a scheduled appearance in China and went off the radar for a while in 2016. The fear was that the women had been secretly subjected to a firing squad purge amongst other possible options.

The group seems to still be going strong, its leader Hyon Song-Wol accompanying a Northern delegation to inspect venues a month before the Olympic Games where the two countries marched unified under one banner.

I can’t seem to find any evidence on whether or not they performed at the PyeongChang 2018 games, but the night before the events the North Korean Samjiyon Orchestra held live performances.

It doesn’t seem to be the same band, although they have been active since 2009.

The Hallyu Wave in America

Main leads Jodi, Sun Hi and Corki from Nickelodeon tv show Make It Pop. The series was cancelled after only a year and one season - before it even had a chance to succeed.  Image copyright of Nickelodeon UK.
Main leads Jodi, Sun Hi and Corki from Nickelodeon tv show Make It Pop. The series was cancelled after only a year and one season – before it even had a chance to succeed. IMAGE: Nickelodeon UK

I recently read this NPR article that wrote about some Nickelodeon show called Make It Pop. It follows three teens who start a band called XOIQ which tries to emulate current music idols and capitalize on the popularity of Kpop in America.

The article later goes into the formation of the Korean pop industry by the Ministry of Culture to create a commodity of eternal cool (very similar to the Cool Japan campaign and its relation to Harajuku fashions or anime).

I’d always wondered how Kpop became a global phenomenon and its influence on Hallyu, or the Korean Wave.

News reports of this goodwill concert make me wonder if North Korea will align itself more heavily in the politics of Kpop. “North Korea often taps into music to heighten and pronounce the socialist ideology”. Even if the North falls, I believe their idols could bridge the cultural gap between the two nations.

I spoke about my relationship with Korean culture and how despite misunderstandings I want to appreciate the country and its people.

I enjoy watching Kdrama (especially anything with Lee Min Ho – is he still in military training?) and although I am not into Kpop due to social reasons (obsessive fans, rapper’s culture vulture tendencies, ongoing blackface issues…) I will be keeping tabs on the idol industries of both countries.

Do you enjoy Korean Pop culture? Have you been to Kcon or other conventions? What do you think about the future of North Korean Idols, even after a reunification?

Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, I’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us for more on Korean culture!

We are also creating East Asian pop culture inspired designs for fellow fans, Visit our Redbubble store if you have a chance – you get cool gear, and it helps support the blog!      

☆ In Asian Spaces   

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Author: In Asian Spaces

I write in my personal time and I haven't published much at all. I don't know if that qualifies me as a writer or not, but I'd like to change that. I have a deep passion for travel, cinema and (mainly) East Asian things, but I plan on writing various things to keep it spicy. Let's prosper together ~ よろしくおねがいします。

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