A Growing North Korean K-pop Idol Industry

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?

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Last night I conducted my usual Sunday ritual of signing into my old, abandoned twitter account and quickly typing snarky comments on my mobile about the ladies of Real Housewives of Atlanta. This is in stark contrast to my current twitter account, In Asian Spaces, which you should totally follow today because I sometimes retweet funny stuff. I say sometimes because I don’t care for twitter much but it is a necessary evil and one more tolerable than Facebook. I prefer Reddit, Instagram and of course Tumblr where it seems I fit into the mesh more. But the blue bird does have its moments, and for that I am thankful.

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. 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…)

Two years ago on my now defunct YouTube channel, I made a video on one of North Korea’s Idol Groups, The Moranbong Band (or Moran Hill Orchestra). It was a girl group hand-picked by the ‘hermit country’ leader himself. If I remember correctly, they 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.

I recently read this 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. It 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 a comment with your thoughts, I’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us for more updates on idol culture in Korea.

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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