A Step Towards Unification Through K-Pop


K-pop has been popular both domestically and internationally for the past ten years. Now, it seems like it has taken its influence across the border to North Korea. On April 1st and the 3rd, a few South Korean singers flew to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, for a concert. Well-loved singers—like the girl group Red Velvet, Baek Ji-young, Jung In, Ali and several more artists—were invited by Kim Jong Un himself. They participated in two concerts in the East Pyongyang Grand Theatre and Pyongyang Arena.  Four out of the five members of the popular group Red Velvet attended, since the last member, Joy had a scheduling conflict.

Kim Jong Un attended the concert, becoming the first North Korean leader to attend a performance by South Korean artists. He met and shook hands with the performers who had traveled to his country for the concert. In an interview with “One Night of Entertainment,” a broadcasting program, Yeri Kim from Red Velvet said, “I didn’t think we would be exchanging handshakes. I was extremely honored.”

Korea has been divided for over 70 years, since the Korean War in 1950. It was a shock to the world when it was announced that North Korea would be attending the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, but an even bigger shock when the current North Korean leader invited South Korean artists to perform since it is illegal in North Korea to import outside entertainment media. In addition, the world of K-pop is closed off from the borders of North Korea. According to billboard.com, the cooperation between the long-term rivals began when North Korea participated in the Olympics. During the Olympic games, a collaboration between the two countries took place when a women’s ice hockey team was formed between North and South Korean players. “When I first heard he [Kim Jong Un] invited the artists, I was a little suspicious,” said Catherine Ahn (‘20). “I think he might be faking some of his hospitality. He’s been opening more of North Korea up, with the Olympics and now with the concert.” North and South Korea have had cool and at times bellicose relations in recent years, so it is understandable that people would be suspicious.

However, there was still censorship in the publicizing of the concert. According to Chosun News, North Korea muted out all of the singers’ performances when broadcasting the concert to the North Koreans, and replaced the audio with the anchor’s explanation of what was happening. North Korea even edited out Red Velvet and Jung In’s whole performance before releasing the concert to the public. According to some who analyzed the concert, North Korea invited South Koreans over to show their willingness towards the upcoming North and South Korean summit, but the burden of releasing South Korean songs to the country was too overwhelming.

Music and culture play a significant role in the unification of the two countries. Although they might be separated at the moment, North and South Korea are still united by the same music.