North Korea’s Kim Jong-un isn’t a K-pop fan anymore

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North Korea’s Kim Jong-un isn’t a K-pop fan anymore

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, right, meets with members of K-pop girl group Red Velvet and other South Korean performers in a concert in Pyongyang on April 1, 2018. Pyongyang recently has been cracking down on K-pop, K-drama and other South Korean entertainment. [YONHAP]

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, right, meets with members of K-pop girl group Red Velvet and other South Korean performers in a concert in Pyongyang on April 1, 2018. Pyongyang recently has been cracking down on K-pop, K-drama and other South Korean entertainment. [YONHAP]

 
North Korea has turned its back on K-pop, seeing it as a threat to socialism, despite welcoming a performance by popular South Korean girl group Red Velvet in Pyongyang just three years ago.  
 
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held a ruling Workers' Party Tuesday that stressed a campaign against “anti-socialist and non-socialist practices,” reported state-run media Wednesday.  
 
The plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the North’s Workers’ Party was supposed to solve pending issues such as “improving the economic work and the people's living,” reported Rodong Sinmun and the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). It also addressed the coronavirus pandemic and analyzed the “current international situation.”  
 
During the meeting, Kim reportedly “clarified” what was described as “guidelines in waging in a more offensive and efficient way the struggle against anti-socialist and non-socialist practices on which hinge the future of [North] Korean-style socialism and the destiny of the people.”
 
In recent months, Kim and his state media have come down on anti-socialist influences spreading in his country, targeting South Korean films, television dramas and popular music.
 
Kim has reportedly described K-pop as a "vicious cancer" that will corrupt young North Koreans.  
 
Upon assuming power in late 2011, Kim had differentiated himself from his father Kim Jong-il and grandfather Kim Il Sung by embracing Western pop influences in the Pyongyang-based Unhasu Orchestra and his favorite all-female group, the Moranbong Band. Many Moranbong Band members are graduates of the Keumsung Institute, North Korea’s top cultural arts school and his wife Ri Sol-ju's alma mater.
 
The singers and musicians of the Moranbong Band, described as North Korea’s own “girl group,” often wore miniskirts and performed in the Western style using electric violins, cellos and drums.  
 
They also made use of American pop icons Mickey and Minnie Mouse and Snow White in a 2017 performance, along with music from the West including the theme song from "Rocky" and “My Way.”  
 
During this period, Kim, who was educated in Switzerland, stressed the importance of “boldly accepting the good things of other countries.”
 
Kim developed an unlikely friendship with former American basketball star Dennis Rodman, which blossomed when the retired NBA player first visited Pyongyang in 2013 and led to a friendly basketball match in the North Korean capital in 2017.  
 
On April 1, 2018, during a détente on the Korean Peninsula, K-pop stars performed in a “Spring is Coming” concert in Pyongyang. The musicians include legendary singer Cho Yong-pil, rock band YB and girl group Red Velvet. Seohyun, a member of Girls’ Generation, served as MC and sang at the concert.
 
Kim applauded the performance and said afterward that the two Koreas should hold cultural performances “more frequently,” adding that it is “meaningful” to see performers from the South. He even took a commemorative photo with the South Korean artists including Red Velvet.
 
Kim said that he adjusted his schedule to make it to that performance.  
 
However, Kim's attitude has changed.  
 
The Moranbong Band, which toured the country on a Mercedes-Benz bus that was a personal gift from Kim, has disappeared from North Korean television recently along with any traces of K-pop.  
 
North Korea sources say that Pyongyang has been cracking down on the distribution of South Korean dramas, songs, music videos, and Western culture.  
 
In the 1990s, authorities cracked down on VCR tapes. Now they are focusing on USB drives containing music and video files smuggled into the country, often from China.  
 
The war against K-pop has spread since the collapse of a second summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February 2019
 
Last December, North Korea enacted a new law that called for up to 15 years in labor camps for people who watch or possess South Korean entertainment, according to Seoul lawmakers briefed by government intelligence officials.
 
"The phenomenon of capitalist culture spreading among North Korean youth has been around for a long time,” said Jeon Young-sun, a unification studies professor at Konkuk University. “North Korea's leadership is aware of it, but when there is a difficult external environment, there are more efforts to crack down on it in order to strengthen internal solidarity.”
 
BY SARAH KIM, JEONG YONG-SOO   [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
 
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