North Korean leader Kim Jong-un mesmerized by K-pop girl band as tensions thaw
South Korean K-pop singers performed in the North for the first time in more than a decade as tensions between the old rivals thaw
On Sunday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un witnessed a rare performance by South Korean female K-Pop stars in Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, before his meeting with the president of South Korea as their relationship grows warmer, according to sources.
According to the South Korean media pool, the dictator watched the performance with his wife, Ri Sol Ju, at the East Pyongyang Grand Theater. Yonhap News Agency reported that the act was delayed by two hours for "the convenience of more audience."
The all Girl band 'Red Velvet' arrived in Pyongyang on Saturday along with a South Korean artistic group that included 11 K-pop singers for two scheduled performances. The second leg of their performance is expected to be held on Tuesday. On Tuesday, the South Korean singers now in the North will perform the second leg in a joint concert with North Korean performers at an indoor stadium in Pyongyang.
Kim's appearance at the concert on Sunday was unusual, to say the least, as his government has been trying hard for the longest time to keep the South's pop culture from influencing his people. North Korea has intensified a crackdown on DVDs and computer thumb drives containing South Korean pop songs, movies and TV shows smuggled from China, thereby calling for establishing “mosquito nets” to keep out “decadent capitalist influence."
The government has also asserted that those caught selling or watching South Korean K-pop music videos could be imprisoned.
After Kim witnessed Red Velvet perform, he reportedly called the event a “gift for Pyongyang citizens.”
The South Korean troupe flew in on Saturday with grand fanfare to Pyongyang. The performances were done in the name of international diplomacy as part of a political detente.
This was the first troupe of South Korean singers to perform in North Korea in over a decade. Their visit was a reciprocal of performance by a North Korean art troupe during the Winter Olympics held in South Korea in which Mr. Moon was part of the audience.
Hundreds of North Koreans filled the 1,500 seat theater along with Kim and his wife Ri, a former singer, to watch the South Korean artists. The audience included gelled rockers, industry veterans, and starlets from the world of K-pop.
Kim watched the performance titled “Spring Comes” which spanned over two hours and was seen clapping his hands during the show. According to reports, he also shook hands with the performers and took a group photo with them.
Also attending the event were Kim Yo Jong, the despot's younger sister, and Kim Yong Nam, the nominal head of state, along with other ranking state officials.
According to pool reports from South Korean journalists, Kim and his wife were greeted with a clamor of thunderous clapping when they entered the concert hall and seated themselves in a second-floor balcony.
South Korean media was focused on Kim's reaction to the pop singers, especially Red Velvet. As described by Choe Sang-Hun of the New York Times, the five-member girl group is "typical of South Korean girl groups — known for their chirpy, bubble-gum harmonies and sexy choreography."
Fascinatingly, Red Velvet is known for their rather "infectious" tunes and were previously broadcasted by the South Korean military across the border to wage a psychological war against North Korean soldiers. In response, the North would threaten to direct its missiles at the loudspeakers, warning them of a full-blown offensive if their southern counterparts did not turn them off.
In a complete reversal, officials from South Korea said that the North, in fact, did not reject any artist in the South Korean song lineup or "change the pop stars’ lyrics or risqué dance moves."
That being said, the North did not allow the global phenomenon 'Psy' of the “Gangnam Style” fame to be included in the visit.
“Please tell President Moon how good this kind of exchange is. I know there has been attention to whether I will come and see Red Velvet,” Kim was quoted as telling South Korean officials. “I thank you for bringing this gift to Pyongyang citizens.”
A Red Velvet member Kim Yerim, also known as 'Yeri' was quoted as saying, “The audience clapped loudly and even sang along.”
Do Jong-hwan, the South Korean culture minister, told reporters in Pyongyang after the show that Kim “showed much interest during the show and asked questions about the songs and lyrics.”
It seems that initially, Kim was going to attend the performance on Tuesday, but hand to change his plans due to a conflict in his schedule, according to an unidentified South Korean official. On Tuesday, North Korea and South Korea are expected to hold a joint performance.
South Korean president Moon Jae-in is set to meet Kim Jong Un at a summit on April 27 at a village on the border. The dictator is also expected to have a much-anticipated meeting with President Trump in May. However, an official date has not been set as yet for the special summit in which the two leaders would meet.
Of late, the Swiss-educated despot has made a genuine attempt to present himself as more flexible among his loyal citizens residing in Pyongyang. Kim's favorite girl group in North Korea - the Moranbong Band - has performed a number of theme songs from Hollywood movies in short skirts and high heels.
Before him, Kim Jong-il, the former dictator of North Korea and Kim's father, witnessed a South Korean female singer perform in a provincial town in North Korea back in 2001.
Kim Jong Un's appearance could be deemed as a breakthrough after a tense international deadlock due to the dictator's nuclear ambitions and missile tests. His previous behavior led the international community to impose heavy economic sanctions on North Korea.
The North has previously tried to usher the relationship between the two nations by sending cheerleaders, athletes along with an art troupe to the South during the Winter Games in February. At the opening ceremony of the winter Olympics, athletes from the North and South marched under a unified peninsula flag.
It's the first time that a North Korean leader attended a South Korean performance in the North's capital. Earlier, South Korean pop singers have performed in the North amid strained relations between the two countries. Before Sunday, South Korea had last sent a pop singer to North Korea back in 2005.
Last week, Kim made a surprise visit to Beijing to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping to prepare for his talks with Trump and Moon. South Korea resumed annual military drills with the United States on the Korean Peninsula after a hiatus during the 2018 Winter Olympics. However, the drill is expected to be a month shorter.