Kim Jong-un’s war on K-Pop has Thai fans feeling political

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Kim Jong Un’s declaration of hostilities against South Korea’s K-pop style of music and TV prompted a range of responses this week from Thailand, home to one of the genre’s most dedicated fanbases, after the North Korean leader called it a “vicious cancer” corrupting his country’s youth.

Thai netizens poked fun at Kim’s dramatic comments, jokingly asking if he was angry because the girl band Red Velvet hasn’t been releasing new songs, recommending he not get caught dancing to pop hit “Psycho” in the shower, and more.

Others expressed more sympathy for the people of North Korea, drawing comparisons to Thailand’s own brand of conservatism and efforts to curb foreign influence on Thai youths, especially regarding demands for more freedom and human rights.

Kim said the Hallyu Wave, which encompasses youthful pop groups with energic dance routines as well as dozens of TV shows and films, was a perilous influence on the “attires, hairstyles, speeches, behaviours” of North Korea’s youth, in remarks reported by The New York Times on June 10.

The genre, specifically K-pop, has been amassing fans and spreading cultural influence for years, not only in Thailand but all over the world. And North Korea is no exception. In April of 2018, K-pop girl group Red Velvet, along with other South Korean artists, was invited to perform in Pyongyang. After the two-hour concert ended, Kim himself was seen clapping and shaking hands with the musicians, saying that he was “deeply moved.”

But as more and more defectors from the North have been citing music as a factor in their disillusionment with state propaganda. Kim has shown increasing concern with clawing back control over his subjects’ hearts and minds, and has ordered his government to put an immediate stop to the so-called cultural invasion.

Jung Gwang-il is a North Korean defector who currently runs a network that smuggles South Korean pop culture into the North. He told the New York Times that North Korean youths do not feel that they owe anything to Kim, who is going to have to “reassert his ideological control on the young if he doesn’t want to lose the foundation for the future of his family’s dynastic rule.”

Last December, North Korea enacted a new law that calls for up to two years of hard labour for anyone caught speaking, writing, or singing in “South Korean style” and five to fifteen years for those who consume or possess actual South Korean entertainment. Those who distribute the materials can face even harsher punishments, including the death penalty.          

“I guess it makes sense that [Kim] is doing this,” said Issariyaporn Thongraksa, 21, who described herself as a low-key K-pop fan. “K-pop is opening people’s eyes in North Korea that the state propagandas are all lies. He has to try to gain back control somehow,” she told Thai Enquirer.

“I don’t think it’s comparable to our situation in Thailand, though. At least, we still have the freedom to be an individual and do what we like up to a certain degree.”

“I just hope we never get to the point they’re at here in our country,” she said.

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