In its recent border skirmish with Kim Jong Un, South Korea had a secret weapon up its sleeve: the polished, ultra-capitalist output of its pop music industry.
The brief dispute, which ended Tuesday, featured the exchange of fire as well as propaganda across the demilitarized zone that separates the two countries. At one point, North Korea threatened to fly helicopters across the border in order to destroy the loudspeakers that were broadcasting anti-Northern messages.
According to The New York Times, the messages combined bouncy, cheerful pop music with old-school propaganda. One recording addressed Kim’s military, imploring: “don’t waste your beautiful youth for the North Korean dictatorship but rise up against it!” Others highlighted the “superiority of a free democracy” and the “happy life of South Koreans.”
They messages are also broadcast on radio frequencies, which are frequently picked up by radios in North Korean military installations and nearby villages.
The weaponized songs that accompanied the messages reportedly included upbeat dance number “Genie” by all-female supergroup Girls’ Generation, party anthem “Bang Bang Bang,” and the saccharine ballad “Heart” by a crooner known as IU. (RELATED: Does Taylor Swift Have Bad Blood With China?)
South Korean pop music, or “K-pop,” is a multi-billion dollar industry with growing appeal in surrounding Asian countries and even further. The country’s government has invested in the promotion of South Korean culture in order to improve its worldwide profile — so if you got Psy’s “Gangnam Style” stuck in your head a few years ago, that wasn’t a mere accident.
In their 60-year standoff, North and South Korea have often catapulted information across the border.
And propaganda can sometimes be just as effective as firepower. Shim Jin-sup, a former South Korean officer, told the Times that the broadcasts “help undermine the total information blackout in the North, Kim’s dignity and the very foundation of his regime.” (RELATED: Korean Slasher: I Carried Out An Act Of Terror, And I Am Not Ashamed)
It’s unclear whether any North Korean border patrolmen have defected to the South on the force of pop music alone. But by bursting their northern neighbor’s information bubble, South Korea hopes it can shatter North Korea’s confidence in its own isolation.
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