You have probably heard about the special K-Pop concert that was held in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang at the start of this month. The line-up included artists such as Red Velvet, Seohyun of Girls’ Generation and Baek Ji Young. The concert was even attended by the supreme leader himself – Kim Jong Un – and his wife Ri Sol Ju. Jong Un was said to have been “deeply moved” by the event.
But what does this all mean for the North and South Korean relationship? Will it make a difference at all? Perhaps this is the dawn of a newly unified Korea?
On the whole, the relationship between the two countries seems to be fairly rosy lately. They joined forces for the Winter Olympics this year – an action that was undoubtedly surprising to many. This concert is part of a cultural exchange, and while it is not unheard of for South Korean artists to perform in the North, something of this scale is quite unusual. The artists themselves were surprised at how well they were received, despite a few shocked reactions at the dyed hair of the idols.
So, everything is amicable and good, but many are left a little wary of this newly trodden ground. I cannot be the only one sat feeling like there is something in the air – like the heaviness before a thunderstorm. It is as if the South are stepping on eggshells, trying desperately not to crack them. I could be over-reacting of course, but given the long and troubled history between the two countries, it’s easy to see why these feelings have arisen.
After all, consuming K-Pop and South Korean dramas in the North has previously been punishable by law. South Korean activists are often arrested when caught trying to send items of various media to the North. K-Pop songs have even been blasted through giant speakers across the border from the South (whether to ‘enlighten’ or provoke is unclear). If you look at the relationship up until recently, North Korea has almost always been viewed as a ticking time bomb. If Kim Jong Un is capable of being a real threat or not, it is his unpredictability that leaves the rest of the world on edge. North Korea is like a child that occasionally pushes the boundaries, needing chastising by its mother, (or in this case, China) to keep it in line. It is a dog that barks aggressively behind the gate, but no one is willing to lift that latch just in case the bite matches the bark.
There is also the cultural difference between the countries that may make the road of diplomacy a bit rockier. Of course, this is the case between all countries, but the prolonged isolation of the North could magnify this exponentially. We had a taste of this with the concert in the fact that the audience were shocked by a guitarist’s yellow hair and questioned if he could perform with it in that state. There was also the suggestion that there were no male K-Pop groups present because the North does not think that men should dance around as girls do. The relationship is unlikely to be an easy one, even if it does progress further than this cultural exchange and the unified Olympic team. It seems akin to siblings separated at birth reuniting as adults, with different belief systems and values.
Perhaps, I am being a little too sceptical though. These recent shows of connection and sharing are still important. There is still communication, and where there is communication, there is hope. I do not think anyone is expecting miracles to happen, especially not in the short term, but if there is ever a re-unification of the two countries, this K-Pop concert will surely be one of milestones remembered.