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Campaigning for votes, K-pop style

SEOUL • For a country so famous for its pop music, it comes as no surprise that South Korea's presidential campaign trails are brimming with song and dance.

Rallies are organised like carnivals, with K-pop music blasting and cute mascots walking around to reach out to voters.

Front runner Moon Jae In's main campaign song, a modified cover of girl group Twice's hit song Cheer Up, extols the virtues of voting for a "strong president" who can create new hopes for the country.

The 64-year-old Democratic Party candidate also has an army of blue-and-white clad dancers who take centre stage at his rallies, drumming up support for him with catchy tunes and energetic moves.

Coincidentally, Mr Moon's rival, Mr Yoo Seong Min, 59, from the minor conservative Bareun Party, also chose to campaign with the same song by Twice.

"Cheer up, citizens of Korea... Let's carve a brighter future together!" the adapted lyrics go.

A giant dancing Smurf was also spotted at one of his rallies, almost stealing his thunder.

Even the main conservative candidate Hong Joon Pyo from the Liberty Korea Party has a cutesy campaign song to his name. Adapted from the 2013 hit Kiyomi Song, which means cutesy song, it cajoles voters to "promise with your pinkie" and "choose Joon Pyo no matter what others say".

Experts observed that campaigns have evolved with the advent of technology, but are still pretty much focused on creating a memorable image for the candidates. The song-and-dance approach, which gained attention in the 2000s, remains a popular way to engage young voters.

But street-centric campaigning has given way to social media exploits, using Facebook Live streaming, YouTube channels, KakaoTalk chat rooms and Naver blogs to appeal to the country's highly-active Internet community.

Mr Moon, for one, has an official YouTube channel called Moon Jae In TV. A video of his campaign in south-western city Gwangju on Sunday drew 111,894 views. He even roped in a former top executive of Naver, the equivalent of South Korea's Google, to manage his social media campaign.

Mr Moon's spokesman, when contacted by The Straits Times, declined to comment on their campaign strategy but said Mr Moon is "healthy and fine" in the last leg of the campaign.

Still, as Mr Moon's closest rival, Mr Ahn Cheol Soo, showed nothing beats walking the ground.

Mr Ahn, 55, from the centre-left People's Party, embarked on a nationwide walking tour in the last 120 hours of his campaign and took the subway between rally points to engage more voters. The walk, captured live on Facebook, drew a whopping 2.84 million viewers last Thursday when he was in Daegu in the south-east.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2017, with the headline 'Campaigning for votes, K-pop style'. Print Edition | Subscribe