K-pop stars belt it out for peace

K-pop band B1A4 perform at the DMZ Peace Concert at Nuri Peace Park in Munsan, South Korea, last Saturday.
K-pop band B1A4 perform at the DMZ Peace Concert at Nuri Peace Park in Munsan, South Korea, last Saturday.PHOTO: NYTIMES

About 25,000 people, mostly young South Koreans, show up to watch K-pop stars perform at the annual DMZ Peace Concert near the border with the North

SEOUL • The call for peace drew a loud response from the crowd, but that was nothing compared to the din when South Korea's famous army of K-pop entertainers went into action.

An estimated 25,000 people, mostly young South Koreans, were camped at Nuri Peace Park, only 8km from the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that separates the two Koreas.

They had come for a two-hour concert on Saturday night featuring the likes of Girls' Generation, BtoB, Cosmic Girls, Mamamoo and GFriend.

Mr Nam Hyung Jin, a college freshman, travelled 110km from Osan City for the seventh annual summer DMZ Peace Concert.

He was apprehensive initially, unsettled by the war of words between North Korea and the United States last week.

But after cheering the Cosmic Girls as the 13-piece group bounced up and down in unison singing their syrupy hit Happy, he felt a sense of liberation.

"If enjoying K-pop near the border with the aggressive North Korea is not freedom, what is?" he said.

"I hope North Korea, too, understands how much happiness freedom can bring and chooses a path towards peace."

Another attendee, Kim Ji Hyun, 12, noted: "I live close to the border so I am used to seeing soldiers around, but there are soldiers here at a peaceful culture event.

"Cosmic Girls' act totally distracted me from feeling scared."

This is the seventh time the local government and South Korean national television network MBC have hosted the show.

It commemorates National Liberation Day, a holiday common to both Koreas, which remembers the end of the 35-year Japanese colonial occupation in 1945.

This year's concert, with the slogan Again, Peace!, was organised with the participation of the South Korean Ministry of Unification.

Mr Kim Nan Young, deputy director of its cultural affairs division, noted that events like the one on Saturday that are intended to pique young people's interest in unification, are important.

The effort has been effective, he said.

"Young people inevitably get to think about unification and security issues when they come to a place near the border with North Korea."

The government's efforts seem to have worked on high-school student Kim Ha Min, 15.

For her, North Korea had always been a scary, distant place. But on Saturday, when her favourite K-pop boy band, BtoB, dedicated their ballad Someday to unification, she said that it made her think differently.

The lyrics made her realise "that there are people just like us living in North Korea and not just its belligerent leader Kim Jong Un".

In between acts, a huge screen behind the stage showed K-pop stars in scenarios envisaging a peaceful society after unification of the peninsula, in which South Koreans would be able to vacation in the north and young people from both sides would be able to date and make friends.

The concert ended with all the K-pop entertainers on stage for a song about how happy everyone would be on the day the two Koreas come together.

"At first, I felt scared about coming so close to the border with North Korea," said Kim Na Young, 14. "But I am glad I came.

"I can see now that we can enjoy ourselves anywhere, even if North Korea threatens us.

"I hope people in North Korea got to hear the K-pop songs and our message of peace too."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2017, with the headline 'K-pop stars belt it out for peace'. Print Edition | Subscribe