Kim Jong Un claps along to K-pop stars in Pyongyang

K-pop band Red Velvet after a rehearsal for their concert in Pyongyang yesterday.
K-pop band Red Velvet after a rehearsal for their concert in Pyongyang yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Video footage from Korea Pool reporters showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korea's Culture, Sports and Tourism Minister Do Jong Whan at yesterday's concert.
Video footage from Korea Pool reporters showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korea's Culture, Sports and Tourism Minister Do Jong Whan at yesterday's concert.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

N. Korean leader suggests more inter-Korean cultural shows after concert by South's artists

SEOUL- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his wife Ri Sol Ju were among the hundreds in Pyongyang yesterday who watched South Korean K-pop singers perform in the North for the first time in more than a decade as tensions between the two countries thaw. 

It was the first time a North Korean leader had attended a South Korean performance in the North’s capital. Mr Kim Jong Un was seen clapping in tune to some of the songs and later took photographs with the performers after the show. 

Mr Kim said inter-Korean cultural events should be held more often and suggested another event in Seoul this autumn, the South’s Yonhap news agency said, citing a pool report. 

Two other high-level North Korean officials – Mr Kim’s sister Kim Yo Jong and nominal head of state Kim Yong Nam – were also at the concert, the report said.

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(Kim Jong Un) showed much interest during the show and asked questions about the songs and lyrics.

SOUTH KOREA'S CULTURE MINISTER DO JONG WHAN, on the North Korean leader's reaction to the concert.

The two-hour performance took place after a separate taekwondo demonstration – both events come as Seoul’s engagement with Pyongyang continue to grow after Mr Kim expressed his willingness for more contact between the two. 

Athletes from North and South Korea marched under a unified peninsula flag at the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February, and the significant thaw in inter-Korean relations has led them to set a date for their first summit in more than a decade on April 27. 

The two Koreas are technically still at war after the 1950-1953 conflict ended with a ceasefire rather than a peace agreement. 

The South Korean delegation included artists, concert staff, taekwondo demonstrators, reporters and government officials. They travelled to Pyongyang last Saturday in a reciprocal cultural visit after North Korea sent performers to the South in February, the South’s Culture Ministry said. 

“(Kim Jong Un) showed much interest during the show and asked questions about the songs and lyrics,” South Korea’s Culture Minister Do Jong Whan told reporters after the show. 

The concert – with the theme “Spring is Coming” – was held at the elaborately decorated 1,500-seat East Pyongyang Grand Theatre. The elite line-up of 11 South Korean artists included veteran vocalists Cho Yong Pil, Lee Sun Hee, rock star Yoon Do Hyun, singer Baek Ji Young as well as K-pop girl band Red Velvet. 

Five-member girl band Red Velvet, part of the hugely popular K-pop phenomenon that has taken global audiences by storm in recent decades, is said to be the most closely-watched performing group in the country. 

Despite the North’s isolation and strict curbs on unauthorised foreign culture, backed up by prison terms, K-pop has become increasingly popular in the country thanks to flash drives smuggled across the border with China.

Earlier, a South Korean taekwondo team gave a demonstration at the Pyongyang Taekwondo Hall, drawing more than 2,300 North Koreans, including chairman of the National Sports Guidance Committee Choe Hwi. 

During the concert itself, Seohyun, a vocalist and actress with South Korean girl group Girls’ Generation, sang a North Korean pop song called “Blue Willow Tree”. She had performed with the North’s Samjiyon Orchestra in Seoul in February. 

Cho Yong Pil, a 68-year-old singer, sang a string of hits including “The Cafe In The Winter”, “Short Hair” and “Let’s Go On A Trip”. Cho had held a solo concert in Pyongyang in 2005 – the last concert by a South Korean artist in the North before yesterday’s performance. Mr Kim’s late father and longtime ruler, Kim Jong Il, was known to be a fan of Cho.

The same South Korean singers will hold a joint concert with North Korean artists tomorrow at the Ryukyung Chung Ju Yung Gymnasium, a joint project between the North and South named after Hyundai Group billionaire founder Chung Ju Yung who had long advocated inter-Korean cultural and economic exchange. 

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 02, 2018, with the headline 'Kim Jong Un claps along to K-pop stars in Pyongyang'. Print Edition | Subscribe