Music isn’t created in a vacuum, and even love songs can become politicized sometimes. That’s been the case over the past few years, as a handful of K-pop songs have become embedded into different South Korean political events. Amid a state of flux that has seen a president impeached and imprisoned, plus changing relations with North Korea, the past three or so years have seen many songs by Korean artists become symbols of various political movements and events.
Here’s a look at some K-pop songs that have become politicized recently:
“Bang Bang Bang” by BigBang, “Me Gustas Tu” by GFriend, “Let Us Just Love” by APink
The three songs were known to be used by South Korea as propaganda across the North-South border aimed at North Korean soldiers and residents living close to the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, that separates the two countries. The speakers that blasted the music and other audio messages, including news reports, were shut off ahead of the recent North-South Korean summit.
“Cheer Up” by TWICE
The girl group’s ebullient 2016 song was remixed for the presidential election of current South Korean president Moon Jae-in. It was also used for another candidate, Yoo Seung-min, who failed to be elected. Mamamoo’s “Um Oh Ah Yea,” Norazo’s “Mackerel,” and DJ Doc’s “Run To You” were also used by campaigns in the 2017 election.
“One Candle” by g.o.d
Released in 2000, the iconic song by the veteran boy band became a rallying point of the protests against now-imprisoned former South Korean president Park Geun-hye. When South Koreans took to the streets of Seoul to protest in a candlelight vigil, the song’s lyrics became a rallying point for the general public to come together via peaceful protests to bring down a presidency that was seen to be built on misconduct: “So much can happen by lighting that one small candle/ I believed that there was nothing else around me/ But I discovered another small candle/ And when I lit it, they became two/ By the light of two candles, I can find more/ And two becomes three, and three becomes four/ And the darkness disappears.”
“Into The New World” by Girls’ Generation
The 2007 debut song of one of South Korea’s most emblematic girl groups was used by Ewha Womans University students (see “Comet” below) to protest changes at the university. “Walking the many and unknowable paths, I follow a dim light/ It’s something we’ll do together to the end, into the new world,” sang the students as they stood against police, protesting decisions made by administration that they believed went against the feminist nature of the student body and the school’s values to create what they deemed to be new, less-intellectually leaning programs. The changes at Ewha turned out to be related to the cronyism that would eventually bring down Park, and “Into The New World” became an anthem for the changes that swept through the country during protests against the corrupt administration.
“Red Flavor” & “Bad Boy” by Red Velvet
The girl group performed these two songs as part of the contingent of South Korean artists appearing in Pyongyang last month. Their attendance was largely seen as a positive shift in North-South Korean relations, due to K-pop’s regular use as a propaganda tool against North Korea.
“Comet” by Younha
Students from Ewha Womans University in Seoul formed a #MeToo protest on campus and used Younha’s song as an uplifting anthem. Several cases regarding sexual harassment between professors and students at the school have been reported. The inspiring pop-rock track, originally released in Japanese as “Houki Boshi” for the Bleach anime soundtrack, was sung by the protesters, and Younha ended up tweeting about it to throw her support with the “purple wave” of marchers.