South Korea tries to get under the skin of its archrival with border broadcasts that feature not only criticism of North Korea’s nuclear program, troubled economy and human rights abuses, but also a unique homegrown weapon: K-pop.
Performers on the propaganda playlist Seoul began blasting across the border Friday include a female K-pop band that rose to fame when its members fell multiple times on stage, and a middle-aged singer who rose from obscurity last year with a song about living for 100 years. The broadcasts are in retaliation for the North’s nuclear test Wednesday, and arrive on what is believed to be leader Kim Jong Un’s birthday.
South Korea uses propaganda to boast of its democracy system and its culture, but adding light music helps draw attention. South Korea’s defense ministry says K-pop songs will pique interests of the listeners in the North.
A song by Lee Ae-ran whose title can be translated as “100 years of life” sends messages to death, or a god from the underworld, saying it isn’t yet time to say goodbye to living.
It was so popular among young and old that Kakao Talk, South Korea’s most popular messenger app, created emoticons, or animated images, from the music video. The song inspired a host of online parodies and memes, and political parties reportedly sought to use it in their campaigns during upcoming general elections.
Also echoing over the Demilitarized Zone: GFriend’s “Me gustas Tu,” about a girl who is trying to muster courage and overcome shyness to ask a boy out. GFriend rose to fame last year when a fan posted a video on YouTube showing its members standing up after falling several times on a slippery stage to complete an outdoor performance. The YouTube video has nearly 9 million views since it was uploaded in September.
Other songs being broadcast across the border are by singer IU, the popular female group Apink and idol boy band Big Bang.
It’s not the first time music has been employed against an enemy. Most famously, when the U.S. invaded Panama in 1989 to oust Manuel Noriega, American forces blasted rock music outside the Vatican Embassy, where the dictator had holed up, to encourage his surrender.
North Koreans are prohibited from listening to K-pop, and are allowed to listen only to government-controlled radio stations or TV channels. Despite that, North Korean defectors say South Korean music is popular in their home country, with songs and other elements of South Korea popular culture smuggled in on USB sticks and DVDs.
North Korea considers such loudspeaker broadcasts to be an act of psychological warfare and likely will have a furious response. Pyongyang is extremely sensitive to any outside criticism of the authoritarian leadership of Kim, the third member of his family to rule the country. When South Korea briefly resumed propaganda broadcasts in August after an 11-year break, Seoul says the two Koreas exchanged artillery fire, followed by threats of war.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that frontline troops, near 11 sites where loudspeakers started blaring propaganda at noon, were on highest alert. Yonhap said Seoul had deployed missiles, artillery and other weapons systems near the border to swiftly deal with any possible North Korean provocation. South Korea’s Defense Ministry did not immediately confirm the reports.