Emulating the Idols of the “Korean Wave” in North Korea

It seems that everywhere I go, I run into the smiles of the flawless faces of the popular music idols and rising television and movie stars of South Korea. Although they may not be known as a part of what is mainstream popular culture in every location, somehow the South Korean singers, actors, and actresses have found their way into the hearts and onto the playlists of more than a few of my friends and acquaintances throughout the globe. The slim, well-dressed men and women of South Korean music groups and television dramas decorate bedroom walls and influence the fashion and tastes of many of the people I have encountered.


But to what extent has the South “Korean Wave” been able to captivate audiences in North Korea considering the division preventing exchange between the two halves of the Korean peninsula? Continue reading


On Internet and Accordions

The final examination a teacher must pass before graduating in North Korea is a critical one: a test of competency on the accordion. It’s the so-called “people’s instrument”, apparently because it’s easy to bring along on marches to construction sites or to labor in the fields, and needs no accompaniment save perhaps a voice singing a classic song like “We Have Nothing to Envy in the World.”

A student practises the accordion in Pyongyang, North Korea (photo credit LivingIf)

It is harder these days to unearth information on the accordion’s role in North Korean culture, because on Google almost every single search concerning accordions and North Korea returns a link or article concerning a video that has been making the Internet rounds, of a quintet of young North Korean accordion players improvising on the theme of a-ha’s “Take On Me”, that awesome ’80s pop song. You almost certainly know the song, famous for its memorably rotoscoped music video blending live action with penciled drawings. Continue reading