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North Korea

South Korea swoons as singer from North girl band arrives in Seoul for pre-Olympics inspection

The visit came hours after the International Olympic Committee allowed 22 North Korean athletes to take part in the Olympics

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 January, 2018, 11:16am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 January, 2018, 9:39pm

South Korea went into swoon mode on Sunday – at the feet of a party apparatchik from the North.

Hyon Song-wol is, however, no dourly-dressed, suit-wearing bureaucrat from the nuclear-armed nation, but the leader of Pyongyang’s most popular girl band.

Cameras followed her every move as the glamorous songstress swept through Seoul at the head of a North Korean delegation sent to inspect performance venues for the Pyeongchang Olympic Games.

Wearing a fur muffler and exuding an air of confident calm, Hyun was unfazed by the throng of cameras that followed her everywhere.

Believed to be in her late 30s or early 40s, Hyon is as close to a megastar as North Korea probably has.

Her Excellent Horse-like Lady – a term describing a smart and energetic woman – was a big hit in the 2000s.

She is also a politically powerful figure as a member of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee.

Hyon was once rumoured to be a former girlfriend of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and became the subject of lurid and – as it turned out – incorrect 2013 reports in the South that she and a dozen other musicians had been executed for appearing in pornographic films.

North Korea watchers dismiss speculation over her ties with Kim, saying in the deeply patriarchal North, romantic partners of leaders past and present are forced to keep a low profile.

Hyon heads the 10-member Moranbong Band – the public face of North Korean soft power.

The all-female outfit perform a mixture of Western-style pop and patriotic North Korean numbers, and are frequently seen sporting miniskirts and shoulder-baring dresses.

Their style – highly unusual in the conservative North – is seen as quaintly provincial in the South, with its slick, image-obsessed pop scene, and it has also earned them a cult following among North Korean watchers.

The band is not expected to make the trip south for the Games next month, but other musical groups – as well as hundreds of “cheerleaders” will be there.

Hyon’s presence in the run-up to the international event – which until recently was marked by global tensions over North Korea’s missile and nuclear programme – is seen by some as the latest attempt to capitalise on the appeal of its performers.

South Korea’s voracious media followed her every move on Sunday, with tiny details about her facial expressions and fashion style making headlines.

Hyon’s attire – from her shoes to an expensive-looking fur – drew intense debate, with one fashion analyst likening her style to the US first lady.

“I think she was trying to emulate the style of Melania Trump … and trying to showcase the image of being rich by wearing the fur,” Heo Euna, head of Korea Image Strategy Institute, told Yonhap news agency.

The visit to the South marks the first by North Koreans since South Korean President Moon Jae-in took office in May last year and sought to re-engage with the North.

“President Moon has previously stressed that the Pyeongchang Olympics should be an important turning point in solving North Korea’s missile issues,” a Blue House statement said.

It came the day after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said 22 North Korean athletes would compete in the event.

Seoul on Sunday welcomed the IOC’s decision.

“North Korea’s participation in the Olympics will be a catalyst for building peace and easing tensions on the Korean peninsula,” the Blue House said.

North Korea’s state-run KCNA news agency released a commentary on Sunday criticising some South Korean politicians and media who have questioned Pyongyang’s motives in reaching out even as it refuses to honour repeated UN Security Council resolutions targeting its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programme.

“There is no doubt about the sincerity and authenticity of [North Korea] to improve the North-South relations and to ensure successful Olympics,” KCNA said.

Agence France-Presse, Reuters