K-pop v Kim-pop: Battle of the bands, Korean style
K-pop girlband Red Velvet will star in a historic concert in Pyongyang this weekend. How do they compare to North Korea’s Moranbong?
Top K-pop girlband Red Velvet will star in a historic concert in Pyongyang this weekend, in a country where entertainment is usually served with a big dollop of state-sponsored propaganda.
With performances on Sunday and Tuesday, the outfit will sashay onto territory normally occupied by North Korean’s own mega girl group, the Moranbong band.
In the peninsula’s own Battle of the Bands, here’s how the two match up:
K-pop or Kim-pop
Red Velvet: Upbeat electro, disco, R&B and syrupy ballads. Hits include Ice Cream Cake and Peek-A-Boo. Lyrics mostly deal with romance and heartbreak, although Red Flavour is a paean to the delights of strawberries and summer.
Sample lyric: “Follow me like you’re under a spell/Everyone’s cheering, soon you’ll be Ooh ooh”.
Moranbong: Fast-paced patriotic pop, mostly lauding Kim Jong-un or socialist ideals. Synthesisers, electric guitars and violins combine for hits including Mother’s Birthday – about the ruling party – and We Call Him Our Father, but they occasionally bust out a Korean language version of My Way.
Sample lyric: “Drawn by affection, we call him father without constraint/We live only with our faith in him/Oh Comrade Kim Jong-un.”
Suit up and dance
Red Velvet: High-voltage, fast-paced dances performed in perfect sync with seamless formation changes. The five sport a giddy mix of colourful, girlish clothing and sexy, revealing outfits tailor-made by an army of stylists or from high-end luxury brands.
Style: Sultry sex kitten mixed with girl-next-door.
Moranbong: Moderate shoulder shifting, arm swinging and rhythmic foot movements evocative of 1960s Western girl groups. Unlikely to set pulses racing in the South, but still radical by North Korean standards. Signature outfits include white military uniforms matched with miniskirts.
Style: Strict disciplinarian with a hint of naughty.
Thin, red line (up)
Red Velvet: Like almost all K-pop bands, the five members are survivors of a years-long selection process that begins with young teenagers chosen for their looks – slim with flawless complexions – and star potential. Hopefuls are coached in singing, dancing and foreign language, with regular cuts for those who do not make the grade.
Moranbong: The 10 members were reputedly hand-picked by Swiss-educated leader Kim based on their looks, singing and musical talents; many are known to play multiple instruments. Family background and – perhaps most importantly – loyalty to the ruling party were also said to be factors.
Red Velvet: In line with K-pop orthodoxy, members must steer clear of romantic entanglements and – despite their sometimes suggestive performances – are expected to project almost-virginal public images.
Politics are also generally a no-no – member Irene has been in hot water with some fans after saying she read a top-selling book about feminism.
Moranbong: News about the band is tightly controlled by the secretive regime and in the absence of a tabloid news culture little is known about the private lives of the 20-somethings.
South Korean media previously reported that founding member Hyon Song-wol – rumoured to be a one-time girlfriend of leader Kim – had been executed by firing squad after appearing in a pornographic film.
However, she was later found to be very much alive and well, and popped up in the South on a Winter Olympics-related trip earlier this year.