January 26, 2021

Putting the fragrance in the flower

How the cult of personality permeates North Korean pop

It is said in North Korea that music without politics is a flower without its fragrance, and the politics that North Korean music never fails to emit is revolutionary socialism. Yet, despite the revolutionary themes embodied in North Korean popular songs, the function of this music is actually quite conservative: to garner support for the policies of the Kim regime and to maintain allegiance to them. One way the regime does this is by associating the three leaders (Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and Kim Jung Un) to powerful yet relatively universal and concrete daily human experiences.

From the North Korean website of the Peaceful Unification of the Fatherland Committee, roughly 10 percent of the 449 famous songs listed contain the name or title of one of the three ruling leaders of North Korea (which is a minority but still significant). A mix of military marches, dramatic orchestral pieces and music in the style of South Korean trot or Japanese Enka, they include over 20 about Kim Il Sung, over 10 about Kim Jong Il, and a handful of songs about Kim Jong Un