The North Korean capital saw a marked change in New Year’s Eve celebrations Monday night, with the new additions of a large-scale concert, drone show, and even a countdown to midnight displayed in numeral-shaped fireworks.
The new elements were part of a more modern and elaborate event in Pyongyang’s downtown Kim Il Sung Square, broadcast in typical fashion live on Korean Central Television (KCTV).
Celebrations kicked off on KCTV at 2330 local time, beginning with 30 minutes of performances of well-known patriotic songs by various singers at a stage situated in the center of the square.
Just before midnight, small fireworks were launched above the stage counting down from nine to zero, followed by the traditional ringing of the “watch-night bell” played over loudspeakers throughout the square.
The audible countdown feature represents a first for the televised celebrations in Pyongyang, at least in the Kim Jong Un era, and was accompanied by other aspects not yet seen in the North Korean capital on New Year’s Eve.
While concerts are known to take place in Pyongyang over the holiday, Monday night’s was the first such performance outdoors at the square, complete with mobile stage partitions moving through the crowd.
At least some visiting tourists were also required to pay a surcharge, with a representative for tour agency Koryo Tours telling NK News ahead of Monday night’s events that their group would be required to pay an additional 10 euros each to attend the show.
In addition to green lasers and the familiar fireworks show, a drone show also accompanied performances after midnight, forming shapes such as the national Pungsan dog, the year 2019, and the words “Happy New Year” in Korean.
North Korea first showed off its new collection of drones and their ability to operate a coordinated light show using the drones during the “Glorious Fatherland” mass games in September.
At least 180 drones were used on New Year’s Eve, however, compared to 144 during the mass games.
Artists taking part in the event included, according to state media, the Mansudae Art Troupe, the Phibada Opera Troupe, the National Folk Art Troupe, Kim Won Gyun University of Music, and, notably, the Moranbong Electronic Ensemble.
The Moranbong Electronic Ensemble appeared to be missing their former leader Hyon Song Wol, however, who became leader of the newly-formed Samjiyon Orchestra ahead of their performances in South Korea surrounding the February Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
The Samjiyon Orchestra – who were given their own new home theater in October – did not appear to take part in events at Kim Il Sung Square or elsewhere in the DPRK capital Monday night.
Also absent from the event at the square was any overt focus on imagery of Kim Jong Un or the country’s previous leaders, instead sticking to more generic propaganda icons such as the Juche Tower and the national flag.
The years 2018 and 2019 – not the proprietary years Juche 107 and 108 representing years since founding leader Kim Il Sung’s birth – were also the only such numbers displayed prominently on either side of the stage.
Most songs, on the other hand, focused on the familiar themes of nationalistic pride, self-reliance, and love for the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK).
Thousands of Pyongyangites gathered in the square to take part in the celebrations, many of whom could be seen in the KCTV broadcast holding up their smartphones to capture pictures and video of the events.
Many also carried small lights and balloons of various cartoon characters, including Japanese icon Hello Kitty.
Elsewhere in the square, an ice sculpture festival showed off propaganda imaery such as towers from Ryomyong Street, industrial factory lines, and, again, the Juche flame – resembling the floats often seen during military parades.
A separate performance put on by young students, titled “Blessed Snow Falls on New Year’s Day,” was held at the Mangyongdae Schoolchildren’s Palace and was attended by elite political figures such as Kim Yong Nam and Choe Ryong Hae.
Kim Jong Un did not attend either event, according to state media.
Featured image: KCNA
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