North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un enjoyed attending a concert by popular South Korean musicians this weekend so much that he took excited photos with the artists and requested they perform a song, which reportedly received the loudest applause of the night, South Korean outlets revealed Tuesday.
The government of leftist South Korean President Moon Jae-in dispatched a troupe of 160 South Korean musicians to Pyongyang this week to perform a concert titled “Spring Comes,” an artistic exchange in response to North Korea dispatching musicians and other artists to perform in the South in February, during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. On that occasions, South Korean taxpayers footed the bill for their food, lodging, and any travel needs. There is no indication North Korea did the same for their musical guests.
North Korea’s typically belligerent state media lauded South Korea on Monday for holding the concert, reporting that Kim Jong-un and his wife, Ri Sol-ju, greatly enjoyed and were “deeply moved” by the concert. Kim reportedly congratulated the musicians and requested that the South continue to engage in artistic exchanges with North Korea.
The South Korean outlet Yonhap, citing South Korean pool reports and musicians in attendance at the concert, revealed Tuesday that Kim forced a South Korean musician who, in her words, “didn’t even know that song” to perform the 1980s K-Pop ballad “Belated Regret.”
“I wanted to perform ‘Maze of Love’ and my other songs, but the organizers here asked me to sing ‘Belated Regret.’ I didn’t even know that song and was baffled as to why I had to perform a title that wasn’t mine,” Choi Jin-hee told reporters this week. “Later Chairman Kim came down and shook my hand, then said, ‘Thank you for singing that song.’ I realized why the organizers asked me to sing ‘Belated Regret.'”
The song was originally a hit by the duo Hyeonee and Deokee.
The K-pop star Yoon Sang, who helped organize the event, told reporters that Kim Jong-un had personally requested someone in the music group sing that song. “It’s a classic song which is beloved here. Out of all the singers, I thought it would be best for Choi to perform it,” Yoon said.
He added that the “mood was exceptionally good when that song was performed, and I’m told that it is one of the most popular Southern songs here.”
In addition to Choi and Yoon, the artistic mission included Red Velvet a modern K-pop group known for upbeat, electronic-based songs. The South Korean outlet Chosun Ilbo reported that Kim and his wife took photos with the young girl members of Red Velvet, despite the fact that “North Korean propaganda still regularly condemns South Korean pop as a symbol of capitalist decadence, and people can be arrested if they are caught listening to it clandestinely.”
North Korean media mentioned the concert and Kim’s delight at it, but did not air any of the performances except for the final one, an overtly political song called “Our Wish is Reunification.”
Kim attended the first of the two “Spring Comes” concerts, the second taking place on Tuesday. Korea’s Joongang Ilbo reports that 12,000 North Koreans were allowed to attend the second performance. This performance would be their last, and the musicians are expected to return early Wednesday morning.
The concerts are taking a front seat to deeper political negotiations between North and South in anticipation of a meeting between Kim and Moon this month. High-level officials from both sides have worked to negotiate the meet, scheduled to take place in a border town on the DMZ. The meeting will precede a meeting between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump, who announced that he would meet Kim in person some time before May. Negotiations on time and place for that meeting remain ongoing.
Despite North Korean state media praise for the concert, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) returned to its typical vitriol on Tuesday, accusing Seoul of “dishonest acts behind the scene of dialogue.” KCNA denounced a South Korean foreign ministry spokesman for stating that he hoped to see “improvement of the human rights situation in the north.”
“This is an open political provocation to the DPRK and an intolerable act of chilling the atmosphere for dialogue,” KCNA asserted. “Truly dubious is the double-dealing attitude of the south Korean authorities who are calling for dialogue but trumpeting about ‘human rights in the north’ behind the scene [sic].”