I don't pretend to be a foreign policy expert--I don't pretend to be a music expert--but it seems like Kim Jong Un has learned at least one important lesson from his father since taking over North Korea: People will basically ignore a brutal autocracy filled with prison camps and literally starving its own people so long as it's really goofy. Marry a pop star, open some amusement parks, high-five Dennis Rodman, and you're set.
Rumors out of the country that Kim had executed his ex-lover, another North Korean pop star, brought one of their goofiness-offensive weapons back to the fore: Their music videos. For the people in Pyongyang lucky enough to own televisions, North Korea puts out a steady stream of music videos. Here are 10 unnervingly poppy ones from one of a surprisingly large number of North Korean YouTube channels.
10. Moranbong Band - Dash to the Future
9. Moranbong Band - Burning Desire
These two summarize all the important elements in a North Korean music video: People working hard and smiling and not being sent to prison camps; factories operating and not being torn apart for scrap iron; video evidence that there are new-ish computers with LCD displays in the country; and, most importantly, a bunch of strikingly well-trained women in matching military uniform. It's like if all the product placement in American music videos weren't to promote the Samsung Galaxy Note, but to prove that we had Samsung Galaxy Notes.
The weird thing about these videos--about North Korean pop culture as a whole--is that everybody is extremely good at what they're doing. That might be another reason they inspire less fear than the other autocrat-murderer contenders; after the fourth day of arguing whether Miley Cyrus twerking was racist or just really terrible something deep inside of us yearns for a little highly competent, legally-required-to-be-uncontroversial pre-rock.
Of course, they're extremely good at what they're doing because they've been trained to do that one thing perfectly from birth, so as a liberal arts major I get the feeling I'd probably have been sent to one of the less rigorous schools.
8. Wangjaesan Light Music Band - My Motherland I Stand Guard
7. Hyon Song-wol - A Girl in the Saddle of a Steed
One more important thing about North Korean music videos: It's impossible to tell when they were filmed, unless you can date the computers they're showing off in the b-roll. The first one, with its shiny jackets and spacey matching violins, is from "the '90s," according to the channel's proprietor. And I've got to say: The song is doing it for me.
No. 7 was filmed last year and stars Hyon Song-wol, the aforementioned executed ex-lover. (You may know this song by what must be its more literal translation, "Excellent Horse-Like Lady.") The aforementioned channel's proprietor has been insisting across several videos since the rumors started that she is actually not dead, which will be confirmed later this week. Here's hoping.
6. Wangjaesan Dancers - Aloha Oe (Goombay Dance Band)
Dancing! And Hawaii, I think?
5. Let's Go to the Army!
Marching! In a way that's very dancey, granted.
4. Pochonbo Electronic Orchestra - Peace Is On Our Bayonet!
3. Unhasu Orchestra - I Fell in Love with a Boy
The thing about DPRKMusicChannel is that they have songs on a wide variety of topics. With MTV you're basically going to get lost-love songs or I'm-very-wealthy songs. With DPRKMusicChannel you can get "I Fell in Love with a Boy" and "Peace Is On Our Bayonet!"
2. Pochonbo Electronic Orchestra - Let's Study!
1. Moranbong Band - Without A Break
Moranbong Band is definitely North Korea's breakout artist of 2013, if this YouTube channel is any indication.Formed by Kim Jong-Un himself
, which probably helps--the road's been much tougher forJ.C. Chasez's girl group
--and playing in the popular socialist realism subgenre, their videos are a particularly weird combination of sops to the outside world (they are literally a "girl group," a la their South Korean and Japanese rivals) and ramped-up militarism.
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Which sounds familiar, for some reason. But this song has laser noises in it and skimpier-than-usual outfits, so you've got that going for you.