K-pop & Political Activism in Korea

As 2016 left us in political turmoil in America, on the other side of the world there was also another political frenzy going on at the same time when President Park Geun-hye was impeached. And while I don’t have a strong interest in Korean politics, I was impressed with the fact that the Korean people were able to push out the president through non-violent protesting and campaigning– because this seems like something that has been impossible for us to do in America.

I don’t know a lot about the protests– how frequent they were and how hard it was to actually get the president impeached, but another interesting component of these political rally is the role that K-pop has had in them.

According to the media, the impeachment of the president was due to the revelation that she was inappropriately confiding into a personal friend, Choi Soon-sil, who received special benefits and was privy to confidential information. That confidant’s daughter was the recipient of many privileges at the prestigious Ewha Women’s College– it was only after the further governmental investigation of the university’s preferential treatment did Park’s corrupt behavior come to light.

It all started with the Ewha students protesting for their college president’s resignation after creating a new majors program. As police were called into action, the students started to sing the SNSD pop hit “Into the New World.”

As the protest for Park’s resignation grew, so did the influence of K-pop as a tool to bring protestors together. Below is a video from a rally where organizers remixed the famous theme song of the reality TV survival idol show “Produce 101” to protest the president in power. **Both of these videos were featured by Asian Junkie, a humorous (and crass) K-pop commentary blog, a while back.**

This protest culture is something that seems to permeate in Korean youth. One of the most popular dramas in Korea is the “Answer Me” series, which picks a certain period of time in the recent past and depicts love and family life of a group of friends. The most recent and most popular installment, “Answer Me 1988”, featured the eldest daughter and a student at Seoul National University, Bora, protesting with her fellow classmates against her parents wishes. Based on real-life occurrences, the student protests in the 1980’s were a theme throughout the show: it was college student protesters that helped bring down the military dictator Chun Doo-hwan and eventually lead to democratic elections after a decade of political abuse.

The fact that this part of history was depicted in such a popular drama speaks to the concern and attention that South Koreans pay to their politics. It’s refreshing and different from the passivity that everyday Americans seem to have about our current political climate. However, the impeachment of Park was pretty much agreed upon by all Korean citizens– there is no polarity over that topic like there would be between conservatives and liberals about the removal of Trump. However, if organizers are frustrated, perhaps someone should remix Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” to insult Donald Trump at the next Women’s March.

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