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When K-pop meets diplomacy: 5 key moments

By Kim Arin

  • Published : Jun 29, 2018 - 17:11
  • Updated : Jun 29, 2018 - 17:11

BBC Radio 1 called it “Korea’s secret weapon.” From greeting the US presidential couple to disarming North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, South Korea has an unlikely go-to champion for diplomatically tricky situations: K-pop.

K-pop has become more than just a music genre in recent years. It has become part of the country’s statecraft, with its horizon expanding to the realm of diplomacy among world leaders.

K-pop’s influence used to mean topping the Billboard charts or appearances on the “Ellen” show, but now we’re talking about settling peace on the Korean Peninsula.

The past year and a half saw a flurry of turns in the diplomatic circle for South Korea, during which the country’s pop idols were occasionally summoned to play a supporting role.

If President Moon Jae-in’s recent congratulatory tweet to BTS’ Billboard feat could serve as proof, it is evident that K-pop is considered no simple fluff, with K-pop acts increasingly making headlines outside the entertainment sector.

While the rest of the world awaits South Korea’s fresh spin on the soft power of K-pop, the following are five key instances in which K-pop stars took center stage at diplomatic events.

1. President Moon gifts autographed EXO album to Indonesian first daughter

President Moon’s wedding gift for the newly wed Indonesian first daughter during his state visit to Indonesia last November was an autographed copy of EXO’s album and a video message from Minho of SHINee.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s daughter is a K-pop fan who has been spotted at a number of K-pop concerts dating as far back as 2013.

2. EXO and Song Hye-kyo accompany President Moon on his first state visit to China

President Moon brought special guests along on his first state visit to China last November: EXO and actress Song Hye-kyo, both of whom boast a huge Chinese fan base.

Moon’s star-studded accompaniment followed China’s 11-month embargo on South Korean cultural imports as retaliation for the installment of a US anti-ballistic missile defense system.

The South Korean president stated at the opening ceremony of the Korea-China Economic and Trade Partnership that he seeks to “make South Korea and China true friends by expanding cultural exchange.“

3. Ivanka Trump meets with EXO and CL, says her children are K-pop fans

(Ivanka Trump's Twitter @IvankaTrump)
When Ivanka Trump made her first visit to South Korea for the PyeongChang Olympics’ closing ceremony in February, she bonded with President Moon over K-pop. The US first daughter and White House adviser reportedly told Moon that her kids are “having a dance party to (K-pop) every day.”

Following the closing ceremony, Trump met with EXO and said “My children are your huge fans. I can’t believe I’m meeting you,” a gesture which EXO reciprocated with gifts for her three children and an invitation to its US concert. She didn’t miss the photo-op during her encounter with the K-pop stars, marking the occasion by tweeting the group photo of them doing the Korean “finger heart” gesture. The first daughter also became one of EXO’s three-million-something Twitter followers.

4. SHINee’s Minho joins US first lady Melania for Olympic event

US first lady Melania Trump became an internet favorite during her two-day visit to South Korea last November, as a video of her standing next to SHINee’s Minho spread widely on social media.

Minho tagged along with Trump for the “Girls Play 2” event held at the US ambassador’s Seoul residence, an Olympic outreach campaign that promotes girls’ access to sports. In the video, the first lady smiles broadly at school girls’ excited reactions to the SHINee rapper.

5. Red Velvet and Seohyun of Girls’ Generation perform for North Korean audience including Kim Jong-un

In March, a select group of South Korean musicians, including Red Velvet and Girls’ Generation vocalist Seohyun, flew to Pyongyang just two weeks prior to the historic inter-Korean summit.

Red Velvet staged two of its hit singles, the aptly titled “Bad Boy” and “Red Flavor,” in front of a high-profile North Korean crowd, among which was Kim Jong-un.

The North Korean leader, who “adjusted (his) schedule” to be there, said he was “deeply moved” and called the performance “a kind gift to Pyongyang’s citizens.”

The list of K-pop stars’ impressive accomplishments doesn’t end here. If anything, they are sought after more often than ever.

After all, if they can charm Kim Jong-un, there seems little else in the world they can’t do.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)