On February 12th, North Korea conducted its 3rd nuclear test underground, causing a 4.9 magnitude earthquake and quick condemnation from most of the world. As the country demonstrated its progress towards being able to construct intercontinental ballistic missiles tipped with nuclear warheads, South Korea flexed its military muscle, conducting large-scale military drills, deploying destroyers and submarines off the coast, and showcasing new cruise missiles capable of bombing any part of North Korea.
Tensions in the region remain high as the Western world and its allies do everything in their power to prevent North Korea from gaining nuclear arms without going to war. China, North Korea’s most powerful ally, continues to cautiously support the country, though China’s new leadership has been put in a difficult position. China doesn’t want North Korea to gain nuclear capabilities, but they also don’t want to end support of the country and risk its collapse, potentially leading to the reunification of the Korean peninsula as a Western ally.
With the region in such a delicate state, the possibility of war occurring is ever-present. North and South Korea technically remain at war with each other ever since the Korean War of the 1950s ended without a peace treaty. War between the two countries would drastically change the K-pop scene that has become so popular.
For starters, say goodbye to your favorite male idol groups. North Korea is one of the most militarized countries in the world, with only 3 other countries, the US, China and India, having more active duty soldiers ready to be deployed. To match the vast North Korean army, South Korea would likely institute a mandatory draft – they already call upon every male citizen to serve 2 years in the military – and musicians would not be spared during war time.
In addition to forcing men into the army through a draft, many more people would join the army voluntarily to defend the homeland. South Korea’s mandatory enlistment already instills a sense of nationalistic duty into its population that would only be heightened in the case of a war. Male idols who don’t do their part in the war effort would be ridiculed and lose any popularity they have if they tried to avoid military duty.
With male idols out of the picture, female groups would rise to prominence. Groups like Girls’ Generation and Wonder Girls would become even more popular within South Korea than they already are as people looks towards them and their bubbly pop as an escape from the harsh realities of war. Groups like 2NE1 and miss A, who thrive on strong, independent women themes, would lose some of their popularity as the country becomes less concerned with social activism, finding it more important to give their unwavering support to the male-dominated army.
A new trend in the K-pop music industry would occur: nationalistic music. A war between North and South Korea, while not always fought on South Korean soil, would become a direct threat to the safety of South Korean citizens. Like any country that is under attack, nationalistic sentiments will flair, and music will reflect this cultural shift. Nationalistic music will mostly be sung by solo artists, specifically those who feel the strongest sense of national pride. Idol groups would remain less political in their music, though military concepts would become a major trend.
Although a new musical trend would arise in South Korea as a result of a war, new groups would not accompany it. In fact, the amount of new groups debuting every year would sharply decrease. The pool of trainees would dramatically decrease as people either went into the army or helped manufacture products as part of the war effort. Instability within the country would not be conducive for new groups to be successful, so companies would focus on established acts; however, within South Korea, new artists with a nationalistic focus could rise to prominence.
K-pop currently has a large appeal among international communities. War could change that. Initially, digital sales of idol music would rise as fans rush to support their favorite artists perceived to be suffering from the war. Over time though, sales will likely decline as the music industry changes, reacting to the war in a way that may not appeal to those outside South Korea, especially patriotic music whose appeal revolves around lyrical content that would be lost on non-Korean speakers.
A North and South Korean war would undoubtedly involve Western and Asian forces. While involvement in the war may be supported by these countries at first, over time, public sentiment will turn negative because the fighting won’t be on their soil and stirring up a patriotic duty to be involved. The Korean Wave may be growing now and slowly gaining popularity among the general population, but a prolonged war on the Korean peninsula would seriously damage the appeal of the nation’s music outside of the country.
If North and South Korea were to go to war with each other, K-pop as we know it – full of idol groups and capturing attention abroad – would be one of the many casualties the war would bring about. For the hardcore and even the casual fans, K-pop will likely continue to be an interest despite a war, but for the general public, war could be the barrier that keeps the Korean Wave from spreading any further.
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