When K-pop meets diplomacy: 5 key moments


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 not to be taken lightly, 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 centre stage at diplomatic events.

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

President Moon's wedding gift for the newlywed Indonesian first daughter 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

Photo: Sulwhasoo

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 instalment of a US anti-ballistic missile defence 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

Photo: Twitter/Ivanka Trump

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. US first lady Melania joined by SHINee's Minho for Olympic event

Photo: AFP

US first lady Melania Trump became an internet favourite 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 Koreans including Kim Jong-un

In March, selected South Korean musicians, including Red Velvet and Girls' Generation vocalist Seohyun, flew to Pyongyang for performances.

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

S Korean pop stars rock on in front of Kim Jong-un

  • Standing in front of 1,500 spectators -- including the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his wife -- in the East Pyongyang Grand Theater, the visiting South Korean art troupe delivered a message of peace and hope for unification through musical performance.
  • The Pyongyang concert was originally slated for 5:30 p.m., South Korean time, but was delayed for 80 minutes due to Kim’s sudden decision to attend the concert himself with his wife Ri Sol-ju. With it, he became the first North Korean leader to attend a concert by South Korean musicians.
  • Kim arrived 10 minutes before the concert started and was greeted by the South Korean delegation including Culture Minister Do Jong-hwan and musical director Yun Sang. They shared a few words as they headed to the second floor for the concert.
  • Kim shook hands with each South Korean musician and told the group that he wished for another joint concert of the Koreas in the fall in Seoul.
  • “I originally wanted to watch a concert on Tuesday, but I had other appointments so I came today,” Kim was quoted as saying by a high-ranking government official.
  • The concerts are a part of the Koreas' effort to ease tension in the peninsula. Seoul and Pyongyang are set to hold a summit on April 27, followed by the North’s talks with US on denuclearization before the end of May.
  • The emcee of the concert was a popular member of K-pop band Girls' Generation, Seohyun
  • Members of K-pop girlband "Red Velvet" pose for a photo after a rehearsal for a rare concert at the 1,500-seat East Pyongyang Grand Theatre in Pyongyang on April 1, 2018.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (R) speaking to South Korean musicians after a rare concert by South Korean musicians at the 1,500-seat East Pyongyang Grand Theatre in Pyongyang.
  • A man walks through the lobby of the 1,500-seat East Pyongyang Grand Theatre in Pyongyang on April 1, 2018.

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.